The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress: Part 3

In this Part 3 of the Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress, I write about the options you have for altering your wedding dress, and the costs involved.

Part 3: Altering Your Wedding Dress

Once you’ve chosen your wedding dress, the bridal boutique will order your wedding dress for you in the size closest to yours, which will then be altered to fit you. The alterations will be done by an in-house seamstress, and you would attend about 2-3 dress fittings to get the wedding dress altered just right for you.

An in-house bridal boutique seamstress will usually be quite familiar with the boutique’s product line of wedding dresses, and would have amassed the knowledge and experience in altering wedding dresses similar to yours. However, while it may be a good idea to have the in-house seamstress to alter your wedding gown, you always have the option to consult an independent seamstress instead.

When Should You Get Your Wedding Dress Altered?

Have your wedding dress altered at about 3-4 months prior to your wedding date. On one hand, you don’t want to alter your dress too early, in anticipation that you will lose (or gain) more weight closer to your wedding date.

On the other hand, if you decide to use an independent seamstress, a good seamstress may be booked up well in advance, especially if you’re getting married during the peak wedding season.

How do You Choose the Right Seamstress?

If you decide to use an independent seamstress, you should do some research prior to getting your wedding dress altered.

Look on the Internet and ask your family, friends, and the boutiques you have visited to recommend a good and trusted seamstress or tailor that is skilled in making and altering wedding dresses.

You want to find a professional who has the knowledge and experience in working with the many complex details which comprises a wedding dresses – from the boning to the hem and bustles. Go on the seamstresses’ websites and visit them at their studios (if they have one) and have a chat about the alterations that you would like to make to your wedding dress. You can then obtain a clearer time frame and estimated cost for the alterations to be carried out.

Some seamstresses will even come to you and measure you in the comforts of your own home. However, be prepared to factor in their travelling cost and time if you decide to hire them for their services.

Choose a seamstress or a tailor that you can trust, one that you feel you can work and communicate well with, is open and respectful of your ideas and whose studio is located near to you.

How Much Should You Expect to Pay for Alterations

Most upscale bridal boutiques will offer you a dress alteration package if you purchase your wedding dress from them. If you decide to take the package, you will have to you pay for it on top of the price of your wedding dress. The price is set, regardless of how much alteration is required to be carried out on the wedding dress to fit you – whether it’s just the hem you need shortened, or a total reconstruction of the dress. However, it is unlikely that you will need a total reconstruction of your wedding dress that would warrant the £395 alteration package price, if you order your dress brand new.

On the other hand, if you decide to choose an independent seamstress or tailor, the cost to alter your wedding dress will depend on how much alteration is required, how difficult and time consuming it will be to carry out those alterations, and where you seamstress/tailor is based. While the pricing may vary slightly depending on the seamstress or tailor and his/her location, here’s an estimated breakdown of how much it’ll cost to alter a wedding dress in London:

1. Altering the hem (bottom) of the wedding dress: £75 – £100

If your wedding dress is too long for you, you would need to have it shortened to avoid tripping on your wedding dress. The more layers your wedding dress comprises, the more layers that would need to be shortened. To shorten the hem on 2 layers of material on the front of your wedding dress will cost you an estimated £75, and each additional layer may add an estimated £25 to the cost.

2. Altering the sides of the  wedding dress: £50 – £75

If you are in-between sizes, sometimes the best option is to purchase a wedding dress that is of the bigger size. You can then have it taken in at the sides. Taking in the sides of the dress from the bust to the waist may cost about £50, and upto £75 where the seamstress has to also deal with other components of the wedding dress, such as boning and/or beading.

Similarly, altering your wedding dress from the waist to the hips will cost you about £50 – £60, depending on whether you have embellishments and beading on your dress.

You will be charged extra where there are embellishments and beading on your wedding dress as your seamstress would have to remove them from the “problem area”, and then sew it back  by hand once the alterations are done. The additional cost would have factored in the time taken to carry this out.

3. Adding bustles to your dress: £20

If your wedding dress has a train, it may be best to have it bustled for ease of movement, especially when you dance. Depending on the size and length of your train, you may need to add several bustles to your dress, and every bustle would cost about £20, whether they come in the form of ribbons or thread loops.

