To Alter or Not to Alter …

I get many phone calls about alternations to dresses, suits and special occasion wear. Some people wonder if a certain alteration can be done and how much would I charge.  Let’s just say I haven’t met an alternation I couldn’t tackle but it is very difficult to nail down a price for an alternation until you see the garment.  You have to take into consideration what type of fabric the garment is made from, how it is lined, hemmed and constructed as well as how many fittings it will take to get it perfect. Good seamstresses will take the time to do a proper fitting and follow it up with another. Formal wear alterations can be costly. Period. While you don’t typically need any extra fabric you do needs lots of time.  Usually, it takes more time to pick out existing stitches than it takes putting it all back together.  A good seamstress/tailor is worth their weight in gold!

You may have experienced finding that perfect outfit but have followed it up with: if only the shoulders could come up a bit or just nip in the sides a bit or change the strap style or taper in the legs or hem it etc.  My grandmother was famous for this.  I don’t think there was one garment she bought that didn’t get altered…somewhere or somehow. Oh Great Nanny!

People alter garments for various reasons.  The obvious and most common reason is to hem either the bottom (pants or skirt) or sleeve length.  This doesn’t usually change the integrity of the design.  But sometimes, the wrong alternation or too many manipulations on one garment can compromise the integrity of the fit, the style and drape drastically changes.  Common requests are to lower the neckline or back of the dress, take out the sleeves all together, cut off the train etc.  These are substantial changes. There is only so much you can change without changing the original look. So you need to keep this in mind. Unless of course that is exactly what you want to achieve. Then you can have fun…although you are somewhat bound to the parameters you have been given.

I have had many strange requests over the years…some are just too crazy and others are doable.  One of the most challenging requests is to take a dress that is 3-5 sizes too big and cut it down.  This is not easy and sometimes just not possible depending on the style.  Often times this will require a remake. You will have compromises in this case. Knowing garment construction can help with determining the possibility of success.  Consult with your seamstress to get their professional opinion.  In some cases, making over a dress can cost more than the dress itself.  So just because you can get a dress for cheap doesn’t mean it will end up cheap in the long run.  You might as well just make it in from scratch some cases. One example that you may want to invest the money is to re-purpose a vintage dress.  There may be historical ties from a parent, grandmother or Aunt…these masterpieces become a labor of love for sure!

One of my biggest pet peeves is when brides are pushed into ordering the wrong size to begin with.  Each year I hear from frantic and very upset brides that need their dress rescued.  They are several sizes too big and the seamstress can’t handle or figure out how to make it fit.  Some how they get my name and I get the call…and I can’t say no!  I call them rescue dresses.  Maybe TLC would like to do a TV show about that?

So here’s what you need to know and or do, before you buy the garment:

–       What is the exchange policy? Just in case…

–       Does the store have an onsite-experienced seamstress?

–       Ask to see a sample of the seamstresses work or a reference

–       Can they guarantee that there will be time to get the alterations done?

–       Lock down a delivery date of your garment

–       Order as close to your size as possible.  Insist on measurements being taken and sent to the manufacturer so they can construct the garment to as close to your real body shape as they can.

–       Secure your own seamstress prior to ordering. What would be helpful here is to have a picture of the garment to show them beforehand.

–       Have your undergarments and shoes secured, you absolutely need then for the fitting.

–       If you want a fundamental change, ask for a quote for the changes

–       If your decision is to go ahead and buy a dress then work closely with the seamstress, make sure you have a list of what needs to be done.  Very clearly work out details so there are no surprises in the end. 

The timing of the alteration is very important.  I typically don’t alter anything unless it is within two months of the wedding.  My preferred time frame is the month of the wedding when you can get the true size of the bride.  I have altered dresses months and months in advance and have had to redo and undo the work already completed.  Brides loose weight, gain weight and change their minds.  Just saying! 

So…to Alter or Not to Alter? If you budget the extra cost of the alternations in your dress cost, you may actually find that getting the dress made to your body shape and size to begin with is better.  Why alter when you can make it custom and be the Best Dressed Bride!

Have a question for me about altering your garment/gown or making a gown? Feel free to ask and as usual…i’d love to hear from you!

Here’s to the perfect garment so you will be the Best Dressed Bride.




PS:  Check out my favorites … I’d like to introduce you to Deanne Newhook’s custom wedding invitations… stay tuned!









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