Rent, Buy, or Make – Wedding Dress Options

So, you need a wedding dress. Should you buy, rent, or make it?

For most people, the first answer that comes to mind is, “Well, I’ll buy my wedding dress. That’s what people do, right?” This line of thinking leads to a quick trip over to Google and… well, so many options that it makes my eyes cross just to think of them.

Other folks aren’t interested in buying a wedding dress. They’d much prefer to rent. They have too many vivid childhood memories of decades-old dresses moldering at the back of closets. They too turn to Google only to realize that renting a wedding dress is, unfortunately, not really an option. 

And as for making your wedding dress? If only this was the first thing that came to mind for more people! You know I’d love it, wedding dress fashion designer that I am.

More confused than ever on how to find your dress? I get it. Based on what I know as a designer, I’ve listed the pros and cons of each option, and, of course, if you ever want to chat more, please let me know!

Buying a wedding dress: pros and cons

The biggest pro is that the process of buying clothes is likely a familiar one. You may never have bought a wedding dress before but I imagine you’re well-versed in the process of going to a store, trying something on, and buying it. 

Unfortunately, this familiarity is also the biggest con of buying a wedding dress. Some of my clients find me because they’ve purchased a pre-made dress but need to have it altered. I’ve already shared what it can take to alter a wedding dress but long story short: It’s often more time and money than the person originally bargained on.

Renting a wedding dress: pros and cons

Renting a wedding dress has one huge benefit: more closet space. After your wedding, you give the dress back, which means you don’t have to worry about storing it or preserving it (if you’re into that kind of thing). 

The downside to renting is that your options are limited. While more companies are offering wedding dress rentals — Rent the Runway being the best-known — it remains a newer option with less inventory. This reality is limiting in a lot of ways especially if you don’t fit the very particular (and, I would argue, narrow) view that the wedding fashion industry has about what a wedding dress is “supposed” to look like.

Making a wedding dress: pros and cons

I know, I know. I design wedding dresses for a living. Of course I think making your own dress is the best option! I won’t deny this is true but I also like to be upfront about why I believe what I believe. 

For one thing, designing your own wedding dress isn’t as expensive as people think. It also doesn’t require as much knowledge of clothes as it might seem; I’m right there with you the whole time to guide and share my years of experience. Most importantly, though, making your own wedding dress allows you to celebrate what makes you you.

And that’s why no matter what option you pick — buy, rent, make — I just want you to enjoy the process of finding your wedding dress. It’s so easy to feel boxed in when planning a wedding. As a big believer in fashion as a means of expression, I don’t want you to feel forced into wearing one particular thing because you “have to.” I want you to feel amazing! I want you to feel bold. I want you to feel like yourself.

Still curious about your options? Let’s talk.

Wedding Dress Alterations: What You Need to Know

Let me tell you a story about wedding dress alterations. 

Recently, a bride brought me her dress. She’d bought it at a boutique and parts of the dress were several sizes too big. To make it fit, I took in the bodice which made the front straps move really far to the side which made the back become wide which meant I needed to cut down where the strap came out of the fabric so that it didn’t cut the bride off at the armpit.

I call this type of course correcting the domino effect of wedding dress alterations, and it’s not an usual situation for a bride who buys a pre-made dress (so, you know, most brides). Unfortunately, the domino effect happens a lot even though ? we don’t talk about it.

Why don’t we talk about this?

We don’t talk about how much labor wedding dress alterations take for two reasons. 

The first reason is that often, the people at the boutique or online store where a bride buys her dress sincerely don’t know how much or how little will be needed to alter the dress. That’s understandable. The person who sells you a wedding dress isn’t often a trained seamstress or designer. 

The second reason is a lot more gross: We don’t talk about how much labor alterations take because if we did, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t buy the dress to begin with. What seems like a good deal off the rack looks much less attractive after you tack on the $800, $1,200, $2,000 worth of alterations the dress will need to fit. 

These numbers aren’t bloated, by the way. Those are actual figures and the reason they’re so high is because they capture the hours of labor that go into altering a dress. 

What’s a bride to do?

The most important thing is to be informed. If possible, get an estimate for alterations before you buy your wedding dress or, if that’s not an option, get an estimate within the timeframe you may have on returning the dress. 

Another option is to make a dress from scratch. It’s easy to assume that ordering a custom dress will naturally be more expensive but, in my experience, it often isn’t. 

This is because there are no hidden fees or last-minute expenses. You and I work together to design your dress from the ground up. This dress is created for your one unique body and, as such, we don’t have to worry about alterations (and how much they cost). We spend more time working on the design and having fun with that instead of worrying about the fit.

