The wedding day is a big deal for many, and so too is the dress. It might sound cliché but dreaming of the dress from a young age is something I can certainly relate to. Whether it’s adding Bridal Fashion Week pics to a Pinterest board, following a handful of bridal inspo Instagram accounts or collecting magazine cut-outs in a box under your bed – whatever the format, choosing a wedding dress is rarely considered to be a snap decision.
Once you’ve decided exactly what you want, if you can’t find it in stores, you might consider designing your dress. But before you go all-in on the process, chances are, you’ll likely have a few questions about how it all works. If so, you’re in the right place – read on for the top tips and things to look out for from three gorgeous brides that have custom-made their wedding dresses.
Why do brides choose to design their dress?
A bride might decide on a custom-made design for various reasons, ranging from budget to those simply looking for a ‘one of a kind’ dress that no one else will have. Here are a few factors that can lead to someone designing their own dress:
- For something unique. In The Frow‘s Victoria Macgrath, award-winning fashion and lifestyle blogger, YouTuber and author, says it was always a given that she would custom-make her dress, “I’d always had it in my mind to go for something bespoke for my bridal gown. Even if it was a small tweak to an original dress, I loved the idea of having something more unique.”
- If a high-end dress is out of the budget. Fashion designer, Elena Ferti, always dreamt of the classic Elie Saab gowns for her wedding. “My dream wedding dress would be out of an Elie Saab catwalk show, but my budget wasn’t stretching to that level. Because I work in fashion it was easy to find someone with couture knowledge. The seamstress I worked with has experience in couture brands, I knew we had the same aesthetic, so it was an obvious choice for me.”
- To involve loved ones in the process. Elise Gill, skincare content creator and senior global producer for All Things Hair, explains “I wanted the dress to feel personal and special. I also wanted each of my bride squad members to have a role, and one of my girls is a fashion designer. I wanted her involved, to make the whole dress process that little bit more personal.”
What is designing a wedding dress actually like?
At a high-end boutique, the process is incredibly bespoke and every detail can be customised, Victoria visited Phillipa Lepley’s boutique in South Kensington. There, sample designs are available to see, touch, and try on and your perfect dress is then designed on you, and customised according to your needs. Victoria’s said: “It was all such a wonderful, collaborative process. We would talk through the type of fabric, the cut of the neckline, and the amount of tulle in order to get the skirt shape I desired. It was just a great experience to choose the details that I loved the most.”
Being able to add certain details made Victoria’s dress even more unique, “After trying on my favourite dresses from her designs and finding the dream shape, I had a chat with Phillipa about any tweaks to fabrics or embellishments that I wanted. I had a V and an A for our initials, embellished into the back of my evening dress. And I had pockets cut into the tulle of my dress, who doesn’t want pockets in their wedding dress?” If you’re curious to know more about Victoria’s experience, check out her video here.
Working directly with a designer, like Elise did with her friend Mia, means you can customise details like the fabric and embellishments. “We decided to have a blush undertone to my dress to represent the girlier, more feminine side of me. As I love interesting fabrics, we selected a 3D floral-type fabric. I also wanted to have an element to the dress that I could be removed for the reception,” Elise explains.
Alternatively, you can work directly with a couture seamstress, but you might have to dedicate a lot of your personal time to the creation, which is what Elena chose to do, both because of her budget and her wish to be actively involved in the process. “I was introduced to the couture seamstress through some friends, and after I shared my vision with her, we agreed to work on the project together,” Elena said.
If you make your dress directly with the designer, instead of a boutique, you might get to go to fabric shops for inspiration, which was the case for both Elena and Elise. “I went to Berwick Street to browse fabrics, but it became apparent the cost for the fabric was above my budget, so my seamstress suggested I find the factory directly. I managed to find the exact fabric on Etsy for the 1/5th of the price it was sold for, in London,” Elena said.
Elise also visited a couple of fabric stores in Soho as well as wedding dress stores in Wimbledon. “The first dress I spotted ended up being the one that inspired me the most. I tried on around eight dresses and decided on a shape with Mia, who then did a few sketches, we begun fabric shopping, a toile [the early version of the garment made from a light fabric] of the dress was made, and amends were done,” Elise said.
Is designing your own wedding dress cheaper?
Well, it depends. Creating your wedding dress from scratch would be more expensive than buying a ready-to-wear option, but it all comes down to the specific details, like the fabric chosen. For Elena, designing her dress was much cheaper as she sourced the fabric from the factory herself. She also dedicated a lot of her personal time to the detailed hand-embroidery of her dress.
“The dress wasn’t an exact ‘replica’ of the couture gown – which wasn’t my intention anyway – and it ended up costing £1,000 roughly instead of £56,000,” Elena said. The bride adds that she decided on an hourly rate with the seamstress instead of a project rate, which helped her be in control of her budget.
Working directly with one designer rather than a team in a boutique, will make the dress cheaper as well. For Elise, the dress also worked out to be slightly cheaper than ready-to-wear dresses, as she was working closely with her designer friend, Mia. Elise started her research in the fabric shops in Oxford Street and Soho, “they were above my price bracket, so we used the images of those fabrics as inspiration and ended up finding similar fabrics in the Shepherd’s Bush Market fabric stores,” she said.
Things to keep in mind
- The dress creation might be your favourite part of the wedding. Victoria was very pleased and happy with the whole process and would highly recommend it, “For me, the process of choosing every element and detail of my dress was one of my favourite parts of wedding planning. In fact, my favourite part. There is something so special about knowing you’ve had some say in your finished dream wedding dress.” At Philippa Lepley’s boutique, she had eight fittings for her dress, which resulted in the perfect fit, and certainly a very happy bride.
- The style and cut of the dress are very important, you have to be happy with how it looks and feels. To do that, Elena recommends looking at the clothes you already own to help you decide, “The most important thing is to decide on the neckline and then the silhouette. Looking at your clothes should help you decide on the neckline that suits you. I always knew the classic Elie Saab designs should be the aim.” Elise agrees – that’s why she tried on both dresses that she liked and others that are more ‘on trend’ but less her style to ensure she made the perfect choice.
- Look online for inspiration, Elise said: “During the entire design process, Mia and I shared a Pinterest board and I would regularly look at catwalk as well as colour trends. After around three fittings the dress was done, and it was perfect,” Elise said
- Do a final dress fitting with your wedding party present. Elena’s dress took four fittings to be completed, and though the fit was perfect, she nearly had an issue on her actual wedding day, “At the final fitting we realised not everyone could pull the zipper up because of the heavy embellishment” so make sure your wedding party knows how to help you get dressed!
Things to remember
- A clear vision is essential throughout the process as you might have to make quick decisions; “You aren’t going to see the final dress till very late in, by which point you might not have the budget or time to change it,” Elena said. She faced some trouble with the colour of her lining, which was initially skin-coloured, and made the dress look like a ballgown. Re-doing the whole lining was costly and time-consuming, so attention to detail is essential. Elise seconds that point and advises future brides to schedule extra time for amends.
- A great connection with your designer is important as you will spend a lot of time with them. Elise said, “Make sure you get on with your designer and they completely understand you and your style; that connection and bond needs to be there between the two of you. This is one of the most if not the most memorable dress/outfit you will ever wear so have fun with it!” Victoria’s great connection with Philippa is why she choose her for the design of both wedding and evening dresses; “I was introduced to Phillipa’s designs after taking part in a photoshoot for Mine Magazine and from there I just fell in love with the craftsmanship and the details, also Phillipa is just a dream.”
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