The Best Way To Alter A Strapless Dress: Why Do Many Brides to Choose To Do Alterations Themselves?
I recently read an article on Merchant Circle.Com that offered information about the best way to alter a strapless dress.
According to user Melisssa:
“The perfect dress does not often go hand in hand with the perfect fit. But that’s okay. Dresses are fairly easy to alter, even if you do not have any sewing experience….”
Melissa continues… “There are only four simple steps to follow to alter your dress and achieve the perfect fit….”
1. “First you will need to find what alterations the dress needs. It is much easier to take a dress in some than to let it out….”
2. … “Put the dress on your body inside out. Pinch the fabric at the waist, hips, and bust until it fits the way you want it to….”
3. … “To change the hemline along the bottom of the dress, remove the hem using a seam ripper. Now put the dress on inside out and have a friend help you pin the bottom of the dress where you want it to be…”
4. …. “To change the bust on the dress, start by taking apart any seams that are on the front of the bodice, such as underbust seams, and take them in or out as needed…”
Now with all due respect to the author for wanting to help do it yourself folks, certainly a bride that has never done “any sewing” before should carefully consider such advice on a wedding gown!
First, how is someone that has never done any sewing before, supposed to know how to accurately determine what alterations are needed to a wedding dress or any dress for that matter?
Should a bride attempt working on an expensive gown like the one pictured above by following these “simple 4 steps” …?
Second, putting a dress on “inside out” and pinching the fabric at various points without taking measurements…. is not an accurate way of making dress alterations… its similar to putting a bowl on your head for a haircut!
Third, recreating a straight hem that is altered for the correct height of a bride or anyone for that matter requires cutting the fabric on a dress or gown. But this should only be attempted after taking careful measurements of the brides body at the hips, bust, and waistline using a cloth measuring tape. And prior to fitting, the bride should be wearing the shoes she’ll wear with the dress.
With no measurements taken and pins placed too far apart, many inexperienced do-it-yourself seamstresses create a jagged uneven hem. This occurs after “connecting the dots” between their pinning. Without measurements, the correct thread for the type of fabric being altered, and without the proper industrial sewing machines to create a strong stitch, these vague instructions for creating a hem line on any dress could result in disaster.
Fourth, in regard to changing a bust line that is loose… most typically a loose bust line area requires alterations under the arms on the sides of a dress or gown. It is not recommended to remove boning from a corset in the front of a gown to make the bodice smaller as the alterations will show in the front of the gown. In addition, beads, jewels and other materials would need to be added to hide such an alteration in the first place.
Corset boning is designed to keep a corset rigid without bunching the fabric, and it can be made from a variety of materials. It was originally made from whale bone, but nowadays corset boning is made from ridgeline polypropylene, or plastic.
The only problem with do it yourself instructions, is that quite often they are extremely vague, offering little factual information that can be applied to a specific application. In this case the article looks to be written for more simple dress alterations.
Yet the article mentions removing boning material from the front of a dress (wrong), changing bust size and hem lengths!
Anyone reading this kind of DIY information really is given no specific application that the instructions were written for.
With this in mind, when it comes to the best methods to alter a strapless dress or gown, before jumping into any Do-it-yourself project… there are some factors that should be considered. These factors contribute to the difficulty level.
First, altering a strapless gown can be more difficult based on the material of the dress or gown. Is the gown made of ruched bridal silk or organza? Second, is there elaborate bead work and boning in the bodice area of the gown? Is there a corset? Third, do the brides measurements require alterations for more than one area? (bust, waistline, hips, and hem)
If the gown has swarovski crystals and glass beads throughout the bodice, skirt and train, they will need to be removed and reapplied to the gown at any location where alterations are made. (as in the wedding gown pictured at the top).
If the bustline is loose or the bodice shifts from side to side, this requires taking apart the gown at the sides of the bodice area (not the front) where multiple layers and boning are incorporated to add rigidity to the bodice.
This will undoubtedly require seam ripping of multiple layers of fabric on many gowns and dresses. Extremely careful modifications must be made to alter the bust size and bodice area evenly, which the do-it-yourself article mentioned nothing about.