4. Changing the zip on the back of the dress to a laced back: £75 – £100

If you want to replace the zip on the back of your dress to a laced back, this may cost up to £75 as the seamstress would have to add loops and an inner fabric panel to the back of your dress.

So if you decide to alter your wedding dress in London, you can probably expect to pay between £50 to £400 to alter your wedding dress, depending on the complexity involved in the alterations process. If you are not happy with the way the dress is fitting at any time, make it known to the seamstress immediately or it’ll cost you more to rectify it later.

Generally, the more complex and labour intensive the alterations, the more time and money required to make your wedding dress fit you like a glove.

Getting Fitted for Your Wedding Dress

When you get fitted for your dress, make sure you bring your wedding shoes and any support/shapewear that you plan to wear on your wedding day with you. You don’t want to get the dress altered only to find out that the wedding dress has been altered too short to wear with your chosen wedding shoes. Don’t get a spray tan the day before, in case it rubs off of your wedding dress and while you’re at it, ditch the easily transferable make up too.

Storing Your Wedding Dress

Once you bring your wedding dress home, you should hang the dress long and cover it with a white cotton sheet to protect it. Remove any plastic wrapping from the dress, to allow the dress to “breathe”.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress, and will find the information useful in your search for your wedding dress. If you would like to read Parts 1 and 2, follow the links below:

Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress

Part 1: How to Find Your Dream Wedding Dress

Part 2: Bridal Boutique Appointments and How Do You Know If You’ve Found Your Wedding Dress

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress: Part 2

This is the 2nd part of the Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress, where I list out some tips that will hopefully be helpful to you when attending your bridal boutique appointments, and how you’ll know when you’ve found the perfect wedding dress for you.

Part 2: Bridal Boutique Appointments and How Do You Know If You’ve Found Your Wedding Dress

While some bridal boutiques will charge you a fee for an appointment (may be redeemable against the purchase of a wedding dress), there are many others that do not.

Appointments are usually an hour long, so there may be a limit to the number of dresses you can try on. As wedding dresses can be heavy, a bridal consultant will be there to help you get in and out of the wedding dress.

As wedding dress shopping can be an overwhelming experience, here are some do’s and don’ts that I’ve gathered:

  • Don’t buy the first dress you see. Try as many dresses as permissible and a variation of styles including ones that you won’t normally wear and have an open mind about it.

  • Don’t let a pushy sales assistant (or your mom for that matter) bully you into buying a wedding dress you don’t feel 100% about. Remember that they’re supposed to be there to help you.

  • Don’t bring too many people with you dress shopping. 1 or 2 people is fine. Too many opinions will confuse you.

  • Take into consideration things like where you’re going to have your wedding, the time of the year it will be held, and whether you’ll be travelling with the dress, to help narrow down the wedding dresses that you think will be THE ONE. Travelling with your wedding dress can be a nightmare if you are getting a cinderalla-esque wedding dress, with layers and layers of tulle and petticoat, in materials that crease easily.

  • Don’t get too dressed up for your appointment at the boutique because you’ll be stripped to your underwear once you’ve made your selection of wedding dress to try. As for your choice of underwear, wear a good strapless bra (or one with detachable straps), and nice knickers (nothing frilly) that you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in as the bridal consultant will be in the changing room with you, helping you into the wedding dresses. Alternatively, you could don a pair of your trusted shapewear pants if you feel too self conscious.

  • Although most shops will usually have this, bring a hair clip or some hair grips with you so that you can put your hair up or down when you’re trying on the wedding dresses as it’ll help you visualise the complete look. You might also want to bring a pair of high heeled shoes, although they may also be provided for by the bridal boutiques.

  • Don’t be shy to ask your bridal consultant for advice! Ask them to recommend slimming wear and bras to wear under the wedding dress as well as accessories that they would recommend to complete your bridal look.

  • Most bridal boutiques do not allow photographs to be taken while you’re still in the selection stage, so don’t bother with a camera.

