Wedding dress alterations: essential or just another tick on your to-do list?

The results are in: no dress is exempt. Every sheath, ballgown and fishtail needs a nip here and a tuck there

When I found my own dream dress, I was under no illusions that it wouldn’t need altering. With a fair few fashion articles for this magazine under my belt, I had been well warned about the extra (but entirely necessary) cost, having heard the anecdotes of brides who didn’t factor it into their budget. Nonetheless, the work was more extensive than even I had imagined. Learn from my mistake and arm yourself with the facts.

Money is tight. You’re scheming, certain there’s a way out of parting with the dosh. Believe us, there isn’t. Take some comfort from the fact your dress is not the only one needing alterations. “Nearly all gowns will need some sort of adjustment,” confirms Andrina Greig of Glasgow-based Fabricated Bridal Alterations. “Even if a dress is ‘made to measure’, it doesn’t mean it will really measure up. Bear this in mind when you purchase your gown.”

“I wish women knew right from the outset that they’ll need alterations!” laments Ivory Whites’ owner Karyn McLeod. “People assume the dress will just fit when ordered from the designer, but this is very hard to achieve. Most brides are changing shape and it is rare not to need tailoring to some degree.”

Pauline gown (style 2015B) by Watters, £POA, Bridal Atelier Scotland

The tailoring process begins as soon as your dress is delivered, normally with six to eight weeks left until your big day. “Once the gown arrives in store, we call the bride and make the first fitting appointment,” says Christine Fyfe at Loch Lomond boutique Bridal Atelier Scotland. “This should take from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the style. The number of further appointments will hinge on the amount of changes required.”

Some stores only arrange fittings (typically two or three are needed) on specific days, when the dressmaker is available. It’s important you establish with your boutique at the outset where these will take place, as this will certainly have an impact on you. Will it be taken care of in-house or will it be outsourced to a local seamstress? “We have in-house dressmakers,” divulges Kudos Bridal Boutiques’ Lisa Middleton. “This makes the whole experience easier. We are able to store the gown in our boutique, which means the bride doesn’t have to worry about keeping it at home or with family and travelling back and forth to an external seamstress.”

Ivory Whites also carries out alterations in-house. “I am here to talk to brides about any questions they have, and the seamstress will chip in with her opinion,” says Karyn. “Fittings night is always fun. We do the alterations and then try on accessories to complete the look.”

With this in mind, which common fixes (usually coming in at approximately £200 to £250, according to the boutiques we consulted) should you reasonably expect your gown to need? “Shortening hemlines, adding cups and general bodice changes are typical,” Christine tells us. A bustle (a loop sewn into the underside of your skirt or a series of buttons or poppers to secure a long train) is also a regular alteration you should be aware of.

So why are such changes expensive? “Some gowns have layers and layers of varying fabrics, so the time required to fix things is more than you might realise – what seems like a small tweak may consist of opening up quite a few seams or removing beading and appliqué before the work can be done,” she explains. “And don’t forget that the dresses are made to a standard size but every bride is a different shape.” 

Andrina is honest about the complexity of this essential step. “Alterations are a highly skilled task, especially with the current trend of all-over lace and beading,” she points out. “When a beaded dress is tackled, all the beads straddling the seams come off, the change is sewn in and then the beads are reattached – by hand.”

On the flip side, if you allow it, tailoring can be creative as well as functional. “We put alterations into two categories,” outlines Lisa. “We have basic tweaks, which are capped at £250. We then have customisations available via our in-house designer. These cover things like creating straps or perhaps designing a removable skirt for two looks in one. Recently, our designer transformed a relatively structured satin gown by intro-ducing a soft lace skirt and matching straps. The result was a floaty bohemian piece.”

It might even lead to sweet, sentimental extras. “You may want to add a piece of fabric from a loved one’s shirt or incorporate jewellery into the decoration,” suggests Christine. Not a dry eye…