This recent DIY article on merchant circle from a do-it-yourself- seamstress is too vague and really not a good idea since the alterations advice given (removing boning at the front of a dress) can easily make the bust line uneven at the front of the gown.
This could also leave unsightly seams especially if the wrong thread (not strong enough) and non-industrial equipment are used.
Which brings us to the reason for why so many brides attempt to do alterations themselves or with the help of a non-professional:
With all of the do-it-yourself advice out there… many brides attempt what seems like an easy task based on what they’ve read.
However, as explained, many do it yourself tutorials online are often inaccurate… as indicated by the example above…
And with the level of difficulty to do these type of alterations, it’s really surprising that many brides and bridesmaids still elect to do these kind of difficult alterations themselves.
Especially when affordable options with a local designer or seamstress exist.
There’s a pretty good chance that many do it yourself articles are written online to earn points or to earn a paycheck from a website that is paying work at home authors by topic. So the information often is written by a non-professional or someone without ANY actual experience.
When it comes to skipping alterations altogether:
Some brides believe the sales associate that stated that their gown “looks perfect” and therefore doesn’t need any alterations.
Other budget brides end up buying an “off the rack” gown that “fits pretty well” because they don’t want to listen to another sales associate try to sell them expensive alterations.
These opposite examples explain the conundrum many brides find themselves in:
One wedding store pushes for gown alterations and the next bridal store doesn’t want to lose a dress sale by quoting or even mentioning expensive alterations… unless the bride remembers to bring it up.
So many brides overlook what alterations should be done, or even worse have none at all.
Is it any wonder that so many wedding planners, wedding photographers and wedding videographers notice and report uncomfortable brides that are constantly adjusting their dress at their wedding ceremony and reception?
When it comes to why brides often skip bridal alterations, or have alterations done by a non-professional, the most common questions and concerns brides raise are:
1. Are alterations really necessary?
2. Why are they often so expensive?
3. Why not get the alterations done with the help of a non-professional?
Instead of lecturing busy brides on why they should pay for an expensive tailor or seamstress, this post will cover some affordable solutions that will truly help brides that are on a budget to the get the help they need at a price they can afford.
But first, the reasons why a busy bride elects to do alterations on her own:
Are Alterations really necessary?
Alterations are almost always needed on any gown because each of us have unique curves and figures. Every woman’s body has different measurements at different points on her body, regardless of the dress size.
Strict sizes that are manufactured often fit in the largest measurement of a bride’s body, like the hips for example. But the bodice and bust quite frequently will be out of alignment with the brides hips, shape and body type.
With many different areas that can simultaneously be out of alignment on a gown, many brides are unaware of just how important different measurements affect the overall fit of a gown.
Brides often turn to family, a sales associate or friends, for their opinion on how the wedding gown looks in some of the areas such as the bust, waist, bodice and hips, etc.
But without the help of an expert seamstress that works daily with different fabrics and current wedding gown styles, many brides fail to accurately determine what the dress truly should look like on their body.
Subsequently, many brides never know exactly what their gown looks like… until they find out in the wedding photos…
Creating the proper fit for a bride’s body type takes experience and skill. And with bridal fashions, where expensive fabrics and bridal couture are employed, a gown rarely can be modified without industrial sewing machines, experience working in the medium and proper materials.
When a gown fits in the bust, hips and bodice, it flatters.
But with all of the pressure bride’s encounter planning a wedding, the last thing a bride needs is an expensive tailor or a seamstress that seems to always disagree with the bride.
Each bride has unique ideas for her dress, and some brides understandably are on a budget.
With this in mind, there are many reasons so many women opt to do alterations themselves or to avoid them altogether.
Here are some of the reasons some brides attempt to do alterations themselves or skip them altogether.
The Cost of Alterations.
Many brides encounter proverbial “sticker shock” after purchasing an expensive gown that was beyond their comfort zone and budget.
And when they discover alterations that cost hundreds of dollars just to adjust the hem, bodice, shoulder, straps or bust of a gown, they are even further over-budget.
Many brides try getting a quote for alterations at a different bridal shop than where they originally purchased their gown, only to find that since they didn’t purchase their gown at the second store, the price is rarely lower.