  • If you think you have found “the one”, stop and breathe. I encourage you to walk away and leave the store without the dress, so you have time to thinks things through and make up your mind. You can always go back to get the dress, when you’re certain you’ve found “the one”.

  • Ask yourself, “Will I regret wearing this wedding dress in 10 years time?”. Try not to get a dress that it too on-trend, as it will look dated in 10 – 20 years time (hello, pouffy sleeves of the 80s).

  • Lastly, enjoy yourself!

How Do You Know If You’ve Found Your Wedding Dress

Final Decision

You may or may not cry when you finally decide on THE wedding dress. I didn’t cry when I found my wedding dress.

Personally, I feel that the “OH MY GOD” moment that you hear about so often when you find your wedding dress is overrated.  I felt beautiful in so many of the wedding dresses that I tried on that it started getting confusing. I’d have moments where I’d think I found my wedding dress, only to find something even more beautiful and to my liking on my next bridal appointment or sample sale visit.

In the end, after falling in love with so many dresses, the deciding factor for me was the cost of the dress, and it’s availability. After months of searching, I finally took the plunge and bought my wedding dress at a  Pronovias sample sale.

I had tried the dress on a week prior when I had an appointment with them, and it was one of my favourite wedding dresses. When I saw it at the sample sale a week later (even though it was current season), I snapped it up without even trying it on again, as it was being worn by a mannequin at the display window. I remember feeling really giddy and excited while I waited for them to remove the wedding dress from the mannequin.

I think finding your wedding dress is a process and it’s not the “OMG-THIS-IS-IT!!!!” experience a lot of people make it out to be. So don’t freak out and start doubting yourself if you don’t create a scene after you’ve found your wedding dress. Just trust yourself to know, when you’ve found the one.

The Purchase

Assuming that you’re buying a brand new wedding dress, once you’ve made your decision, the bridal boutique will normally order in the wedding dress for you in the size closest to yours, which will then be altered to fit you.

To order your wedding dress, you would normally be expected to pay a 50% deposit, with the remainder paid at your first fitting, or in several installments. Every bridal boutique will have their own payment plan. If you’re buying a sample wedding dress, you’ll have to pay the sale price in full on the spot, but you’ll get to take the wedding dress home with you on that very day.

Before you sign the dotted line, make sure you read and understand the terms and conditions of the sale, and ask any questions you may have regarding the purchase of the wedding dress, e.g.  can you get a refund of your deposit if you change your mind about the dress and what is the penalty if you ask for a refund or change your order to a different wedding dress.

Avoiding dress regret

Once you find the dress and paid for your wedding dress (or put down a deposit), stop searching. Just stop. Stop looking at wedding blogs for wedding dress inspirations. Don’t go to a forum asking for validation if it’s the right wedding dress for you. Trust yourself when you KNOW you’ve found THE wedding dress for you.

That being said, If you’re having doubts, you could go to the boutique and try the wedding dress again to remind yourself why you fell in love with it in the first place.

However, if you decide to get a different wedding dress, ask the boutique if they will transfer your deposit to the new wedding dress of your choice. You may be charged a penalty fee, so be certain that you’re willing to pay the extra fee to change your mind.

Alternatively, you could list the original wedding dress for sale on a preowned wedding dress website.

Admittedly, while I’m glad I’ve already bought my wedding dress and that part of the process is over, there’s still this nagging worry in my head that with a whole new collection of gowns coming out next year, I’ll find some other dress I love and end up having dress regret. So to counter that, I’ve stopped looking at wedding dresses, even though I continue to read wedding blogs.

As for buying a sample wedding dress so far in advance of the wedding date, there’s the issue of space. As those living in small London flats would know, space is scarce. I didn’t have space for it in my cupboard, so my poor wedding dress, still stuffed in its garment bag, was left hanging on my cupboard door for months. Also, there’s a chance the material may start to discolour before I wear it on my wedding day and this is more likely to happen to dresses made of lace . These are some of the trade-offs that I was willing to take for buying my wedding dress at a fraction of the original price.

I hope you enjoyed Part 2 of this series and found it helpful, as in Part 3 of the Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress, I’ll be breaking down how much it will cost to alter your wedding dress to fit you and show you why it’s important to factor in those costs when you choose your wedding dress.

