Virtually all wedding gowns will require alterations to fit perfectly. For gorgeous results, bear this in mind.
RESPECT THE CRAFT
A bridal gown is likely to be far more complicated than any other garment you've altered in the past. For example, downsizing a princess bodice might require taking in several seams, essentially disassembling and rebuilding the bodice. Gowns with trim or design along the lower skirt cannot be hemmed, and instead have to be shortened at the waist. Sometimes lace, beading, draping and embroidery will have to be removed and reapplied. Tailors' fees reflect the time and skill required for such work.
WEIGH THE OPTIONS
Taking a dress in is always more feasible than letting it out. If you buy a custom gown from a bridal salon, it will be ordered in a size that accommodates your largest measurement (hips, waist or bust), then taken in by a house tailor over three fitting sessions, typically. Straps and cups can be added. And the store may press and pack the gown for you. There are many alternatives to custom gowns, of course. If you buy an off-the-rack dress from one of the famous sample sales at Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan, you will not be offered services on gowns $1,499 or less, but an alterations manager will give you guidance as to the work the gown may need. The store will also give you a list of recommended independent tailors.
"With a sample gown, you can get a designer style at 30 to 70 percent off," says Kleinfeld co-owner and president Mara Urshel. "And you enjoy an advantage if your wedding is very close," since you can begin alterations immediately rather than wait for your gown to arrive, which usually takes at least six months, Urshel says.
CHOOSE A TALENTED TAILOR
You need a tailor with bridal expertise and the skills to meet your specific requests. A bridal shop—even if you haven't bought a dress from them—or an upscale fabric store should have suggestions. Ask tailors for references and perhaps photos of their past work. They should be able to give an initial estimate and be open about variables that could raise the cost.
If you're altering the hem of your dress, it can be basted (held with loose stitches) temporarily, but the sooner you decide on your shoes and bring them to a fitting, the better—especially if your dress has a train and therefore requires a bustle to raise it off the floor after the ceremony. Anywhere from one to nine bustle points must be artfully placed by a tailor according to your height, dress style and preference. You might also need to bring the undergarments you plan to wear, because they will affect your measurements and you want to make sure the finished gown conceals everything properly. If the gown requires cleaning, have it done prior to altering. That way you'll know if any remaining stains need to be more strategically dealt with, such as by cutting out or masking. After altering, the dress usually doesn't need anything more than pressing.
ALLOW ENOUGH TIME
Ideally you should begin fittings three to four months before the wedding. This will vary according to the complexity of the work involved, but expect it to take no less than six to eight weeks. Your fittings should give you confidence as your wedding dress nears its ultimate state of perfection.