In fact, many brides have reported that they were told they would have to wait for months just to get in for a fitting. It seems that unless a gown was purchased at their store, many bridal shops and salons are in “no hurry” to get alterations done for brides on a budget.
In truth, the reason bridal alterations are often expensive is that most bridal stores have high overhead and do not make enough money selling gowns.
In fact, smaller boutiques must focus on doing volume business (selling more gowns) to cover advertising costs, commercial rent and insurance. And to add more pressure, major designers do not allow prices of their gowns online, nor can bridal stores sell gowns below a minimum retail sales price.
Therefore, many stores do not make a huge profit margin on gowns, especially on the less expensive gowns that do not help cover costs and overhead as quickly.
A $3000-$5000 gown sale cover costs quicker than a $500 gown does.
So when it comes to covering costs, many stores must make a healthy profit off of the bridal alterations. Wedding accessory sales and shoes are another huge profit margin for most wedding stores in phoenix.
To help keep the profit margin higher on bridal alterations, many stores also hire in house seamstresses, that are often working for hourly wages. Again this is to keep costs down and profit margins on wedding alterations higher.
With this in mind, a gifted, well paid seamstress working in a bridal salon is usually the exception, not the rule.
In addition, since bridal stores need to sell gowns, they do not have a large staff of seamstresses, they have salespeople. And when a wedding store has more salespersons than seamstresses, many gowns are in fact not recommended for alterations at all… especially when they seem to fit the bride just fine according to a salesperson.
In a perfect world, every bride would work with a store that has as many seamstresses as salespeople. Each bride should have an objective opinion on fitment, from an expert seamstress, not someone with basic sewing skills that is likely overbooked and underpaid.
When stores sell many gowns in a busy month, it simply is not always possible for them to handle all of the alterations necessary, without overbooking their seamstress, which happens quite often.
So what brides often report, is that prior to their gown purchase they received exceptional service, especially when they decided to purchase an expensive gown. But after the sale was made, they encountered delays getting in to see a seamstress, late appointment times or a seamstress that was busy, opinionated, or really not that friendly.
Is it any wonder why many brides many not feel comfortable at a bridal fitting? Especially when brides report working with an overbooked and overworked seamstress that is “handling” them?
In these cases, the Seamstress is busier than the bride:
Many women encounter a tailor or seamstress that is in a hurry or is oblivious to the fact that they sound like they know it all. Some brides feel that the person that is supposed to be helping them acts like they already know better than the bride herself!
For this reason some brides, with unique ideas for their wedding theme and gown, have also reported feeling pressured to move in a direction that is not true to their vision.
An example of this, is the bride that reports, that they were told that adding a corset would be “too much work” , “too costly” or that adding boning for more rigidity in the bodice, would ” take a lot of work” and probably will “cost over $200″
The fact is, many alterations offered by many national bridal chain stores and even smaller boutiques, are handled by an alterations dept. that is extremely overbooked and often overloaded. And many stores actually are expensive as brides report. But brides don’t find this out until after they purchase their gown.
Brides that want to redesign a gown, soon discover that more elaborate redesign and modifications are discouraged by many bridal shops, since they require too much time for the store itself.
Of course many finer bridal shops do refer brides to outside designers and tailors for assistance, but again it can get expensive.
Many brides quickly grow uncomfortable with a seamstress that is in a rush or one that always seems to say that a particular alteration is too expensive or time consuming, and therefore not recommended.
In addition, the prospect of a bride changing into a gown and having a stranger tell them how they should look, or what changes should be made, does not always serve to foster a level of trust and communication between the bride and her seamstress.
With all of the above isolated examples in mind, a bride should take the time to get a second opinion with an independent seamstress, that works outside of a busy salon. Many brides discover a completely different experience from the “know it all” or bridezilla-like- busy-bee seamstress that “tells it like it is” even when their opinion is not agreed with.
With the questions of whether alterations are really necessary and with the high cost of alterations at many wedding boutiques and stores, it really is no wonder why so many brides grow uncomfortable with alterations, both before and after their wedding.