It’s about risk

It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that buying a wedding dress off the rack is “less risky” than designing a dress ourselves. That makes sense. For many of my clients, our interaction is the very first time that they’ve ever designed a piece of clothing. 

But when you factor in the cost of altering someone else’s work, the time it takes to do so, and the labor (mental, emotional, and physical) to get it all done on a tight any deadline, it’s worth considering another option. Nobody wants to deal with dominos, particularly when planning a wedding.


Want to talk more? Great! Contact me.

Image by Abbey Elaine

How Much Does It Cost to Have a Wedding Dress Made?

Fun fact: When I’m not making custom wedding dresses, I do alterations. It’s not something I do a lot of these days but I mention it here because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tailoring a wedding dress and thought, “It would have been cheaper if they’d just bought a custom dress.”

Yes, you read that correctly: I used one of my dreaded fashion “c” words — “cheaper” — because it’s true! Often, a dress off the rack or ordered online takes so much labor to tailor that it would have been less money, less time, and, most importantly, less heartache for the person if they’d started out custom from the get-go.

Lens: Amanda DeBusk

“Um, you’re a fashion designer — why should I believe you?”

Fair question. It’s good news for me if you want to buy a custom wedding dress but you know what’s also good news for me? More people wearing what they want on their wedding day. It’s why I got into this business in the first place and, the more I work with people getting married, the more I realize what a difference having one less item on the to-do list can mean for their brainpower. 

When you work with a designer, you have an experienced guide to take you through each step of the process rather than the oh-so-popular alternative: You buy a dress and then scramble to find where to get it altered only to spend nearly as much money on tailoring as you did on the actual dress. 

Of course, we haven’t even talked about the wide range of options there are when we use the word “tailoring.” For my work, I do such involved and detailed tailoring because I actually want things to fit the unique person who will be wearing the clothes. This is different than just taking in the seams or moving up a hem but the results are, in my experience, always worth it.

There’s one other reason that I claim it would have been cheaper if they’d just bought a custom dress: I hate waste. Speaking as a designer, it is much more efficient to build from the ground up rather than to go back and try and make something out of what’s available. 

Of course, a lot is possible even with a pre-made dress but even more is possible when we work from a blank slate. By creating a dress that’s made for your unique body, we make your dress work for you — not the other way around!

Lens: Heather Sherrill

“Interesting but how much is this going to cost me?”

Again, very fair question. The custom wedding dresses I design start at $1,500, which can feel like a lot of money. In this article, I explain why, nationally speaking, that’s actually below the average cost. More importantly, though, I want to offer context on what you’re paying for when you buy a custom dress.

You’re buying my brain. I’m the type of person who looks at fabric swatches on her break. I’ve been wearing nothing but my own handmade clothes since 2014 — that includes my underwear! I started making clothes for other people because I wanted to make big dresses and awesome suits and other glorious clothes but I didn’t want to have a lot in my closet. 

Long story short: I live and breathe making fashion that works for all people. That — more than the fabric, more than the labor, more than the time — is what you’re buying and that can save you hours of heartache. Rather than order an outfit only to have it arrive and not be quite what you hoped, we can start from the beginning to make sure you get what you want without all the (expensive) back-and-forth.

“What about made-to-measure or fast fashion ? Those prices are so low!”

Hiring a custom designer is a lot like hiring an architect. You are picking someone to be in charge of making decisions. We’re not talking about hiring some random person, either; you’re hiring a qualified, experienced, proven expert for the very important job of taking what’s in your head and bringing it to life. 

That’s part of the reason why an architect is paid more than those who build the building: The architect is being compensated for her decision-making expertise and all of the education and experience that makes her qualified to make those decisions in the first place.

The same principle applies to my work, too. While ordering a dress made-to-measure or picking a fast fashion dress costs less upfront, it actually costs much more in aggregate. It costs more in terms of money (alterations in addition to the original cost of the dress!), time (it’s on you to do the legwork), satisfaction (settling for something that isn’t made for your body), and, of course, brainpower (no resident expert to help).

So, how much does it cost to have a wedding dress made?

Less than you’d think, particularly when you factor in what you’re actually buying. 

When you hire a designer, you’re picking someone to ask the right questions and offer meaningful solutions. You’re also hiring their talent and time to draft the design, select the fabric, cut the pattern (six hours at least!), and then, finally, create. 

Sound good? Let’s talk more. Email me!

Lens: Megan Renee Thompson