A Guide to Wedding Dress Alterations

A Guide to Wedding Dress Alterations

When it comes to wedding dresses, we’ve got one rule – regardless of what style you’re going for, or how much you’re spending, your wedding dress should fit you perfectly. It’s important that you not only feel amazing on the big day, but that you’re comfortable from that first walk up the aisle, all the way through to the last dance – and that’s where wedding dress alterations come in! Almost every bride will need to have some small tweaks made to their dress, yet this area is still a source confusion for many people. That’s why we’ve put together a handy guide to wedding dress alterations, including a checklist of questions to ask your seamstress.

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Photo by Hannah McKernan Photography via hannahmckernan.com

While we’re bursting with advice and opinions on wedding dresses and wedding dress shopping, we’re far from sewing experts, so naturally we needed a little help putting this feature together. At this point, we’ve got to say a huge thank you to seamstress extraordinaire Anna O of Anna O Alterations in Dublin for filling in the blanks, and helping us better understand the alterations process. She believes that wedding dress alterations should be a fun and stress-free part of the wedding planning process and her studio really is a little oasis of calm in the city! Heed this advice, and you’ll soon be rocking a wedding gown with an effortless, impeccable fit! But first, we need to address a rather pressing question.

wedding dress alterations seamstress questions
Photo by Photography by Ciara via One Fab Day

The Golden Rule of Wedding Dress Alterations

Before we get into our guide, we want to talk about the golden rule of wedding dress alterations, or indeed any alterations – when you bring a garment to a seamstress for alterations, it should be slightly too big for you, rather than too small. This is required to achieve a really precise fit. Altering a dress that is too small for you is a more complicated job, one that the seamstress sometimes can’t perform. This might seem obvious, but we sometimes hear from brides who are a little panicked that their boutique ordered a dress that is too large for them – don’t worry, this is a very necessary part of the process!

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Photo by Laura Rose Photography via One Fab Day

Who Does My Wedding Dress Need Alterations?

This depends on the kind of wedding dress you’ve chosen. Most bridal boutiques will have a list of recommended alterations services that they can provide, while others will have an in-house seamstress who can do the alterations for you, although you shouldn’t feel obliged to use their services. If your dress is from the high street or a ready-to-wear retailer like Net-a-Porter, you’ll have to find a seamstress yourself – we’ve got a handy list here for Irish brides, but if you’re based elsewhere, it’s worth asking married pals for recommendations. If you’re having your gown custom made, alterations should be included in the service, and will be done by the designer or one of their staff members.

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Photo by Sharon Kee Photography via One Fab Day

When Do I Need to Get my Alterations Done?

As a general rule, aim to have your initial alterations appointment six weeks before your wedding date, or, if you’re getting married abroad, six weeks before you fly to your wedding destination. We understand that time is precious in the run up to the wedding, but make sure to keep the Saturdays before your wedding free for your fittings – you won’t regret it!

What Happens if I’ve Left my Alterations Until Last Minute!?

Whether alterations services can be done in a hurry varies completely from seamstress to seamstress. Anna tells us, “we do offer rush fittings for brides who ordered their dress a little later so we can turn around fittings in a couple of weeks, but we need the bride to be extremely flexible with availability for fittings.” Your wedding dress shouldn’t be a source of stress or worry in the run up to the wedding, so remember to allow plenty of time for your wedding dress alterations!

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Photo by Dasha Caffrey Photography via One Fab Day

How Many Fittings Will I Need?

Three fittings is enough to get most wedding dresses fitting beautifully, but of course, this depends on the dress, and whether you require basic tweaks or huge changes.

How Long Will a Fitting Take?

Generally speaking, about an hour, but if time is of the essence, be sure to put this question to your seamstress.

What Happens at the Wedding Dress Fittings?

The standard flow of wedding dress fittings is as follows:

  • First fitting: the dress is pinned and tailored
  • Second fitting: any outstanding tweaks are made
  • Third fitting: you try your dress on to make sure you’re 100% happy, and take it home!

Please do note that this applies to wedding dresses that only require standard alterations such as hem alterations, take-ins, and darts.

What should I bring to my first appointment?

There are two items that are pretty crucial for any dress fitting:

We recommend bringing a selection of bras and cups to see which one will work best with your dress. Wedding dress shopping advice applies here too, so remember not to wear fake tan or makeup to your fittings!

