If The Dress Fits, Wear It: Dress Fittings

Odds are your dress wasn’t made to your exact size, so it doesn’t fit as well as it could.  If you happen to fit into it perfectly, I want your shape.  Please, share your secrets with me.  Especially the one on how to be that tall.

At the very least your dress is probably too long, since these designers seem to work with models who are at least 6 feet tall.  For some dresses, shortening it is an easy fix.  For those that have multiple layers, volume, or detailing along the bottom, this fix becomes a little more complicated.  An experienced seamstress won’t have a problem with any of this, but you need to know that the more work involved, the more it’s going to cost you.

Fittings should start around the 8 week mark, and there are typically 3 fittings, though there can be more for dresses that are more involved or less for easy fixes.  Most dresses will need to be hemmed, and you will most likely need a bustle added (I’ll have a post on those later).  Beyond that, it is up to what you and your seamstress feel is necessary.  Maybe you have a little extra room in the bodice you want to get rid of (strapless dresses NEED to be very fitted, otherwise you risk it sliding off!), or maybe you’re a bit snug through the bust.  Whatever the issue, a good seamstress will know how to fix it.  There are some things to watch out for though.

As a general note, lace gowns are the hardest to alter because the designs are often what dictates where seams are.  You and your seamstress might have to get creative depending on what kind of lace your gown has and how it was made to begin with.

Rule #1: bring the shoes and undergarments you are planning on wearing for the wedding!  This includes crinoline!

Rule #2: bring someone with you!  You cannot see your own back, and mirrors give distorted views.  You want someone who can make sure that everything looks straight when they step back to look at it, and you need someone to make sure the back is taken care of.  Have someone at every fitting.  It’s best if you can have the same person with you, but it’s not necessary.

Wait, back up: how do I find a seamstress?

Some bridal salons have in-house seamstresses or alterations departments.  While the in-house people are usually more expensive than free-lancers, they carry a sort of insurance policy: if they mess up, it’s on the salon to fix it (including re-ordering you a new dress at their expense if it’s a major screw up).  Of course, you should always check what the salon’s alterations policies are as far as being responsible for any major errors, and do some research ahead of time to see if there are any major complaints against the store’s alterations experiences.

If your salon doesn’t have their own seamstresses, they will likely be able to recommend someone in the area to you.  If you are like me and are in a different area than where you purchased your dress, call local bridal shops and ask who they recommend for alterations in the area.  The place we ordered our bridesmaids’ dresses from recommended a woman who lives nearby to alter my dress, and she’s been fantastic (I’ll post about that later once the process is all done).

So, to summarize: A) use the in-house seamstress for the salon you ordered your dress from, B) ask the salon for recommendations, or C) ask salons local to you (since you don’t want to drive for hours just to get to a fitting!) who they recommend to their brides.

The First Fitting

The first fitting is reserved for major alterations like hemming, bustles, and serious size issues.  Having the shoes you are planning on wearing will make sure the dress is shortened to the appropriate length so you can walk down the aisle without tripping or flashing your whole leg, as well as let the seamstress know how high the bustle needs to come.  If you have an decorations along the bottom of the skirt, your seamstress may ask you questions about how you want them to move the details.  If your skirt has tiers, and you have to have it shortened a good bit, she may also suggest slightly shortening the other tiers to balance out what she has to remove from the bottom layer.

If you are converting the back of your dress from one style closure to another (zipper to corset, button to zipper, etc), that should be taken care of in this appointment as well.

You may also want to consider having bra cups sewn into your dress.  If you want some support without having to worry about straps slipping, it’s a great way to go.  The cups are usually sewn in-between layers of the dress to make sure they don’t shift or flip out along the edges.

Anywhere you have major size issues should be taken in.  If things are close, and it’s iffy if it could be taken in or if it could be left alone, leave it for now.  Most brides find their body shape changes a bit in the few weeks leading up to the wedding, either due to stress or from that final work-out push.  That little bit of looseness could grow, and if you’ve already started to take the area in, you’ll have to do a second round of it.  A little extra room in the bust can always be fixed with some cutlets.  Leave close calls until the later fittings.  Exactly how far out you should start those is a conversation to have with your seamstress.

The Second Fitting

This fitting has two purposes.  You’re not just seeing what the next round of alterations should be, you’re also checking the work from the last fitting.  If you changed the back of your dress, that is the first thing to check.  Before even putting the dress on (since it’s kind of hard to see your own back), be sure you’re happy with the quality of the changes.  Is it straight?  Is it the right kind of closure?  Also check to see if any of the pieces that were sewn on to form the bustle are visible.  Most likely, you’ll see something if you’re really looking for it (especially if you have an over bustle), but the key here is to see if anything jumps out at you.  No one is going to be looking as closely at your dress as you are.  If you have to search to see any clear loops or hooks, no one else will see it.  I promise.  If the dress passes this initial inspection, get the dress on.  If you did a back conversion, does it fit the way it’s suppose to?  Converting a dress often leads to alterations being necessary through the waist area, so be on the lookout for that.

Check the hem length all the way around the skirt.  Is it off the floor?  If you have multiple layers to your skirt, are there any under layers sticking out?  Is it even?  Address these concerns first.  After that, move on to any alterations you had for other major issues (serious sizing problems, addition of straps.  Check everything about the dress that you can that isn’t related to the bustle, since everything will look different once you test that out.

