Top Wedding Dress Alterations Tips & What To Plan For

So you’ve found the perfect gown and you’re thinking you can breath a sigh of relief…but wait not so fast sis! There’s an important task that needs to be addressed in order to ensure your gown fits like a glove…Alterations. Wedding dress alterations are part of completing your bridal look. The difference between a bride in an ill-fitting gown and a bride in a well-fitting gown is like night and day. While there are so many different silhouettes of wedding gowns, what kind of alterations are a must? Well we’re going to share some of the most common wedding dress alterations and how to plan for them.

Most wedding gowns need at least some level of alterations, and that’s to be expected. And believe it or not they’re usually quite manageable. That’s why getting adjustments done to your dress is very important. But what does a typical fitting look like? If you don’t know where to start, here’s everything you need to know and all of the questions you need to ask.

Photo: David’s Bridal

What are Wedding Dress Alterations?

Most wedding dresses are made in generic sizes, so very rarely does a woman’s body match a designer’s dress perfectly (for example, your gown might fit like a glove in the hips, but too loose in the bust). After you’ve found your wedding dress, the bridal salon compares your measurements to the designer’s size chart and orders the closest size of gown. Once it arrives, the dress must then be tailored precisely to fit your figure. Dress alterations are the tailoring and adjusting of your wedding dress.  During your initial fitting appointment (we recommend scheduling at least 3), your seamstress will take your measurements, and pin the areas of your gown that need to be taken in. Without alterations, your wedding dress might fit loosely and not highlight your curves and figure as you envisioned.

What are some Common Wedding Dress Alterations?

There are parts of the dress that should always be tailored to fit just right. Standard alterations include adjusting the bust, taking in the waist and hips (if it’s a fitted wedding gown) are a must. These three alterations will help keep your gown up and in place. In addition to these three, a hem and bustle are also needed for the length of the gown and functionality of the train. Other alterations might include adjusting the straps and sleeves.

The Length of the Hem

Ensuring the hem of a wedding dress is the right length is important.  This allows you to walk and dance without having to grab the front of your dress.  It’s important to bring your wedding shoes or heels to your alterations appointment. Be sure to communicate any concerns about your hemline or shoes to your seamstress. (Don’t be shy…speak up!) If you plan on changing from heels to flats for your reception, be sure to share that information as well.

When to Start Your Alterations

Alteration timelines vary from bride to bride. If you are losing weight or gaining muscle mass throughout the wedding planning process, you should start alterations closer to your wedding date rather than a bride who’s goal is to maintain her stable weight and body mass. Schedule your first fitting to take place roughly three months before your wedding day, the second fitting about a month before your wedding, and your final fitting at the two-week mark. You may need an additional fitting if you’re adding any additional customizations, such as long sleeves or a train. 

Standard alterations start at about 8 weeks before your wedding. However, seamstresses can work with less than 8 weeks. At about 10 weeks before the wedding, start booking appointments and communicating with your bridal stylist or seamstress the alterations questions or concerns you may have. Depending on what specific alterations you may needs, they will be able to suggest when to start and how much time it will take.

Adjusting the Straps

Wedding gown with straps are a classic style. When a gown has a strap, it typically needs adjusting. Altering and adjusting straps and sleeves is considered standard alterations.   

Altering the Neckline

If you are opting for a lower-plunging neckline, or you want to raise a neckline, these changes are considered a custom change, however, they are very common. Neckline depth on wedding gowns is a personal choice. While some women like having a sexy plunged neckline, others like a conservative higher neckline. When you find your wedding gown, be sure to ask your bridal stylist about neckline options and custom changes.

Adding Sleeves and Large Alterations

Whether you are adding sleeves to the gown or wearing a bolero, there are sleeve options for every gown. If your seamstress is adding sleeves to your wedding gown, this is considered a custom change. When you purchase your wedding gown, communicate with your bridal stylist the changes you want. He or she will be able to order the fabric you need to make these changes in alterations.

Wedding Dress Alteration Lingo

Just like any part of wedding planning, talking bridal gown alterations requires a basic knowledge of the associated verbiage. We’ve broken down a few key phrases or words that may come up during your wedding dress alteration fitting.

  • Taking the Side Seems In/Out: removing or adding fabric to the dress sides
  • Waist Stay: a piece of elastic fabric added to the lining of your dress to help keep it in place; can be added along the waistline or above the bust for a strapless dress.
  • Opening Up/Closing the Neckline: broadening or tightening the neckline of a dress to expose more or less collar bone or cleavage
  • The Closure: how the back of the dress closes (corset, zipper, etc.)
  • Train Loop: fastenings at the bottom of a long-trained dress that help keep the dress off the ground when necessary (like at the reception)
  • Altering the Hem: changing where/how the dress falls or hits the ground Elongating or Shortening the Straps: altering the dress straps.