• Lydia Chu

Things to keep in mind when shopping for a wedding dress

In the last 20 years, I've worked on many wedding dresses from very simple dresses to very complicated ones.



Even though we do all kinds of alterations from simple pant hemming jobs to specializing in suit alterations, a lot of our business is focused on formal gowns and wedding dresses. I have personally worked on many different wedding dresses over the years and have seen many beautiful ones.


What prompted me to write this post is what happened just recently when one of my clients brought in her wedding dress for alterations. This particular client had just received her wedding dress from the place (bridal shop in Wisconsin) she had bought it from and wanted to come in for a consultation. When she came in, she told me that her wedding was in early September just about a month away. She told me that she had ordered her dress way in advance but it had arrived about two months late and was in panic to get her dress ready for her big day.


When she tried on her dress to show me what she needed to have done, I was not surprised to see that the dress was at least 2 sizes too big. Even though she could not have been any bigger than a regular size 8, the store where she had bought her dress had recommended her to go with a bigger size. Her dress was size 12. The ladies at the bridal shop recommended that she get it altered and told her it would cost x amount of money. She was also not able to exchange it for another size or return it which seems to be pretty typical for bridal gowns. I'm not sure why.


The story this young lady told me was a familiar story I've heard many times over the years. When I first heard the story many years ago, I thought it was an isolated incident where somehow there was a mix up with the size and the bride got stuck with a dress that was way too big. Then, I started hearing more of the same stories over and over again from different brides including my colleague, Robina, who started working for me about six years ago.


When Robina got married over 25 years ago, she went to one of the bridal shops in Sacramento. There she tried on many different dresses before deciding on the one she wanted. The ladies there told her that they needed to order the dress in her size even though the one she tried on fit her perfectly. Few months later, when she went in to try on her dress, it was no where close to fitting her. Her dress was also late and came in just a month before her wedding. Just like my recent client, Robina was told by the ladies at the bridal shop that she would need alterations and would cost her x amount of money.


Furious, Robina put her foot down and told them that she was not going to leave the shop with a dress that was way too big for her and was not interested in altering it. According to Robina, the dress was clearly about 3 sizes too big. Eventually, they gave her the dress that Robina had originally tried on which fit her perfectly.


In Robina's case, she got lucky. She was able to get another dress that fit her without needing any alterations. Unfortunately, a lot of the brides are not that lucky. From what I've seen over the years, many of the brides get stuck with a wedding dress that does not fit properly and end up spending a lot more money on alterations that they could have easily avoided if the dress fit better in the first place.


I have never worked at bridal shops to know for sure if that's indeed a business tactic that some bridal shops use to boost their bottom line, but I have seen it happen way too often to know that these are not isolated incidents. It's also very common for brides to receive their dresses late which often puts them in a bind. With no time to find another dress, most bride's have no choice but to pay the price to get the dress to fit.


It's usually the same situation for bride's maid dresses as well. I once altered a bride's maid dress that was clearly about five sizes too big! My client was swimming in it and I had to practically remake the dress which cost my client a fortune.


Here are some tips when shopping for a wedding dress


  • Cost: Wedding dresses are not cheap. They can cost anywhere from few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, and if it doesn't fit perfectly, you're going to have to dish out even more money to make it work.

  • Online shopping: Try to avoid buying wedding dresses or bride's maid dresses online. I recommend going to a reputable bridal shop and trying on the dresses, but if you must order online, be sure to do your research and look for a reputable online bridal shops. Many of the online stores will ask you to send in your measurements but it does not guarantee that you'll get the right size. Unless it's a custom made, most dresses including the bride's maid dresses are randomly selected and shipped usually at the last minute, and if the dress is coming from overseas, it can be even more impossible for any recourse. In my opinion, buying wedding dresses online without trying them on can be very risky and you could be asking for a disaster.

  • Exchange and Return Policy: Most bridal shops have very strict return policy. Be aware of the return policy before making the final decision. I once had a client who was talked into buying a very expensive dress at one of the bridal shops even though it was clearly way too big. She was told that the dress was alterable when it wasn't. She ended up buying another dress.

  • Veils and accessories: If you want to save money, avoid buying accessories and veils at a bridal shop. They can cost a fortune. Instead, buy the material and make it yourself or take it to the alterations shop. You'll be surprised at how easy it is, and you can save a lot of money.

  • Alterations: Wedding dress alterations can easily cost as much as the dress and possibly more. The alteration cost will depend on the construction of the dress and the amount of work involved. Most alterations on wedding dresses start around $200 and can run up to about $1000. it If it's a traditional wedding dress with multiple layers and is constructed with beads and laces, it'll be in the higher range. To minimize the cost, try to find the dress that fits you the closest, and be sure to find a reputable alteration shop.

For most brides, finding that perfect wedding dress is everything. Just know what you're getting into so you're not stressing at the last minute and try to enjoy one of the most important time of your life.




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