Much Ado About Alterations

Alterations Are a Girl's Best Friend

Wedding gowns can have as many as six layers -- each of which will have to be adjusted during alterations.
Wedding gowns can have as many as six layers -- each of which will have to be adjusted during alterations.
Image Courtesy Kleinfeld Bridal

Who needs alterations? Almost everybody. Randy estimates that 98 percent of the time, a wedding gown must be altered in some way. Three of the most common alterations are having the gown fitted to your body, hemmed and made to bustle.

"A wedding gown," Randy explains, "is the closest-fitting garment you'll ever wear that doesn't stretch." Take swimsuits, for instance. They hug your body like a second skin because they're made with materials that stretch, like nylon, polyester and spandex. Even your favorite pair of skinny jeans might have a little bit of spandex in them that helps you pull the pants over your hips. But unless yours is a charmeuse or satin gown that's been cut on the bias (picture Carolyn Bessette's clingy white wedding dress), it's not going to have any give.

That's why it's so important to order a gown that's true to your size. Don't order one that's two sizes too small so you'll be motivated to lose 20 pounds. It's easier to take in a gown than to let it out because the garment is more complicated than an ordinary dress. That extra 2 inches you'll have to adjust requires working with a lot of fabric. A wedding dress might be constructed with an appliquéd layer of lace or beads, a layer of fabric, a layer of interfacing, a layer of lining and a layer -- or several -- of crinoline. At minimum, Randy says, you're looking at three to four layers of fabric, and sometimes there are as many as six. Matching up all of those patterns and layers for radical downsizing isn't particularly easy either. He cautions, "Every time you take the dress in on the side, patterns have to match!"

Most wedding gowns will be longer than you are tall, so hemlines will be raised during alterations. If there's a special detail at the hem, say, lace scallops or a pleated ruffle, the hem will have to be removed entirely and reattached at the right length for your height. For brides who are extra-tall or extra-petite, some designers will charge for a hollow-to-hem. This is a measurement that's taken from the hollow of the throat to the hem of the dress (Randy notes that you may pay 10 to 20 percent of the gown's cost for this consideration). The hollow-to-hem measurement ensures that a gown with a pattern down the front or with a special shape will be proportional to your body. For example, a gown that's got a beaded design from the neckline to the hem can't be lopped off at the bottom to fit a 4'10'' bride -- you'll lose the pattern! A gown measured for your frame will ensure the integrity of the design so it looks as beautiful on you as it does on the runway.

The gown fits your curves, it's not too long or too short -- what's left? The third most basic alteration you'll need is a bustle. A bustle is simply a way to gather up the train of your dress. Of course, you'll want the train to trail behind you as you walk down the aisle, but when it's time to dance and mingle at the reception, you'll be thankful for the convenience of a bustle. The style of your dress will influence which type you choose, but the most basic bustles are French (with the train tucked under the dress), traditional (over the dress), a hem bustle (the train is held up so the gown falls floor-length) or a side bustle (used only if the train is cut to flair out to the side). Bustles can be held up with ribbons or snaps, often dictated by the fabric of the gown. Sheer organza, for instance, requires clear plastic snaps.

A bustle will let you do the Hustle (sure, you can bring it back!), but you won't be able to dance if the girls don't stay in place. Next, Randy's best bust advice.