The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Dress Alterations

Fit is everything.

Mother helping the bride with top button of gown

Photo by Addison Jones / Gown by Grace Loves Lace / Venue: Hacienda Xcanatun

Fit is everything, which is why when it comes to your wedding dress, alterations are also everything. After all, your wedding day is the only day you'll be showing off your stunning gown that took months to find. And the last thing you need on your special day is to deal with a wardrobe malfunction.

What Is a Wedding Dress Fitting?

A wedding dress fitting is an appointment with a seamstress or fitter to have the dress altered to fit correctly and sculpt the gown to the body. Brides typically need three fittings before the dress is ready to be worn.

Every dress should be altered, even if it's only a little, to ensure proper fit. "You can splurge on a pricey dress, but if it's not altered properly it won't look any better than a gown that's a tenth of the cost," says Terry Hall, fashion director of New York City's Kleinfeld Bridal. Case in point: dress alterations are important, so make sure to leave room in your budget for them. Depending on what needs to be done, you can expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $1,000 on alterations. The entire process is typically done in two to three fittings, the first of which lasts up to an hour. Your bridal boutique will either have an in-house seamstress who regularly works with the shop's gowns or they will be able to recommend a trusted tailor to do the job.

As you break out the measuring tape, here is everything to know when it comes to bridal alterations.

Meet the Expert

Wedding Dress Fitting Tips
 Bailey Mariner/Brides

Types of Wedding Dress Alterations

Basic Hemming

Simple alterations begin with hemming the length, adjusting the sides of the gown, and fine-tuning the fit of the dress. These basic adjustments are essential for the gown to look its best. "Every wedding dress needs alterations," says Tina Zimmerman, director of alterations at Kleinfeld. "Alterations ensure that a bride's wedding dress fits her perfectly, meets all of her specifications, and most importantly, makes her feel like her most beautiful self."

A well-fitted gown should support and shape the bust, accentuate and compliment the body's shape, and be long enough to cover the shoes, but not too long that the skirt becomes a tripping hazard.

While wedding dress shopping, be thinking about alterations you may need and factor the cost into your dress budget.

Adding Details

More extensive changes can be made with enough budgeted time and money (these will cost more). Customizations include adding details like off-the-shoulder straps, sleeves, train length, lace appliqués, beading, buttons, and a bustle. "Gowns do not come with a bustle," says Zimmerman. During the alteration process, the bustle is created and sewn into the wedding dress "to keep the train from dragging behind the bride while she dances at her reception."

Wedding Dress Alterations FAQs

How Many Fittings Will I Need?

How many fittings you'll need may all depend on the number of alterations required and how much your body changes during that time. "The gown will start to take shape when the fitter starts pinning and tucking the fabric and sculpting it to the bride's body," says Nicole Sacco, director of fittings at Kleinfeld, in regard to the first fitting. "At the second fitting, the bride should have a better idea of how the gown will fit."

Often the alteration process can be complete in just two fittings, but Zimmerman says they tell their brides to prepare for three. "It’s important to remember that your wedding dress was ordered according to the largest measurement (between hips, bust, and waist), therefore it is likely it will not fit properly at your first fitting appointment." Either way, schedule your final fitting to take place one to two weeks before the wedding since your body won't change much in those final weeks.

How Long Does a Dress Fitting Appointment Last?

The first fitting will generally last one hour as your tailor begins to assess your dress and the alterations needed. "At the first fitting the bride will meet the artisan fitter who will be with her during every fitting until her wedding day," says Nicole Sacco, the director of fittings at Kleinfeld. Following the first hour-long appointment, each subsequent fitting should take less time since the dress is getting closer and closer to the perfect fit.

What Should I Budget for Alterations?

Bridal alterations can add up. Some salons charge per service ($225 to shorten your gown, $150 to resew seams, etc.) while others do a flat fee (around $500 to $900) that covers anything you'll need to make the dress fit you perfectly. Design changes can cost anywhere from $50 (to cut a new dress neckline) to a few hundred (to add lace or beading, reshape the silhouette, or change the fabric). Make sure you factor in these costs before you buy.