Brides that want to truly feel comfortable on their wedding day, can find solutions that are affordable and comfortable, without resorting to drastic do-it-yourself alterations.
There really is no reason for any bride to do her alterations herself, or skip them altogether, when an independent designer or seamstress can offer affordable solutions and more personalized attention to detail.
With an independent seamstress, brides can share their thoughts and ideas without a store seamstress that is in a rush all the time.
In addition, many brides that are not comfortable in a store, are more relaxed with a seamstress or designer that focuses on bridal fashion… instead of tailors that fix suits, jeans, drapes etc.
Most drycleaners and tailor shops, do not specialize in bridal alterations, yet many brides end up getting their alterations done there. The results can vary and are often evident in the wedding photos.
Ironically, while drycleaners and tailors often do decent alterations, rarely are they exceptional. This is due to the fact that both drycleaners and tailors cater to a wide demographic group of people that need all kinds of garment repairs and alterations. So they’re busy doing other kinds of alterations work.
This means that the busy, stressed bride, once again, may encounter a tailor or seamstress, that is busier than they are. Again, the recommendations against certain modifications and alterations are quite common.
As many brides report, the cost at a tailor or drycleaner is not always that much cheaper than at a bridal salon or wedding boutique.
In addition, many brides have reported that they were not comfortable at a tailor or drycleaner, when changing into their gown and having fittings done. Especially when their fittings and alterations are performed by personnel that work for hourly pay and often do not speak English well. Many still are in a hurry to offer commentary.
The difference between a designer / independent seamstress and a tailor, is a designer seamstress can show the bride how to achieve any look or modification to a dress, regardless of time required, or the difficulty level of the alteration.
For example, brides that want a modesty panel, corset or boning added to a gown. Many brides are told these types of re-designs to a dress, will cost a small fortune and will take over a month to complete at busy stores, drycleaners and tailors.
Yet an independent bridal fashion seamstress and designer handles these kind of alterations all the time, can complete the alterations in less than two weeks, and is often way less expensive if they do not work out of a high rent store.
So again, bridal alterations need not be overly expensive, when brides know where to find an independent designer / seamstress that specializes in bridal alterations.
This way, brides receive more attention and better pricing since a bridal seamstress focuses only on bridal clients. A seamstress that specializes in tailoring bridal wear and wedding attire does not have jeans, drapes, jackets, and pants to hem each day.
Instead, a bridal seamstress is an expert in handling bridal couture and wedding fashions that commonly include delicate silk taffeta, organza, and tulle fabrics.
Lastly, why Not Handle The Alterations With The Help Of A Non-Professional?
With the above examples and questions in mind, it is no wonder that so many bride turn to friends, family or literally anyone that can get the alterations done more affordably and with less conflict.
Certainly it is understandable when the average bride spends so much time just finding an affordable gown, that they get discouraged with high alterations prices offered through in-house alterations departments, tailors and drycleaners…
Yet often, many brides simply settle for alterations that are too expensive and certainly not expertly done.
The bride that enlists the help of a non-professional may actually feel more comfortable. This is because once the expensive salon alterations department, or tailor they visited (and decided against) are out of the way, they finally have begun exploring alternative options.
But despite the comfort of working with a friend, or family member that can do basic sewing, the certainty and confidence required to truly relax knowing their expensive wedding dress is truly in good hands…. quickly evaporates.
Why are brides often initially more comfortable with a non-professional?
First, a relative or family friend usually is a familiar face for the bride at her fitting.
Second, a non-professional is not charging a higher fee for the alterations, thus some of the financial pressure is alleviated.
Third, most brides can describe what they envision and want… and the non-professional is actually more willing to attempt to satisfy the brides request! To please a friend or referral many amateurs will promise a lot. This is also likely because they do not have the level of business activity of a busy store or bridal salon. And everyone needs to make money.
The only problem with these scenarios, is the false sense of security they create.
In truth, a non-professional will not have the experience level, materials or equipment needed to create an elaborate custom corset, bodice or neckline alteration on a gown in a short time span.
A non professional also will not have the professional Swarovski crystals, Matsuno beads and glass beads that often must be added when an alteration is made to an existing gown.
