We meet lots of lucky ladies who've found their dream wedding dresses at a sample sale or have opted to wear a vintage or pre-loved wedding gown. But there's always one downside to making this choice: the limited number of dress sizes on offer (if there are any at all!). Brides who buy their beautiful wedding dresses second hand or from a sale should find somewhere that can make it look like it was made for them. We asked three of London's top alterations companies to tell us everything you need to know about getting your wedding dress altered.
Read on to find out how the alteration and tailoring processes work, as well as what else is possible inside the experts' studios. Pretty much anything, it seems!
What does an alterations service do?
"Within bridal, there are so many different services available. Most brides who come to us need the hem shortened at the very least, but we love making additional tweaks here and there so the dress (or outfit) looks more bespoke and fits like it was made from scratch for its wearer. This could involve anything from taking it in to embellishing it all over with lace appliqué flowers. It's also essential that our client feels completely comfortable wearing it, which is something professional alterations should always achieve." – Charlotte Sweet, Sewn Right
How long before the wedding day should a bride begin alterations?
"We recommend allowing up to three months for wedding dress alterations to be completed. This is mostly to ensure enough time for if we need to alter complex couture designs that are finished by hand. Less complicated adjustments take around six to eight weeks to be finished. Most importantly, if a bride plans to lose weight before the big day, this needs to be done before we begin the process!" – Amanda, Bride & Alter
Can you adjust a dress to make it bigger?
"Yes, there are two ways to do this and we do it a lot – even though we don't always recommend it. The first: if your dress is simple and you have a large seam allowance, we can release the extra fabric from the seam to expand it. The second, which is quite complicated and therefore expensive, involves sourcing the same or similar fabric then adding it at the centre-back or in the side seams of the item. For example, we did the latter to a pleated Roberto Cavalli gown, using fabric from its hem to add matching pleats at the centreback. We then added Swarovski crytals, put the zip back on and voilà! Eight centimetres added." – Alexia Genta, Alexia Alterations
Do you offer any other services for brides?
"Aside from restyling commissions (when we change the shape of a dress or customise it to the clients' taste) and standard alterations, we do repairs, as well. Lots of brides discover little rips from all that dancing! Likewise, our dry cleaning service aims to restore your gown as close as possible to new, whether you're planning to carefully store it away or do something else with it post-wedding. We also create bespoke garments for both men and women. This starts with a consultation at our studio, where we discuss your ideas. Next we draw up a sketch and show you all sorts of fabric swatches before creating your one-of-a-kind design." – Charlotte
Can you create garments to go with a wedding dress?
"Yes, absolutely; from jackets to detachable skirts and everything in-between. For example, if a bride wants a little jacket made, like a bolero, we would begin by finding the perfect fabric. Getting the correct colour to match the dress is crucial. Luckily we work with the most incredible textile suppliers! We always advise our client honestly when they ask for anything like this. In the case of a bolero we'd warn that covering up a wedding dress can spoil the overall look, so we'd need to ensure we create the absolute best shape and fit. It's wise to shorten the hem of a bolero to make sure your waist is visible." – Alexia
Tell us about one of your favourite commissions
"We've seen an increase in brides who've come to us having decided to wear a family heirloom piece or their mum’s wedding dress. One wedding dress we worked on was from the 19th century! We update, restyle and fit corsets according to what our clients would like. The first fitting is always daunting, as the dress doesn't look right at all, but once our changes have been made, the details are refreshed and updated and we've had a few fittings, our brides can’t believe the outcome! They're always so happy. This type of work is really rewarding." – Amanda
Top tips for brides who are altering their wedding outfit:
Charlotte, Sewn Right: "Don't start the process too early, particularly if you think you're likely to change size or shape before the wedding. This is to prevent needing to alter the dress twice and therefore having to pay twice as much, which you certainly don’t want to do."
Alexia Genta, Alexia Alterations: "Brides who opt to wear a fishtail gown or something very figure-hugging should avoid over-exercising their lower body. Too many squats or too many hours on the spin bike makes your muscles grow and become more solid, which means you may struggle to squeeze them into the dress as the wedding day approaches."
Amanda Lynch, Bride & Alter: "Bear in mind that, depending on how many layers a dress has, whether any embellishments need to be secured or if it's couture and so needs to be finished by hand, even shortening a wedding dress can take time. Believe it or not, some bridal dresses have up to eight layers of skirt!"