Wedding Dress Alterations Tips

Stay on Schedule

To take the stress out of wedding dress alterations, it's best to buy your dress early, leaving plenty of time for fittings and tailoring. Buy a dress 10 months before the wedding if possible (It can take up to five months from the time you order it to arrive in the salon). Schedule a fitting eight to 12 weeks before the wedding and a final fitting no later than two weeks before your wedding.

If you're making major changes to the design—reworking the corset or cups, for example, or accommodating a pregnancy—budget a few extra weeks.

Be Mindful of Your Anticipated Wedding Weight

Never order a too-small dress as motivation, Hall says. It's easier to take a larger dress in than to let a smaller one out. Instead, consider a gown with structure. About 40 percent have built-in corsets, which can be easily tightened or loosened. And ask if the designer will build new cups if your bust size changes (Some won't). Can't find a corseted gown you love? Try an A-line, which covers lingering pounds. In general, the slinkier the gown, the harder it is to fix the fit if you gain or lose weight.

Bring Your Wedding Shoes, Accessories, and Undergarments to Every Fitting

Be sure to bring your day-of essentials to get a true fit. "Brides need to bring the shoes and undergarments they will wear on the day of the wedding in order to obtain the proper fit," says Sacco. We all know the difference Spanx or the right strapless bra can make. You want to wear exactly what you'll be wearing on your wedding day, including shapewear, for the best possible tailoring. "During the alteration process is when a bride can see and feel what she will look like on her wedding day," says Zimmerman.

When your tailor adjusts the hem, make sure to wear the shoes you'll wear at the wedding so you'll be the same height you will be on the big day. If you haven't picked out your wedding shoes yet, bring a pair with a height comparable to the shoes you imagine yourself wearing (otherwise you'll end up with an incorrect alteration).

And while jewelry, gloves, and other accessories might not change the fit of your wedding dress, they contribute to the overall look. For example, where your wedding necklace falls might influence where you want the neckline of your dress to sit.

Keep in mind that the gown is adjusted for the wedding shoes, so if you take them off or switch into flip flops for the reception, it will be too long. For this reason, Kleinfeld recommends brides find a shoe that's comfortable enough to wear at both gatherings.

Go for a Hemline that Grazes the Ground

Rita Ertl, Monique Lhuillier's director of alterations, advises brides to aim for a hemline that gently grazes the ground. "With your hem grazing the floor, you will be able to walk, dance, and mingle with your guests," Ertl explains. The main thing is to make sure you won't trip on the dress. After the seamstress pins the dress hemline so that it grazes the ground, walk around the salon a bit in your shoes to make sure it's a comfortable length. As for any brides wondering if a grazing hemline will end up staining and ruining the dress, rest assured that no matter the length, the bottom of the gown is going to get a little dirty on the big day, but the stains will come out during the post-wedding preservation of the wedding dress. So don't worry about it.

Don't Worry Too Much If You Lose or Gain Weight Once the Dress Arrives

If your dress doesn't fit after you've ordered it, or even after it arrives, don't worry too much. "If a bride loses weight, the gown will be taken in at each fitting appointment until it fits perfectly. If a bride gains weight, we will try to open the seams and release some extra fabric," says Sacco. "If there is not enough fabric to work with, we can order fabric from the designer and a panel can be added to the dress."

Too Many Alterations Won't Ruin the Dress

Whether you bought a larger dress to accommodate specific parts of your body, or you found a great deal on the perfect dress that wasn’t exactly your ideal fit, remember that this is what the dress alterations are for. If you do choose to purchase something outside of your typical size, don't forget that it is always better to purchase a gown in a larger size rather than a smaller size. "We can always make a gown smaller, but it is harder to make a gown larger," says Sacco. "Depending on the style and embellishments on the gown, alterations should not 'ruin' the style."

Bring a Friend

It's always good to bring your mom or a friend with you to your dress fittings, just so you have an extra set of eyes. Bring someone with a great sense of style and an opinion you trust.

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