A-Z Guide – Alterations

Wedding dress alterations

Image courtesy of Cool Wedding Dress

(My A-Z Guide is a resource for people planning an event, be it a wedding, birthday party, shower, etc. As long as it’s related to events, it’s fair game for this series. Please add to the usefulness of this guide by leaving your opinion, advice, or perspective in the comments below! And if you have topic suggestions, definitely mention those, as well!)

Unless you’re incredibly fortunate and manage to score some off-the-rack number that fits you perfectly, you will likely need to have your wedding dress altered to fit your beautiful figure. If nothing else, should your dress have a train, you’ll need to have a bustle put in unless you want to be dealing with that train while dancing, walking, etc. Even if you’ve dealt with tailoring garments before, do not assume your wedding dress will be of a similar vein. Thanks to the various embellishments and fabrics, altering a wedding dress is different from taking in a shirt or hemming a pair of pants.

Prior to alterations

Step one with alterations is finding a gown that fits you as well as possible, realizing that a perfect fit is unlikely. Ideally, aim to fit the biggest part of your body and count on taking in the rest of the dress. The closer the original dress is to your body size, the less expensive your alterations will be. And taking a dress in is easier than letting one out, as many dresses have only so much seam allowance. Also, if you’re purchasing a dress in velvet or satin, do not count on being able to let the dress out at all, as the original seam lines will show.

When I saw “fit the biggest part of your body”, I do not mean “buy an off-the-rack dress that’s six sizes too big”. Even if you save money on the dress, you will pay for it in alterations, since the dress will basically need to be taken apart and put back together. Have the bridal shop take your measurements and order the dress that’s as close to your size as possible, erring on the “a little too big” side. And give yourself plenty of time for delivery. When I ordered my gown, the bridal shop ordered the wrong size. Twice. Do not settle for a dress that isn’t your size. Insist they order the correct size, as it will make alterations much easier. Also, be aware that bridal sizing differs from normal sizing. You may be a street size 4 and a bridal size 10. This is normal. Go by the measurements, not the number size of the dress. The same goes for any vintage finds you may score. Verify the measurements, not the size.

Finding that perfect tailor

When it comes to gown alterations, please find someone who has experience specifically with wedding gowns, and do not automatically just go with the alteration shop at the bridal store. Look at reviews online. Get recommendations. Shop around! There’s a good chance this will be one of the most expensive pieces of clothing you’ve ever bought. Don’t let just anyone take a pair of scissors to it! And don’t automatically go with the lowest estimate; you might just get what you pay for. Ask to see previous work and speak with past clients.


And now … price. Most tailors will not give an estimate over the phone, as they need to see exactly how the dress needs to be altered. On average, hemming will be $140-225, taking in the torso will cost $50-200, installing a bustle will be $55-95, and putting in cups (if you aren’t wearing a bra) will run around $20-40. For most dresses, count on spending around $250-450, with that number going up as the dress becomes more complicated (embellishments, lace, beading, etc).

The actual appointment

When you make your alterations appointment (and YES, you do need an appointment, ideally when your tailor is focused only on you), please wear whatever undergarments and shoes you intend to wear on your wedding day. You would be stunned how much those items can affect the way a garment fits or hangs. If you’re wearing heels and you don’t have your actual wedding shoes yet, wear a pair with the same heel height. Do not just plan on standing on tiptoes throughout the appointment. First, this will be exhausting on your calves and second, it almost guarantees an uneven hem.

Also, for the love of all things holy, don’t go to your fitting right after a workout. You’ll be sweaty and gross, which isn’t good for either your dress or your tailor. And if you’re planning on losing a bunch of weight, or getting breast augmentation, or are 7 months pregnant, please tell your tailor. Having a dress altered is expensive enough; you certainly don’t want to have to do it twice. And when it comes to cosmetic surgery, give your body a good six months to fully settle and heal. Otherwise, things might move around a bit from one appointment to the next.

During your appointment, when your tailor is moving around you, do not move unless specifically instructed. You don’t want to get poked by a pin, and your tailor doesn’t want to get accidentally elbowed in the face. In addition, if your tailor tells you that something cannot be done, she is either in over her head or it legitimately cannot be done. Feel free to question her and figure out which situation you are facing. If it’s the former, you might want to find a different tailor. If it’s the latter, please trust her and don’t try for the impossible.

Once your tailor is finished pinning and has given you the go ahead, move around! I’m assuming you aren’t planning on standing still with perfect posture throughout the duration of your wedding day, so make sure you can move! Walk around, dance, sit down, cross your arms, do whatever you might do on that day. If anything is too tight or too loose or sagging, now is the time to figure that out.

Timing the appointment

Most brides end up needing three appointments. The first will be when your tailor gets your measurements and sees you in the dress for the first time. The second is after the initial round of alterations have been made. Your final fitting should be around two weeks prior to your wedding, to allow for any last-minute weight changes and make sure there’s still time to fix any remaining issues. In a perfect world, if you have a complicated bustle, see if your mom or maid of honor or a bridesmaid can tag along, so she can operate the bustle on your wedding day. Some of those bad boys have a freakish number of buttons, hooks, etc, and can be intimidating to the uninitiated.

After the appointment

The dress is altered and ready to come home with you! Yay! Please do not just shove it into a bag and assume it’ll be ready to go on your wedding day. If this is your strategy, your gown will likely be a wrinkled mess when you take it out of that bag. With my dress, I hung it up, out of the bag, and let the train flow free. This might necessitate using a guest room closet, if you’re keeping the dress a secret from your partner, or storing your dress at a family member or friend’s house. If none of these options work for you, talk to your tailor about keeping your dress until close to your wedding day and having them steam the dress before you pick it up. Or, if you’re really lucky, they might deliver your dress directly to you.

Did your dress require a bunch of alterations? Did you face any issues along the way? Let me know in the comments below!

Categories: A-Z, Wedding

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