Dress alterations… a guide

I prefer making dresses to altering them, I have to admit, but I do also love a challenge.  Early this year I was given the challenge of turning a strapless prom-style cocktail dress from Oasis into a maternity dress for a bridesmaid who was 7 months’ pregnant – several fittings later (it took three whilst she made up her mind on the length!), the dress was, although I say this myself, splendid.

Likewise in the summer, I was a approached by a lady who wanted me to put some straps on a bridesmaid dress.  During our chat, she told me that the dresses were being made to measure but that the seamstress wouldn’t put straps a couple of dress (several bridesmaids but only two want straps), but she would provide fabric.   I thought this was strange (I once made four bridesmaids dresses with each dress slightly different – one to show off her ample bosoms!, one more A’line to hide the hips and so on), as whilst it’s a bit more intricate to manufacture slight variations on the same theme, it’s not that difficult.

I told the bride I was happy to do this, but really thought the seamstress should provide this service herself.

I didn’t hear anything further from the bride in question, until earlier this month.  The dresses had finally arrived.  I was told it was a “bit on the big side” and still needed the straps.

First fitting with the bridesmaid, and a bit on the big side was an understatement.  I as grabbed inches at each side (from a woman who works in centimetres this is a lot of fabric!).  In fact, I grabbed so much fabric I had to double check she’d got the right dress!

So I set about the task in hand, making and attaching straps and making the dress fit.  So great was the task I had had to first take the dress in before I could even attach the straps (which meant a second fitting).   I don’t like to criticise the work of others as it’s unprofessional, but I’ve never seen anything like the inside of the dress.  The boning around the bodice were all cut to different lengths, the seams weren’t straight, and so on.  It also had the Chinese “quality” label inside…. made to measure dresses made in China?

I’m not criticising the dress because I wanted the business, I’m merely thought I make potential brides aware when they order dresses, especially when ordering from the internet…

Bespoke – this service shouldn’t be available by mail order as this is a design made to spec, and each dress should be fitted to the recipient.  It’s costly in both time and money, but it’s obviously the best.  This is the service Eliza Wyke couture offers.  Each dress is individually designed and unique to the wearer.

Made to measure – this service should involve a fitting (if it doesn’t it’s off the peg so should cost less).  If you do send off measurements for the manufacture, then measure the dress when you get it back (this one was 3 inches larger on the bust than the original measurement), if it’s the wrong size, they should make it good or offer a refund.  If it’s got a 10 week “delivery cycle”, it’s probably being made aboard; just beware it might not be logistically possible to make alterations so it could end up costing considerably more for local alterations.

Of the peg – with this you pays your money, takes your chance!  If you are buying online check the returns policy, and also the measurements.  As we all know sizes vary so widely the retailer should include a size chart (remember country variations eg American sizes are larger than British ones, whereas Continental sizes can be smaller).  Always buy a dress to fit the largest measurement, for example of you’re a 12 on top and a 14 at the bottom, go with a 14 and have it taken it.  On ready to wear garments there is generally very little seam allowance so they can’t be let out.

Hope the above helps when making your bridesmaid dress selection and remember, as the insurance companies like to reminder us, the cheapest option is always that cheap.


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