If you would like to read Parts 1 and 3, follow the links below:

Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress 

Part 1: How to Find Your Dream Wedding Dress 

Part 3: Altering Your Wedding Dress

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress: Part 1

Part 1: How to Find Your Dream Wedding Dress

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress will be presented in 3 parts, and in Part 1 of this series, I write about how to start your wedding dress search and some of the things you should do before that.

I’ve been to a lot of weddings in the past few years. I’ve travelled to Hong Kong, Singapore and even Australia, just to attend the weddings of some of my closest friends. I’ve been to intimate weddings with less than 30 guests to ones with ballrooms filled to the brim.

Whether it’s a big wedding or a small wedding, one thing that’s always present in all the weddings I’ve attended, is this feeling of anticipation, no matter how long I’ve known the bride or how good a friend she is, of how beautiful the bride will look like in her wedding dress.

All eyes are on the bride from the moment she walks through the doors.

So it’s easy to understand just why so many brides-to-be place so much importance on this one dress that only gets worn once, and is quite possibly the most expensive dress anyone will ever buy in their lifetime.

So, where do I start?

Before you start your search for your wedding dress, there are two things that you need to decide first: what’s your wedding dress budget and when you should start looking for your wedding dress.

What’s Your Wedding Dress Budget?

Decide from earlier on in the planning process:

  • how much are you prepared to spend to on your wedding dress including alterations, and

  • how you’re going to pay for the wedding dress.

Regardless of the size of your wedding dress budget, there is a variety of choices out there. Here’s a rough guide of how much you could expect to pay for a wedding dress from these designers if you order the dress brand new:

  • £100 – £500: Monsoon, Phase Eight, Pearce II Fonda, Ben de Lisi, Debut at Debenhams

  • £500 – £1,000: Alfred Angelo

  • £1,000 – £2,000: Benjamin Roberts, Ronald Joyce, Maggie Sottero, Pronovias, Jenny Packham

  • £2,000 and above: Suzanne Neville, Pronovias, Jenny Packham, Caroline Castigliano, Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier

Be prepared to pay more if you want a dress with lace and/or embellishments.

As stockists and designers rarely advertise the price of their wedding dresses on their websites, one of the ways to get a rough estimate on how much a designer’s dress would cost would be to check out websites selling pre-owned wedding dresses. Often, sellers will list out the original price paid for their wedding dresses on their listings.

While most of the online resources I’ve read would advise against trying on dresses that are above your budget, I didn’t quite follow it. I tried on dresses that were in my price range, as well as those that were well above it. I reasoned that when else in my life would I ever have the excuse to try on a £10,000 dress (true story). I had a lot of fun trying on those dresses, but I did it knowing that I would not choose a dress that was beyond my budget.

As for knowing how you’re going to pay for it, I think this is important so that you don’t end up getting disappointed when you’ve found your dress, only to realise that you don’t have enough funds to pay for the 50% deposit that they ask for when you order your dress. It’s not worth buying a wedding dress that’s beyond what you can afford if it lands you in debt.

When Should I Start Looking For My Wedding Dress?

While most people will start looking for a wedding dress about 6 – 12 months prior to their wedding, I started my wedding dress search as soon as I knew I was getting married.

I even bought my wedding dress before the wedding date was decided (and as it turns out, I had more than 18 months between dress purchase and wedding date).

So I would encourage anyone looking for a wedding dress to start early, especially if you have a specific designer in mind. Allow at least 6-9 months for the wedding dress to be made, if you are ordering it brand new. This should also give you enough time to get it altered and fitted to your size.

However, if you have less than 6 months to your wedding day, don’t despair. You will still find your dream wedding dress and your best bet would be to look for wedding dresses that can be bought off the rack.

Try scouring the racks at high street shops with a dedicated bridal section or at sample sales for wedding dresses that you can buy on the spot.

If you find a dress you love at a wedding boutique and and don’t have the time to get it made brand new for you, ask the boutique if they will sell the sample to you. However, bear in mind that sample wedding dresses are usually made in UK size 12 – 14, and they can be altered upto 2 size up or down. Make sure that you factor in the alteration costs into your budget.

