Congratulations on finding your wedding dress! Alterations are the next step, and I want to help demystify the process for you. Most websites provide unrealistically low estimates of the cost of alterations, as well as inadequate descriptions of what the process entails. Since your wedding day is likely to be the most-photographed day of your life, and because you have already spent a great deal of money on your wedding dress, your gown should fit properly.
Almost all wedding dresses - even made-to-order gowns - must be altered to achieve the perfect fit, as well as to add a bustle. (A bustle is a method of pinning up the train of your dress following your ceremony so you are not dragging it around and damaging your dress.) Wedding dresses are typically cut to fit a person who is 5'11" or 6' tall, so most people will at least require a gown to be hemmed in order to comfortably move around on their wedding day.
What type of alterations can I expect to have?
There are two main types of alterations besides the bustle:
Alterations for fit, like shortening straps, hemming, taking in along the bust or waist, and taking in or letting out along the hip and thigh.
Modifications or customizations to your wedding dress, like closing/raising a plunge neckline or adding/removing a strap or sleeve.
Sometimes a bridal designer can accommodate customization requests at the time that you order a gown, but not always, so that type of alteration usually occurs during the fitting process.
How much do alterations cost?
Bridal tailoring is highly skilled work, and the price is - and should be - commensurate with the degree of skill required and the time involved. As with most services, cost varies by region. The prices provided here are in the range for a bridal shop in a city like Atlanta, where A Day in June is located.
For a thorough alterations process consisting of 2-3 fittings (more on this below!), you should budget $600-$850. If you are modifying or customizing your dress (for instance, by adding a custom sleeve), you should expect to spend an additional $200-$400.
If you are on a tight schedule and it is one of the high seasons for weddings in your area (which are May-June and September - October here in Atlanta), then you may also incur a rush fee. It depends on the bridal shop and seamstress.
Fitting alteration cost breakdown
Hem - $125 to $300
Bustle - $75 to $150
Bodice and skirt - $300 to $600
Total - $500 to $1,050
Customization cost estimates
Adding a strap or sleeve - $100 to $300
Replacing a zipper back with a corset back - $250 to $400
Adding covered buttons to the back - variable based on # of buttons, but plan for $4-$5 per button
How is the cost of alterations determined?
Fabric type is usually the most significant variable in the alterations process. A heavily beaded gown costs much more to alter than a simple satin gown in the exact same style because altering a beaded gown is more labor-intensive and requires greater skill (and can even require different sewing tools and equipment).
The same goes for lace. In order to alter a lace gown, the lace will have to be carefully taken apart and then reapplied, usually by hand. The time and degree of skill involved in this process will increase the cost.
With respect to the hem and bustle, some of the factors that influence cost are the number of layers in the skirt, the primary fabric of the gown, and the presence of additional embellishments or trim along the hemline.
When do I start alterations? How many fittings should I expect?
At A Day in June, we schedule three fitting appointments. We aim for your first fitting to occur 2-3 months before your wedding, and your final fitting to occur 1-2 weeks prior to the wedding.
The first fitting lasts for 45-60 minutes. We discuss the style of bustle you would like, establish your hem, pin and shape the gown to your body, and discuss any customizations you would like to make. At the second fitting, we continue to refine the fit of the dress. At the third fitting, we ensure that you are happy with the fit, and we make minor last-minute adjustments (such as changing the position of a hook and eye closure or a snap). Typically, you take your dress home with you following the third fitting. Some clients may require four fittings, but that is not common.
We do not advise having a single fitting for a wedding dress. If your bridal shop only schedules one fitting, then your gown is highly unlikely to fit as well as it should. You should politely request an additional fitting or consider having your alterations done elsewhere.
How should I prepare for my first fitting appointment? What should I bring?
When you go to your first alterations appointment, you should bring the shoes you plan to wear to your wedding. If you do not have shoes of the appropriate height, your seamstress will not be able to pin out the appropriate length of your hem. A difference of even 1/2" matters a lot, so bringing shoes that are similar in height is not ideal. You want to bring the exact shoes you plan to wear.
Some people feel more comfortable in a wedding dress when they are wearing shapewear, so you should bring your shapewear to your appointment. If you have a large bust and your gown does not have boning or structure in the bodice, it can be helpful to bring breast tape, which will ensure that you have the support you need.
You should continue to bring your shoes, shapewear, and any other items to future fittings.
A note on split sizing
Most people are a split size, meaning that they are not the same size on the top and bottom. Some designers will permit you to order a split-size gown, but many will not. When you buy a sample or off-the-rack gown like the dresses we carry at A Day in June, it will almost always be a standard single size. In such cases, you purchase or order a dress in the size that corresponds to your largest body measurement, and then alter the gown to fit the portion of your body that is a smaller size.
It is not uncommon for people to be even 8-10 sizes apart on the top and bottom. If this describes you, please don't worry! A skilled seamstress will be able to make your gown fit your body perfectly.
What types of bustles are there?
I intend to discuss bustle types in a future post, and I will update this post with the link once we have published that.
If you have any questions about related topics I haven't covered in this post, please post them in the comments or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy to answer them!