How to Pick a Wedding Gown

I just got engaged and now I have to plan a wedding. I’d like to start with the dress but I’m not sure where to begin. I’ve looked at a few bridal magazines and some online sites. The models look so perfect. How do I decide what will look best on me?

Carla J. Las Vegas, NV

Congratulations on your engagement! When looking for a gown, the choices can be daunting. There are so many websites, magazines and products devoted to the bride.

Start with your local wedding shop. Let the staff guide you to what will work for your figure type. That is their job.

Any dress that you choose will be custom fit for you. No one has a perfect figure. That’s why there are alterationists. A good alterationist or bridal consultant should be able to tell you what alterations are possible to make your dress just right for you.

A good salesperson will also ask you what you like and don’t like in terms of fabrics, trims and the silhouette, which is the overall shape of the gown.

You have taken a good first step by looking in magazines and online. You probably have an idea about whether or not you like lace, embroidery, lots of fabric or a more subdued look. These are all personal preferences that no one can decide for you.

Decide on a price range before you enter the shop. You don’t want the salespeople to show you a gown that you absolutely fall in love with that is out of your price range. Do plan on spending an average of $800 for the gown and up to $200 on alterations. Be upfront about your budget so the staff can realistically help you.

Stores are a good place to get a feel for the look of the gown on your body, and the fabrics and trims. If you get a good salesperson, the experience will be easy and fun. But don’t order unless you are absolutely in love with the gown. Remember this is your special day and you want to look and feel radiant. Don’t be in a hurry.

After you have tried on gowns and gotten more of an idea of what you like, and you are still not satisfied, then it’s time to consider a custom gown. Again, referrals from friends and co-workers will help steer you to a professional that you can work with. If not, try looking in the phone book under Wedding Gowns, Bridal Gowns, or Dressmakers. Most professional gown-makers advertise in the yellow pages. Using a non-professional who may not be very experienced or insured is a risk. The dress may cost less but do you really want to take a chance on the gown not fitting correctly or not being done on time?

Next, make an appointment for a consultation. Expect to pay a consultation fee. A designer puts a lot of time and energy into finding your materials and doing a sketch for you. And be sure to ask to see a portfolio of the dressmaker’s work. That will give you an idea of how many different kinds of dresses and figures that person has experience with.

It helps a designer to have as many visual clues as possible when designing a garment for someone. So rip out pictures from magazines of different dresses that you like. Or print up photos from the Internet. Maybe you like a silhouette of one dress, the fabric of another, a neckline from still another. All of these pictures will help the designer come up with a sketch or sketches for you.

Do have a budget in mind. Expect to pay more for a custom gown than you would for a mass-produced gown. If you were expecting to spend $800 for a ready made gown plus $200 for alterations, then expect to pay twice that for the custom gown. After all, the gown is being built especially for you. It will be a unique design and an exquisite fit.

There are many bargains on the Internet these days, but as with all Internet shopping, it’s better to order a name brand from a long-established business. Remember, if the deal seems like it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. The biggest problem with an Internet wedding gown is that the pictures can be deceiving. It’s difficult to see the exact color and the exact design. You can’t feel the hand of the fabric or see the construction details. And, of course, you can’t try it on. Do not expect a perfect fit. Even some of the sites that claim they make custom gowns, actually fit to your largest measurement and you will have to have the rest of the gown altered.

Whether you decide to buy a ready-made gown or have one custom-designed just for you, remember that you deserve the best you can afford. You should feel completely special in your dress and be able to look back fondly on your wedding day for years to come.

Barbara Stone

Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or bstonedesigns@sbcglobal.net.

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