Navigating the Alterations Process

Being a bride is different from real life in so many ways, we could honestly dedicate this blog to that topic alone and barely scratch the surface. One of the many differences, of course, is what you wear or, in the case of this blog post, what goes into what you wear.

You know how it starts- the fairytale, “Say Yes to the Dress” moment is incredible- you’ve never felt more beautiful! Months later, your dress arrives in your chosen color and size, likely something different from the sample you tried on. It’s a little… ill-fitting, shall we say? So, you trust your bridal stylist and dutifully make an alterations appointment with a seamstress. Your first appointment is a few months before the wedding, so the clock is ticking. Your first fitting, you spend a bunch of time standing really still while your seamstress sticks pins everywhere. You give her a hefty deposit. Your next fitting, the dress is a disaster, like, totally taken apart and in pieces and you can hardly believe you trusted this maniac with something so precious. You leave freaking out and alternate between barely eating anything and binge-stress-eating for the next month while you wait for your next appointment. And then, miraculously, at your final fitting, your dress is flawless! Somehow you can’t even see where the alterations were made, it just seems to somehow fit your body. The bodice, the length, the bustle- it’s kind of incredible!

So, what is the magic that happens behind the scenes in that seamstress’ studio? And why didn’t she tell you that your second fitting would be traumatic?!?!

Well, it’s a lot of technical lingo to go over, so we’re going to break it down in as simple a way as possible. But, it’s important to remember that every bridal gown is different and every bride’s body is different, too. So, two brides in the exact same dress might need a completely different approach to their alterations. That’s why it’s so important to find a seamstress who has experience altering WEDDING GOWNS, not just making clothes or hemming pants. A lot of brides tell us, “Oh, I’m having my gown altered by so-and-so. She MAKES gowns from scratch!” Well, guess what. Making gowns and altering gowns are two completely different types of skills and although they may seem similar, just because someone can sew a gown together from a pattern, doesn’t mean they can alter the gown you bought and make it fit YOUR body. This is an important distinction.

So, now that you know all that, here’s the breakdown of what happens at each of your fittings. Hopefully we can take some of the mystery and STRESS out of this whole process!


The First Fitting:

When is it? Typically two or three months before the wedding. Different seamstresses require different time frames.

How long is it? This is probably the longest fitting, maybe 45 minutes to an hour, maybe longer if you’re indecisive about bustling or want some custom work done.

What is the seamstress doing at this point? She’s pinning all the alterations that need to be done to make the dress fit you flawlessly. Does the bust need adjustment? What about the straps? Is the hem a little long? Do you have a train that needs to be bustled? ALL of these things get pinned at this appointment. So, be prepared to offer your opinion on how you want certain things to look. You’ll be choosing your bustle style, your exact hem length and obviously agreeing to the tailoring of the bodice/bust/straps, etc.

What do I need to do/bring/prepare? Shoes and undergarments are crucial to this appointment. Without them, the seamstress can’t do what she does. It’s a total waste of time.

What does my gown look like at this point? Basically, it looks like it did when you took it home from the bridal shop, but with lots of straight pins ALL OVER IT.


The Second Fitting:

When is it? Usually a month or so before the wedding.

How long is it? This is likely another 45-minute appointment, at least. Again, that might change depending on how much you’re having done. Did you ask your seamstress to make custom straps to add to your gown?

What is the seamstress doing at this point? She’s taken your dress apart to get access to all the seams that she pinned at the first fitting. She’s sewn some of them back together, but not all of them. Some seamstresses use a technique called “basting” which is like “sewing lite.” It’s a less permanent form of stitching something together. Many times, at the second fitting, your dress is mostly “basted” together. No, this has nothing to do with turkeys. Anyway, at this fitting (and any fitting between the first and final), your seamstress is making small adjustments to what she’s sewn, each time trying to achieve exactly the fit you want.

What do I need to do/bring/prepare? Shoes and undergarments are crucial at this appointment as they are at the first fitting. Why? Well, how else can your seamstress check her work unless you’re wearing the same shoes and undergarments? If you’re gonna mess with her and switch out your shoes LET HER KNOW AHEAD OF TIME.

What does my gown look like at this point? Honestly, be prepared for your gown to be a bit… deconstructed. Think of it this way: in order to take in the seams she pinned, your seamstress has to access them first. Which means taking the dress apart a bit. Lace and beading often has to come off in certain spots. Is there lace at the hem? It might be detached at this point. Once I had a bride whose dress was in two separate pieces at her second fitting. The skirt was taken off the bodice. This can be panic-inducing. But be patient. It will all work out.

The Final Fitting:

When is it? Usually, less than two weeks before the wedding. Some brides do it, like, the day before, but that would totes stress me out to no end. I’d like a couple days before hand, pleaseandthankyou.

How long is it? This appointment is usually a little shorter- maybe 30 minutes or so- typically because there’s less to do. You’re basically trying on your (finished) gown and then freaking out because your wedding is like, days away.

What is the seamstress doing at this point? Not much, hopefully. The idea of a final fitting is to see everything all perfectly sewn and pressed and looking the way it will on the wedding day. If there is a tiny tweak to be made, she’ll likely do it on the spot.

What do I need to do/bring/prepare? Shoes and undergarments, of course. If you haven’t figured it out yet, these things are crucial to ALL your alterations appointments. DO NOT FORGET THEM!

What does my gown look like at this point? Umm… kind of awesome. The tailoring is done. The hem is perfect, the bustle is installed. It’s probably all pressed and steamed to perfection, too.


Have more questions? That’s ok! Just ask! It’s always better to ask than to make an assumption, especially where your wedding gown is concerned! And if you end up with a seamstress who does a really stellar job, make her day by sending her a photo from the wedding day along with a nice “Thank you” card. Trust me, she’ll love it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s