Wedding Dress Research

Once you’ve decided on your budget and you’ve established the length of time you have to look look for your wedding dress, you can now start your dress research! Wedding websites and wedding blogs are good places to start your wedding dress research as they don’t cost anything and will give you ample inspirations to help you visualise your dream wedding dress.

Wedding websites like youandyourwedding.co.uk and bridesmagazine.co.uk will have galleries filled with stock photos of wedding dresses (i.e. modeled shots of wedding dresses provided by the respective designers). That being said, sometimes I find that stock photos do not provide very good representations of the wedding dresses, as they are worn by thin and slender, 6-foot tall amazonians.

Instead, when I find a wedding dress I like, I will look for pictures of it worn by real brides on wedding blogs or forums. This way, I’ll know how the wedding dress will look like on a real person and how well it will photograph too (because some dresses while beautiful in person, do not translate as nicely in photographs).

However, be careful not to look at wedding blogs/websites that are too US-centric or you’ll end up falling for wedding dresses that’s not available in the UK. I definitely fell into this trap and as most of the wedding blogs I read were American based, I quickly fell in love with Monique Lhuiller’s creations. They were and still are some of the most amazing wedding dresses I’ve seen. Alas, I discovered that they were only available in the UK at Browns Bride and each dress costs an arm and a leg. The alternative would be to purchase the Monique Lhuillier wedding dresses pre-owned, but then I would have to factor in additional costs like import tax, VAT, shipping and insurance costs for purchasing it from a US seller and that didn’t sound too appealing to me (too much extra costs!)

Narrowing Down Your Wedding Dress Selection

When you find a wedding dress you like, take note of the designer and the style name/number, and save the image in your computer as reference. Over time, you’ll start to notice the designer, style, shape, material and make that you tend to gravitate towards.

Once you’ve done that, trying locating the wedding dresses by going on the designer’s website, which will give you information on their stockists. Choose bridal boutiques that are located close to you as you will need to revisit their shops several times for fittings once you decide on a wedding dress.

Call the bridal boutiques and ask if they have the wedding dresses that you are looking for, and whether you can set up an appointment to try them. Even if they don’t have the wedding dress that you are looking for, ask if they would order a sample of the wedding dress especially for you to try, if you pay them a small fee.

In Part 2 of the Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress, I’ll write about what to expect at bridal boutique appointments, and how you’ll know when you’ve found The One!

If you would like to read Parts 1 and 2, follow the links below:

Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress

Part 2: Bridal Boutique Appointments and How Do You Know If You’ve Found Your Wedding Dress

Part 3: Altering Your Wedding Dress

10 Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding

It is estimated that in 2013, UK couples will spend an average of £16,000 on their wedding. For some, it represents their gross yearly pay.

Those lucky enough may have their weddings paid for by their parents. However, most couples will use the duration of their engagement to save up for their weddings, while some may resort to taking out loans to fund it.

As weddings can be expensive, here are some of the tips I learned and gathered while organising my own wedding:

1. Have your wedding on a weekday or during off peak season: One of the biggest expenses of any wedding usually comes in the form of the wedding venue and food catering, with wedding couples spending an estimated cost of £5000 on catering and venue hire costs alone in the UK. By having your wedding during weekdays and/or off peak season, you may be able to slash the cost of hiring the venue of your dreams by 30-50%, depending on the venue. Just make sure to tell your guests in advance if you choose to have your wedding on a weekday, so that they can make arrangements to take time off work to attend your wedding.

2. Negotiate your drinks package: For my wedding, I thought the drinks package that was offered to me at the wedding venue where I’m hoping to have my wedding was too heavy on the alcohol and wine. As I don’t foresee my guests being heavy drinkers, I asked if they could reduce the amount of alcohol and wine in place of more mineral water and carbonated drinks. This reduced the cost of my drinks package by 25%. In any event, you can always opt to have a cash bar at the wedding, so that your guests will have the option of buying their own alcoholic drinks should they choose.

