I know we have seen it on television over and over—the sample sale or clearance rack dream come true. The bride who scores her coveted gown at a fraction of its original cost and wears her fantasy dress down the aisle while keeping her budget intact. We all love a good deal, especially when faced with all the other wedding planning expenses.
But when you go out shopping, keep in mind that a dress is only a good buy if you also take into account what it will require to alter it. Sales people can gloss over significant problems to nudge you into a purchase, especially if they are on commission. While we in alterations love an occasional challenge, it can be painful to watch the sticker shock on what someone was told was “no big deal.” Under the wrong circumstances you can spend more altering the dress than you paid for it in the first place. Suddenly you could have bought a pristine dress, in the correct size, for less than your final price tag for the erstwhile “bargain.”
So here the top five things to watch out for:
1. a dress can be too big to be taken in
The general wisdom is to buy a dress to fit your largest measurements and take it in, so you tend to be told that taking in is “always an option,” BUT going too far can throw a dress out of shape. How do you know if it is too big to be workable? A good sign is if they whip out tons of clamps that look like they were purchased at the hardware store and go to town behind your back. Ideally, we don’t want to see more than a one inch pinch out of the dress anywhere (two inches total). So, think about the size of a chip clip from your kitchen rather than a monster from your carpentry bench.
Too small has less margin for error, but there is some. Most dresses have about an inch, two inches total, that can be let out at the sides during alterations. A good rule of thumb is if it closes but getting the zipper up was a little hard, or there isn’t enough room to breathe comfortably, you are SO close and we can fix that. Trust how it feels, and if you can, check the seams and see what’s in there just to be sure.
2. your dream look might not be practical for an Eight-hour day
Runway walking from the fitting room to the three-way mirror is a piece of cake; wearing a dress for eight-plus hours while dancing, riding in cabs, eating dinner, and hugging your guests (and your new spouse!) is not. Be careful that you don’t get sold on “a look” that might be impractical in real life either by a salesperson or a photo of a model. You don’t want to have to be plastic all day. You want to have fun.
3. hand work = $$$
Keep in mind that some details will raise costs. That lovely scalloped hem? We have to pull the whole thing off by hand, hem the dress, and then put it back on. Those beads, lace overlays, and appliqués covering every inch? Same thing. Some dresses have a more costly alterations process than others, and the items above are the major culprits. If they are not moved and then re-placed after alteration, the sewing machine will eat them for lunch.
4. get as close to “just right” as you can
The more it is meant to hug you, the more adjustment it will need. A ’50s style dress with a full skirt will never have a hip-fit issue, but mermaid dresses are full of them. Also make sure you agree with the fundamental style of your dress. If you can’t live without a sweetheart neckline, skip the dresses that don’t have that feature, no matter how pretty they are. There are tons of gowns out there, and the closer you are to “just right” when you walk in our door the easier it will be to focus on what we are really there for—to make it fit perfectly.
5. beware wear and tear
Sample and clearance dresses may have been tried on many times, even if they were never worn down the aisle. Some stores discourage you from getting a close look before the dress is on you—so you get sold on the overall picture without checking the details. Examine the dress up close before you leave with it, and be especially aware of missing pieces, snags, or holes. For instance, we are happy to firm up a loose button, but we may not be able to get an exact match for a missing one.
This isn’t to discourage you from searching for steal, only to help you do so well armed. If you can take it a little further, find a friend who sews and take them along or hire a personal shopper (some alterations shops can send you a wingman!). It will pay off in the long run. Happy hunting!