In addition, many non-professionals are using cheap plastic home sewing machines and materials that are not adequate for creating structure and rigidity in the bodice (boning), and corset area of a gown.
The result? While a bride may save money and initially feel more comfortable with a friend or non professional doing the alterations, comfort is usually the last thing the bride feels when actually wearing her gown at the wedding ceremony and reception.
Hems coming undone and homemade bustle points that come apart damaging the dress during the reception, are quite common with non-professional alterations.
The most classic example, voiced by numerous videographers and professional wedding photographers… is the bride wearing the strapless gown that is continuously shifting from side to side in the bodice area, while falling down off the bust line repeatedly.
Loose straps, loose back of gown and tripping on the gown are close seconds.
The bottom line is…
It really isn’t necessary for brides to turn to a non-professional, when brides can get these types of alterations done by a professional seamstress that specializes in bridal alterations in the first place.
In fact, brides can get alterations that cost hundreds at tailors and bridal shops for 50% less with the right independent seamstress.
And as far as hiring a non-professional… many brides report paying $30- $40 to do a wedding gown hem… the wrong way… when a professional independent seamstress, may do it for $60-$80, depending on the amount of layers in the gown.
Certainly it’s worth a $20-$40 difference to have a wedding day in comfort, instead of a day in frustration and discomfort… in a gown that doesn’t look that great in the wedding photos, which will consequently last a lifetime.
The real cost of cheap alterations done by a non-professional, isnt the lower price… it’s the cost of having the wedding photos and demeanor of the bride compromised on one of the most important days of her life.
While some tailor and bridal salons charge $100-$200 for a wedding gown hem, there are alternative options with an independent seamstress for far less.
With this in mind, it just makes sense to have alterations done by a professional as long as that professional guarantees their work and offers affordable options to brides on a budget.
A focused designer or seamstress truly earmarks time for brides and never is in a rush, as with some busy wedding stores that sell more dresses than they have seamstresses.
A seamstress that truly cares about brides and delivers exceptional work at a reasonable price, is possible to find with online research.
Look at reviews of the designer or seamstress to see what others are saying about their experience. Does the seamstress have professional industrial equipment?
Do they have examples of their designs and work? Do they have numerous references from brides that posted their wedding dress photos online, so another bride can verify that the quality of the alterations and fit of the dress were superb?
Were there any delays due to lack of equipment or no back up machines? Is the designer or seamstress that the bride left her gown with, insured to cover the replacement cost of a gown in case of fire, theft etc?
Once a bride has established the credibility of a designer or seamstress, the next step is determining how much time and money can be saved and making sure the work can be done in a timely manner.
Exceptional work takes time and staff to handle multiple brides simultaneously.
Does the seamstress have scheduling software for accurate appointment times that are honored? Does the designer or seamstress have paperwork for each bride outlining the work to be done, total cost and the return fitting date?
Does the designer or seamstress provide a written quote including store policy, workmanship guarantee and a guaranteed date of completion?
Without all of the above pre-requisites, chances are a bride is working with a non-professional.
Touch of Class Alterations believes each bride should work with a professional after they make a major investment in a wedding gown.
After all, the entire wedding day is centered on the bride and groom in their wedding attire. The wedding venue, flowers, invitations, catering, wedding cake and wedding entertainment are not the main subject and focus of every wedding photo or video…. The bride and groom are.
Brides can avoid future regret and create piece of mind by at least comparing the price of an independent seamstress with a bridal salon, wedding store or tailor/ drycleaner.
In addition, brides that come in for a free bridal fitting can see the difference that working with a relaxed, experienced bridal designer and seamstress can make.
No alteration is impossible with the right designer or seamstress. Brides that were told what wouldn’t work, find different answers and solutions with an independent seamstress that specializes in bridal alterations, regardless of the time of difficulty level require for completion.
In conclusion, working with an experienced and focused bridal designer or seamstress also ensures that each bride receives exceptional work from someone that works daily with expensive gowns, fabrics and bridal couture.
Brides should always entrust the alterations of their wedding gown to a professional as long is it is equitable and affordable to do so.
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