The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Dress Alterations

Your ultimate guide to wedding dress alterations. From costs to timelines, learn all you need for a flawless gown on your big day.

By Elizabeth Blasi

couple after wedding dress alterations
Photo by Zola

So, you finally did it. You found the wedding dress of your dreams and it probably feels made just for you. Well, not yet. Most wedding dresses need at least some level of alteration, and that’s OK. They’re to be expected and are usually quite manageable. If you don’t know where to begin, here’s everything you need to know (and all of the questions you need to ask) about wedding dress alterations.

How much will wedding dress alterations cost me?

Most wedding dress alterations can cost on average between $200 to $700. The wide discrepancy is thanks to varying timelines, types of fabric, and any other detailing (like beading). It’s important for brides to factor alterations into their overall dress budget.

When you go dress shopping, your wedding planning timeline can make all the difference. Be sure to have a clear understanding of what alterations each dress you love will require and, of course, how long those alterations may take. If you only have a month or two, for example, you may not have enough time for certain alterations—or you may need to find a different dress.

Shop around.

You probably tried a few different dresses at a few different shops. Do the same for alterations specialists. Some bridal boutiques do in-house alterations. For the sake of convenience, this is a great option. However, it can also dramatically increase the cost of your dress.

Before you commit to in-house alterations, seek out alternative quotes and timelines from different alteration shops. Ask your local friends what services they use and be sure to find someone who fits your budget and timeline.

INLINE LindsayKingPhotography 1080x720 Selam&Emmanuel (1) Photo Credit // Lindsay King Photography

Wedding Dress Alteration Lingo

Just like any niche 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

Wedding Dress Alteration Timeline

Take the guesswork out of your wedding dress alterations with this helpful timeline. Here’s exactly when you should be scheduling your appointments and getting those modifications underway. Note: This timeline is based on a year-long planning process. If you have less time than this, be sure to be upfront at your bridal dress appointments so you get any alterations you need expedited, if necessary.

- 12 Months Out: Research your dress.

- 10 Months Out: Begin your wedding dress search.

- 8-9 Months Out: Buy the wedding dress. (Get a clear understanding of what alterations you’ll need from the dress experts or designers.)

- 6 Months Out: Buy wedding shoes and undergarments.

- 5 Months Out: Begin researching alteration shops in your area.

- 4 Months Out: Book your first alteration appointment.

- 2 Months Out: Book your second alteration appointment.

- 1 Month Out: Book your final alteration appointment. (This is your final fitting.)

Other Details to Consider

It may seem silly to say, but we want to reiterate, all wedding dresses are not created equal—and that can really impact dress alterations. Aside from style, cut, and size, details like fabric and beading can all factor into alteration price and timeline. A few notable callouts in wedding dresses that make a difference:

  • Beadwork: Beading on a dress is one of the most challenging elements for tailors or seamstresses to handle. Beadwork requires removing each bead carefully from the base fabric and resewing it stitch by stitch into the desired measurements.
  • Embroidery and Lace: Similar to beading, details like embroidery and lace require careful handling and attention to detail. Altering delicate elements like these require an overlay by a tailor which can take additional time.
  • Satin: Satin is obviously a delicate material and can be a bit unforgiving when it comes to showing any wrinkles or mistakes in the handiwork. Therefore, altering any stitching requires tedious, sometimes time-consuming work.
INLINE EllaKPhotography 1080x720 Cassidy&Jake Photo Credit // Ella K Photography

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Alterations Appointments

Come prepared to your wedding dress alteration appointments the same way you came prepared for your dress shopping appointments.

Make space for your undergarments.

Undergarments such as bras, stockings, or compression shorts can change (by inches potentially) your body’s measurements. Before walking into your first fitting, make sure to have the intended undergarments you plan on wearing on your wedding day so your specialist is sure to mark the right numbers.

Pack your shoes.

Your shoes make all the difference to your alterations. You probably brought a few shoe selections to your dress shopping appointments. Be sure to bring the exact shoes you plan to wear for your wedding to your alteration appointment—or at least wear shoes that are the same exact height as your wedding day shoes. This ensures that your dress hemline hits right where you want it to. It’s not too short or tripping you up all night.

Alter the dress for your body.

Too often, brides fall into the wedding diet mentality when working with dress alterations. It’s easy to hope and assume your body will look a certain way on your wedding day, especially if you’re hoping to shed weight ahead of the ceremony. However, do not have your dress altered based on aspiration. You run the risk of the dress being too small or otherwise not fitting if you don’t meet whatever physical goals you set for yourself. A dress that fits your body will feel more comfortable and flatter your shape best.

Get a second opinion.

Be sure to grab a friend or family member and bring them along for the alterations ride. It may not be as fun or glamorous as wedding dress shopping but it’s certainly just as important. The second set of eyes can offer helpful insights that may make all the difference in making a dress you love.

Wedding dress alteration specialists are exactly that: specialists. They'll help you create a dress that truly feels like your own. Now, you're just more equipped to help communicate what you want and come prepared to keep the process running smoothly.

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