Would it be fair to say the most anticipated event of wedding planning is (drum roll please)… choosing a gown? Unless you know you’re going to don your grandmother’s dress, gown shopping may be at the top of your overwhelming to-do list. I couldn’t stand the thought of going to a bridal store and having people pull zillions of dresses for me. I didn’t want to spend hours trying them on. And I definitely didn’t want a small gaggle of girlfriends ooh-ing and ahh-ing me. Maybe I was intimidated, maybe a tad shy. For me, choosing to go custom was a no-brainer. One designer, one vision. Just me, the gown, and the master. There are a lot of pluses to getting a custom-made gown—the biggest, most obvious is that it will be a one-of-a-kind dress. NO ONE before you and no one after you will ever have THAT dress. Because of this, though, it can require a tremendous amount of work on the part of the dressmaker to design, pattern, and custom-fit the gown so you’ll really need to think long and hard about your budget and where you want to spend the big bucks. To help you get those wheels turning, we teamed with wedding gown designer Melissa Sweet (yes, THE Melissa Sweet) to provide a step-by-step guide on what you can expect if you go custom and why a one-of-a-kind gown might be your path to wedding-wear bliss.
Step 1: Choosing a designer. When choosing a wedding gown designer, you really need to be sure you understand their design aesthetic. You’re going to have to do your homework to familiarize yourself with different designers’ signature looks, design perspectives, and general uses of fabric. Ask yourself what you want in a gown. Are you looking for simple elegance, trendsetting styles, expensive fabrics studded with all sorts of embellishments? Take your time choosing the right designer for you. Once you’ve made up your mind, you need have faith in them. You love their work, now is the time to trust their vision. “Remember that you came to them for their expertise so allow them to guide you accordingly,” says Sweet. “While creating a one-of-a-kind design, many details are considered and worked into the final creation. A lot of these will be decided according to the designer’s discretion.”
Step 2: The consultation. Before you meet with your designer, spend some time collecting images that inspire you. These don’t have to just be a series of tearsheets of gowns from magazines. “Make a folder of photos that depict the ideas, inspirations, and emotions you want to evoke on your wedding day,” says Sweet. “As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. There are endless possibilities for ‘simple and elegant’ so it is important to be able to express your thoughts through a medium that both you and your designer can see.” When you’re in the meeting with your designer, you need to take some time getting to know one another. Who are YOU as a person, not just you-the-bride? What do you want your gown to say about you? Do you want to incorporate anything special into your dress (a swath of fabric from your grandmother’s veil, for example)? This is the time to discuss all the nitty-gritty details and your every desire. “The more your designer understands your vision,” says Sweet, “the easier it will be for her to create a gown you will love.”
Step 3: Sketch review. A designer sketch is the true starting point of seeing your vision come to life. During this phase, you should expect to discuss fabric selection, gown shape and style, and embellishments. And, says Sweet, you should be asking a TON of questions, such as “how deep will the neckline be?” and “how long is the train?” If something about the design is unclear, ask for clarification. “Remember that [the sketch] is just a representation of an idea, it is not the dress itself.” Sweet advises brides to really hone in on the details at this point, because in this stage, it is super easy to change something. Later on, not so much.
Step 4: A muslin fitting. Before a designer spends H-O-U-R-S (understatement) cutting, sewing, trimming, embroidering your gown, they’ll do a “mock-up” in a basic cotton fabric called a muslin. “All the final decisions regarding fit and silhouette will be made while working with the muslin,” says Sweet. “Your designer may even hand-draw embellishments directly onto the fabric to indicate positioning and to give you an idea of what you can expect.” Sweet advises brides to bring their bridal shoes (flats or 5-inch heels will make a huge difference in length of the gown!) and underpinnings to this fitting. “Every bra is different,” explains Sweet. “If you are wearing one, it is important that your designer knows exactly how it fits you, where the boundaries are, and if there is a possibility it could be seen from beneath your gown.” Make sure to see the gown on from all sides, every angle. If something doesn’t look or feel right, now is the time to speak up.
Step 5: Your first gown fitting! This is the moment you slip into your wedding dress for the first time—EEEEEEEE! Who do you want there with you? You might enjoy having this moment all to yourself (that would be me) or inviting one special friend or your mother. Don’t be afraid to have a natural reaction. Some women cry, others giggle nervously. “As a designer who loves dressing brides, I remember to prepare for this moment as it is different for every woman,” says Sweet. “Whatever comes up for you, take it in stride and remember that your emotions are about something much bigger than the dress you are wearing.” During this fitting, prepare to be pinned and tucked. This time is for the finishing touches. (PS—you need to be careful about any significant weight loss, or gain, after this fitting. Read more about this here.)
Step 6: The final fitting. This fitting is for peace of mind. Is everything fitting just so? (If you have lost any weight up until this point, it is time to stop! You don’t want to put yourself or your designer in the position of having to reconstruct the dress at the last minute.) The final fitting can also serve as a dress rehearsal for your whole ensemble. “I suggest to my brides that if they are having a trial run with their hairstylist they should do it before the final fitting,” says Sweet. “Then you can see all the pieces put together.” This should be the moment when you can finally relax your shoulders, take a much-needed deep breath in, and KNOW that you’re going to be able to rock this gown on your wedding day.
Melissa Sweet (formerly design maven at Melissa Sweet Bridal and Priscilla of Boston) recently returned from a sabbatical to re-envision her bespoke collection, now called Melissa Sweet Sacred). Designing one-of-a-kind gowns, Melissa works with brides each step of the way from vision to the aisle. 100% of the net profits from the gowns in her collection go to Vida Authentica, a non-profit foundation she started in Costa Rica, where she now lives and works. Melissa is also collaborating on the “Melissa Sweet for David’s Bridal” collection, which is in stores now.
[Photo: Mel & Co. Photography (left) and sketch, both courtesy of HALO PR]