What I Learned Creating a Custom Wedding Dress

A Brides editor shares her experience with the risks and rewards of going custom

Updated 03/01/19

Courtesy of Jessie Mooney DiGiovanna

Custom wedding dress designers are like real-life fairy godmothers: Their job is making magic from scratch. When I met mine—New York City bridal designer Jaclyn Jordan—while waitressing at a neighborhood joint in the West Village, I didn’t have a boyfriend, but I made her promise to make my wedding dress one day.

Last year, I returned to Jordan—this time with a fiancé and a request for the gown of my dreams. I knew this route would be expensive (I actually started waitressing again as a side hustle), but the payout would be a one-of-a-kind dress perfectly suited to my style and body. Um, yes, please! However, I soon learned that going custom would take work on my part too.

First, Jordan sent me to try on real-life dresses and snap pictures of myself in my favorites. That way, I’d see if what I’d adored on Instagram or Pinterest was as mesmerizing in person—an important step “since you won’t see your dress on until it’s completed,” she says. You don't have to limit yourself to bridal looks either. "You could go to any department store and try on their formal wear to get a feel for fits and fabrics that you're interested in," says Jordan. If you’re going truly custom, not just customizing a preexisting garment, “you need to be able to visualize what parts a, b, and c will look like when put together."

The thing is: I had no problem picturing the backless lace bodice, waist ribbon, and flowy skirt I wanted; my issue came in verbalizing that vision. I should’ve studied up on bridal fashion terms—specifically, silhouettes and skirt shapes. When Jordan and I met to finalize my design, I nimbly scrolled through half a dozen shots for her of my envisioned off-the-shoulder lace bolero, and stressed the importance of sewing supportive boning into my bodice in an attempt to correct my crappy posture, but I totally spaced on the skirt—mistakenly asking for an A-line when I meant circle.

I couldn't tell the difference in the preliminary sketch.

Courtesy of Jessie Mooney DiGiovanna

In fact, even when it came time for the fitting of my “practice dress” made of muslin (the ideal stage to make changes, before any of the precious fabric that's going to be used for the final version has been cut), the silhouette had still seemed okay. It wasn’t until I saw the real deal in silk chiffon that I realized my error. The contrast between a mod A-line skirt and a swingy circle skirt was like night and day. Staring in the full-length mirror at my “real dress” fitting, I felt crestfallen.

The gown in my reflection didn’t match the one in my imagination.

Courtesy of Jessie Mooney DiGiovanna

Thankfully, Jordan was more than understanding when I asked if we could switch up the skirt this late in the game. “Jessie, you’re not the first bride to change her mind,” she said to comfort me. “Never be afraid to say what you’re thinking.” And what if you're worried about offending or hurting someone's feelings? Don't be, says Jordan. "As designers, we change our minds all the time and we want you to be happy." It’s all part of the process—as is trusting your designer to help find a solution.

You’re the boss, but remember, they’re the expert.

For my storybook ending, Jordan swapped in a last-minute gorgeous gathered skirt that allowed me the freedom to dance and eat unlimited slices of our churro wedding cake—the real dream all along.

RachLovesTroy

This story originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Brides, on sale beginning February 26.

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