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Bridal Alterations 101

It's here: your complete guide to bridal alterations!

It's a pretty common misconception that a wedding dress will magically fit like a glove when it arrives in the store, and alterations are only necessary if you're buying off the rack. The truth is, just about every bridal gown and bridesmaid dress will need to be altered to fit perfectly, even if it's just getting a hem.

We asked our brides on social media. "If you could ask your seamstress anything before taking your dress in for alterations, what would you want to know?" Our brides delivered with the best questions and now we've got the answers. While we do our best to give our brides an idea of how their dresses will need to be altered, we decided to reach out to one of our favorite alterations specialists in Wisconsin. Sharon, our girl from Simply Stitches, provided us with the 411 on all of your big alteration questions.

How do you decide pricing on alterations?

"It really depends on what the dress needs. If we're just doing a hem, I charge by the layer. That's because some of the big layered ballgowns will take a lot more time! If the lace needs to be removed from the hem & reattached then I charge a flat fee for the hem. You won't want to lose the lace detail on your train, so I remove the lace, hem the dress, and re-apply the lace. Price is typically decided on dress-by-dress basis, because they are all different and they all need different adjustments."

How far in advance should a bride start the alteration process?

"You usually want to start alterations about 3 months before your wedding. Typically there will be a total of 3 alteration appointments with time in between to get the work done. Usually we would schedule the final fitting 1-2 weeks before the wedding. During the final fitting, there might be a few tweaks to make here or there, but it will mostly act as a dress rehearsal. The bride will get a bustle lesson and everything."

Speaking of bustles, is there one standard, easy way to bustle a dress?

"It depends on the dress, every dress is different! You can have the same dress on 3 brides and the bustle might be different on each one, because it depends on the height of the bride and where it falls on them. I always say, 'listen to the dress!' The dress tells you what it wants. There is always the traditional American bustle (on the outside, where the fold is covered) and French bustle (underneath). You want the bustle to compliment the dress, not fight with it. Usually, wherever the dress starts it's flare, is where the bustle will lay."

American Bustle (left), French Bustle (right)

Any suggestions for a bride that wants to wear both heels and flats for her wedding?

"You're going to want to hem the dress to the height of the flats otherwise you'll be tripping all night and the dress will be dragging on the floor. The last thing you want to do is damage your gown. If you're planning on wearing both flats and heels, I would suggest a mid-height heel. It's all about finding a happy medium!"

What should I wear/bring for my alteration appointment?

"Bring along anything you're planning on wearing-- such as shapewear, shoes, and the bra you plan on wearing- because everything changes the fit of the dress. Many brides don't bring bras anymore, because the dresses have cups sewn in them. Otherwise, we also offer bust shaping, which can totally get rid of the need for bra cups at all!"

Is it easy to add off-the-shoulder straps?

"Yes! The only thing to keep in mind is that they are very restrictive. Often times I'll add clear elastic so it doesn't feel like a straight-jacket!"

Madi Lane Elora (left), Madi Lane Fallon (middle), Enzoani Mariane (right)

What if a dress is too small, and there isn't much seam allowance?

"You have to get creative! One thing I've done a lot this year is add a tulle insert under the arm. It'll look like it was there all along, and you can get up to 4 additional inches from it! You can add lace on top, and no one will know it's there. Sometimes you can get some extra space out of the zipper, too. We usually figure something out! Maybe you have to let out every seam possible, maybe you have to order more fabric and reconstruct the whole back - but we always find a way to make it work."

Is there a limit to how many sizes a dress can be taken in?

"There's a limit. But it depends. I've taken in a size 12 to a size 2. It's really intricate, because you do have to take it apart and recut all the pieces, because you don't want to modify the dress style! You have to be careful not to throw off the curves. I do a lot of bust shaping to make the dress fit just right without losing the curve and pattern of the dress."

What exactly is bust shaping?

"Very few designers have dresses that can be ordered with different size bust cups. So the bust area needs to be reshaped to fit each individual bride. Making the dress fit under the bust and not losing the curve in the bust is considered the bust shaping. It's important, because especially with a strapless dress, the bust through the ribcage is what holds up the dress. So you want it snug, but not so snug she's spilling out the back. Myself, I stock regular bra cups and gel bra cups. Those are super comfy, and they work for brides, bridesmaids, mothers, and even grandmas!"

(Bonus: Sharon also let me in on the fact that she stocks her gel cups from bra sizes A-H!)

Can I close necklines? Lower backs? Is it easy?

"Yes and yes! It's not necessarily easy, but you can close necklines. There's a limit as to how far you can close them, but you can also add tulle or lace inserts if they blend with the dress. We're not about to take a completely crepe dress and slap some lace on the bust and pretend it was there all along! You need to close it in a way that makes sense for the dress. As for lowering backs, it depends on how much structure is in the dress. A good option if you can't lose the structure completely is to add a keyhole back."

Willowby Galatea (left), Jenny Yoo Gwen (middle), Wtoo Joelle (right)

Any last thoughts?

"The key is to make the alterations look like they were there all along. I'm not a fan of just making it look like you slapped something on the dress, or putting a racing stripe down the side if it's the wrong size. It's my pet peeve. I'm sure there are some dresses where you can't do certain alterations, but oops, I haven't met it yet!"

Thank you again to Sharon for answering all our biggest alteration questions! If you're looking for a fantastic seamstress in Wisconsin, Sharon from Simply Stitches is always highly recommended!


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