After any of your dress concerns are discussed, it’s time to try out the bustle.  It’s helpful to have someone with you who will be able to help do the bustle the day of the wedding so they can learn how they are supposed to do it.  Check to be sure that it’s the right shape and lays where it should.  Yes, there will be extra volume around your butt, but that is unavoidable.  What you should check is if the folds are laying where they should or if they’re adding even more unnecessary volume.  Check how it looks from both the back and the front.  The bustle may be visible from the front if you have a large train, but it should not look ridiculous.  Point out any concerns to the seamstress.  It is also worth mentioning that you should do a recheck of the hem length now that the skirt is bustled.  Is it off the floor all the way around?  Is it even (or at least even-ish)?

If everything is perfect, then congrats!  You’re done with fittings!  If you’re like the majority of brides, however, you still have some time left on your alterations journey.  Be sure that you address everything before you leave this fitting.  Go through the list of alterations that still need to be done with your seamstress.  This includes fixes to what was done before this fitting if they’re not perfect, as well as starting to pin and change the more subtle fit issues (like taking in or letting out small areas).  She may not start work on the subtle changes yet, but they should at least be mentioned (even if you talked about them in the first fitting; a reminder never hurts!).

The Third Fitting

Now fittings are serious business.  Depending on when you did your first fitting and what your seamstress’s timeline has been, you’re probably within a month of your wedding, and possibly even only 2 weeks out.  Check EVERYTHING.  I mean everything.  Even check stuff you checked last time that wasn’t suppose to change.  Check the back closure.  With all the in-to and out-of your dress you’ve been doing for fittings, you’ll want to check that the closure isn’t starting to pull out (so make sure the zipper is still sturdy, the loops for the corset are all still fully attached, etc).  Check to see that the bustle implements aren’t obvious.  Check that beading is still secure.  Check that decorations that have been moved are where they are supposed to be and straight.

After you get the dress on, check the hem length all the way around the skirt.  Make sure any errors from the last time have been corrected.  The hem should not be touching the ground, and any under layers should not be sticking out underneath.  Check that the dress fits through the bust, waist, and hips.  If you have extra room at the waist and hips, it should be taken in.  If you have extra room through the bust, you have two options.  You can get it taken in, but if it’s only a little loose you can get away with adding in some cutlets.  That will fill out the space without the need for any more alterations.  If it’s too snug in any of those areas, see if any special undergarments might help you out.  If you have a bra with padding on, go to a thinner one.  If it’s a little snug through the waist, some Spanx can work wonders (just don’t wear more than one; people have passed out from wearing too many compression garments at the same time).  Snugness through the hips can also sometimes be helped with Spanx, though hips are more bone than anything so you may have no choice but to let it out.

Try the bustle.  Make sure it gets your train completely off the floor and that it lays the way you want it to.  Your seamstress may suggest adding clear snaps to get the folds to stay put.

If there is anything you are not 100% happy about with the dress, now is the time to say it.  3rd fittings are considered “final fittings”, in that their purpose is to approve work that should already be done or at least discussed.  Do not leave until you are clear on what more you expect to be done to the dress, if anything.

Future Fittings

Fittings at this point are just to approve work that has already been discussed and started.  Always do the basic visual and hem length checks, just because fixing one problem can sometimes disrupt another.  Focus on each item that was supposed to be altered since the last appointment, and either approve it or voice what you would like to change about it.  No new requests should be coming out of these post-3rd-fitting fittings.  The only time something new should come up is if one alteration caused a problem that wasn’t present before (i.e. taking in the waist is leading to some puckering or bulging under the bustline now).

After Your Final Fitting

After whatever your final fitting is, you need to arrange when you will pick up your dress from your seamstress.  Most will steam your gown for you after you have approved all alterations, and will do it as close to the wedding as they can so your dress stays as wrinkle free as possible.  Pick a day as close to the wedding as you can without scheduling the pickup during any of your busy times.  For most brides, that is the Tuesday before the wedding.

When you bring your dress home, try to find a clean, dry place you can hang it.  In a perfect world, you would find a high enough point to hang it so that you could take it out of the bag and let the train hang down without resting on anything.  Not only does this keep it wrinkle-free, but it also allows the dress to “breathe” a little and get rid of that “new dress smell”.  If it’s not possible to let it hang like this, the next best thing is to find a place that has something clean you can drape the train over (as spread out as possible).  If even this is not possible, keep it in the bag and hang it so at least the bag doesn’t touch the ground.  Do not shove it in a closet between other items, the dress should hang and float freely.

If you live in a house with a smoker, do not take the dress out of the bag.  Preferably you should also find one of the thicker, vinyl plastic bags to store it in.  Or, leave it at a friend’s house that you really really trust.  Cigarette smoke, for whatever reason, has a yellowing effect on most fabrics used to make wedding dresses.  I don’t know if it’s the chemicals it’s treated with prior to leaving the manufacturer, but it seems to be a pretty common problem.  Your best bet is to store it in a non-smoker residence, but if that’s not possible, get a thick plastic bag to help protect it!

It’s a good idea to look into renting/borrowing/buying a steamer to have with you for the day of the wedding to take care of any last-minute wrinkles.

I have had 3 fittings so far.  2 of them were “regular” fittings, and the 3rd was a sort of “emergency” fitting.  The short version of the story is I was not a happy camper after the 2nd fitting (major bustle issue…I’ll fill you in later), and the next day my seamstress called me and said she had come up with an idea for how to fix it, and she wanted me to stop by to put the dress back on to see what I thought of it (MUCH BETTER!).  I have another fitting coming up on May 8, which will hopefully be the last one.

Wow, this was way longer than I anticipated!

What are you doing for a seamstress?  Have you started fittings yet?  What all do you want/need done on your dress?


Posted on April 26, 2012, in Attire, To-Do, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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