3. Hire a professional wedding photographer that is within you budget: In my opinion, hiring a professional photographer is one of the best investments you can make for your wedding. A good wedding photographer will know how to capture the special moments of you and your husband in the best possible angle and light. You will cherish these pictures forever so I think paying a little more for a professional, as opposed to hiring your neighbour’s son who’s an amateur photographer, to take your wedding pictures will be worth the money. Hire the best professional wedding photographer you can afford that’s within your budget. If you do your research you will find that there are many fantastic professional photographers out there that do amazing work, ranging from those that charge less than £1,000 for a 10 hour coverage to those that charge more than £5,000 for all the bells and whistles.

4. Buy a used or sample wedding dress: If you have your heart set on an expensive designer wedding dress but you can’t afford to pay the expensive couture prices (cough, Vera Wang), you may want to consider buying a wedding dress that’s pre-owned or used. Depending on the designer and the season the dress was produced, you may be able to purchase your dream wedding dress at 50% of its original cost.  Sample sales are also a good place to search if you want to buy your wedding dress at a discount. If you have a particular designer or store in mind, sign up to their mailing list so that you’ll be informed anytime there is a sample sale coming up. Before you commit to buying a pre-owned or sample wedding dress, make sure that it’s the right size, and height. You don’t want to end up with a wedding dress that is too short for your height, or one that will cost you more than the original price of the dress, after factoring in alteration costs. 

5. Prioritise your wedding invitation over the other stationery: I have a confession to make: I have a soft spot for beautifully made cards and stationery. Not only will your wedding invitation provide guests with important information about your wedding, but it also provides them with a glimpse of the beauty and details that will follow at the wedding. However, personalised wedding invitations and stationery can be expensive to have designed and printed. One of the ways you can save money here is to skip printing and posting the Save the Date cards. You can choose to inform your guests of the wedding date via e-mail or Facebook, or omit it all together and just send them the Wedding Invitation when you’re ready. You could also omit including the Acceptance/RSVP card with the Wedding Invitation and just ask your guests to confirm via e-mail or the telephone. Just don’t send a Facebook invite to your guests as a substitute to an actual Wedding Invitation.

6. Select flowers that are in season, or ask your florist to recommend cheaper blooms: If you choose to have flowers that are not in season, your may end up paying twice the price for it (as compared to buying it when it is in season) because your florist would have to source and import it from outside the country. For example, you might want peonies for your December wedding but as they are only in season in the UK between May to July, it will cost you a lot more to have peonies in your flower bouquet as they would have to be imported. Instead, ask your florist to recommend flowers that are in season, or cheaper blooms that look similar to peonies. You might discover flowers that are just as lovely, which you never knew existed.

7. Have a friend or relative bake your wedding cake: If you have a relative or a friend who is an excellent baker, perhaps you could ask them to make your wedding cake for you as a gift. As wedding cakes can be expensive, sometimes costing as must as £800 for a wedding cake with 3 tiers, it could be a win win situation for you and the friend/relative. You end up saving money, and your friend/relative will not have to fork out more money for your wedding gift.

8. Make your own favours: There are a ton of suggestions online on wedding favours you can make inexpensively. My particular favourite is buying precut favour boxes online, and stuffing them with chocolate. You can personalise it by adding a tag or sticker/label with yours and your husband’s initials on it.

9. Have a friend or relative with a nice car drive you to your church and/or wedding venue: You can still arrive in style at the church and/or the wedding venue without spending any money (ok, maybe you should at least offer to pay for the petrol) by asking a friend or relative with a nice car to drive you and your husband to the church and/or wedding venue. Again, this could be something your friend or relative could perhaps give in lieu of a wedding gift.

10. Rent: There is a headpiece by Jenny Packham that I am absolutely in love with but to buy it will set me back close to £500. Instead, I’ve decided I am just going to rent it for a fraction of the original price on my wedding day as I don’t foresee myself wearing it after the wedding. You could do the same and rent instead of buy. Ditto with anything else that you don’t want to keep or intend to use after your wedding, e.g. wedding decorations, wedding accessories, the groom and groomsmen’s suits, or even your wedding dress.