Who should I bring to my fittings?

This is totally up to you. Most brides bring one or two members of the bridal party with them, but if you feel more comfortable going on your own and you’ve chosen a top-notch seamstress, go for it!

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Photo by Olga Hogan Photography via One Fab Day

How much do wedding dress alterations cost?

This varies wildly according to how much work needs to be done, and the kind of work that needs to be done, but as a rough guide, €300 – €400 (£275 – £350 or $350 – $450) is a fair estimate for standard alterations (hem, taking in the waist, hips and bust, darts, etc.) but for more complicated alterations, you may be looking at a figure closer to €500 – €600 (£450 – £525 or $575 – $675). Our advice is to include alterations in your overall wedding dress budget.

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Photo by Syona Photography via One Fab Day

Will my seamstress be able to give me a quote in advance?

In most cases, the seamstress will only be able to provide a quote after they’ve seen the dress in person, and had a conversation with you about your requirements. Anna explains, “Hems, bodices, sleeves etc. are constructed completely different from one dress to another, and some fabrics are harder to work with, so we can only tell how much work will need to be done when we see the dress.”

How many changes can I make to my dress?

Again, this depends heavily on the dress, but most seamstresses will be able to do advanced changes like adding sleeves and changing necklines. Just be sure to ask the boutique to request more fabric from the designer when they’re ordering your dress (if your dress is high street, vintage or ready-to-wear, your seamstress will be able to help you source the right fabric!)

Can a seamstress make my dress more comfortable to wear?

This depends on the dress, but Anna tells us that there are a few tricks that she can employ! “For example, if the arm hole area is a bit uncomfortable, I can lower the arm hole so you have more room. Some dresses can be let out a little for more movement, and underskirts and nets can be removed.”

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Photo by Anna O Alterations

Wedding Dress Shopping Tips from an Expert Seamstress

Of course, we had to ask Anna for some advice on wedding dress shopping! These tips will help you avoid any wedding dress dilemmas at the alterations stage:

  • If you want to hugely change the shape of a dress, it’s probably not the dress for you. Take a step back, breathe and don’t worry – the right dress is out there!
  • If you have a bigger bust and you want a backless dress, be realistic about your bra options and the support you need in the dress. Bras are one of the most commonly overlooked things when brides buy their dress.
  • Think about the fabric of the dress when you’re shopping. For example, if you want a really fitted, figure-hugging dress, you’ll need a stretchy fabric – a slinky, bias-cut dress will never do this.
  • Buying sample sale dresses is a fantastic way of getting a beautiful dress at a lower price point but be realistic about how much a dress can be resized. Altering a dress that’s three sizes too big for you is not ideal but not impossible. Anything over three sizes is not advisable. This would require a full redesign, which would probably end up costing more than what the sample cost!
  • Long-sleeve wedding dresses are beautiful but you don’t have the same range of movement in your arms with sleeves as you would without them. Sleeves will never be fitted completely to your body, as you need a lot of movement in the arms on your wedding day for giving hugs and dancing!
  • If you have a very floaty, chiffon fabric at your hem, shoes with highly-embellished details on the toe are not a good idea as they may catch on your hem. Bracelets may also do this to the fabric near your hip.
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Photo by Milward via Hobbycraft

Wedding Dress Alterations: Questions to Ask Your Seamstress

Before You Go:
– What do I need to bring to my fitting?
– How long will the appointment take?
– Is parking available?
– Who should I bring with me, if anyone?

At Your First Fitting:
– What alterations do I need to get my dress fitting correctly?
– Is it possible to customise the dress? (Any general concerns or requests should go here, for example, adding a sleeve, changing the neckline or shortening the hem.)
– How many appointments will I need?
– How long will the alterations take?
– How much will the alterations cost?
– When and how should I pay for my alterations?
– How far in advance do I need to book future fittings?
– What should I wear and/or bring to future fittings?
– What should I keep in mind when purchasing accessories? (if you have yet to purchase them)

At Future and Final Fittings:
– When can I pick up my dress?
– What’s the best way to get into the dress on the day? Can you show me exactly how to do it?
– Do I need to steam my dress myself on the day?
– Do you have any recommendations for getting the dress laundered after the wedding?

Ready to accessorise? Check out these great places to shop or we have more posts on jewellery, headpieces and other accessories!

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