What Bridal Boutiques and Brides Need to Know About Alterations

Whether you have an in house service, a contracted specialist that comes into your space, or you refer out to a trusted source, your brides will ask you a million questions about alterations. Sometimes it's a simple "when should I start?", other times it's all about changes to the structure and style of a gown. Regardless, if brides don't know the right info, it can be a huge problem for them and backfire for your specialist and for your store. To help everyone avoid that headache and give you a really simple system that lets you answer any question without worrying about what to say, we've put together this round up of advice from some of the best alterations specialists we know.

Let's start with some basic advice you can give to brides.

Timing and what to bring to an appointment:

Timing is obviously important, so call to find out the timeline you alterations person requires.  Every business runs and staffs differently and some want brides on the books ASAP so there aren't any delays. Others want to wait to bring them in to account for weight gain or loss. The best way for brides to avoid any timing surprises is to ask as early as possible what their top few choices want them to plan for.

The bits and pieces they need at appointments can vary too, but the general consensus is:

  • Have the right undergarments (bra cups in a dress can't always support larger sizes).
  • Have your exact wedding shoes.
  • Bring any accessories that need to be paired with your gown.
  • Knowing the brand or store can help, sometimes designers have particular ways of constructing gowns.

Some important knowledge for brides going in:

Misconceptions about what is and isn't possible in great alterations work can set brides up for frustration. Here are some thoughts about what to let brides know as they're asking you about the process and looking through dresses. Sometimes they make a dress choice based on a change they want that may not actually be possible, and that's never good! Or they avoid something that could be tweaked to be just right and you could have had the sale. Either way, this is stuff they need to be aware of as they shop and before fittings.

  • Seamstresses aren't there to reshape your body. They fit everything in the best way, but they have to work within the laws of physics and and with your wonderful body in its current shape. There are just some things that have to be true. An example is a backless dress...it is not going to give you as much support as a dress with fabric all the way across the back that allows you to use bra cups that are held up with a strap or support around the back.
  • Big weight changes can ruin the fit of the dress if they're happening too late in the process. Make sure you work with your alterations specialist on timeline for any gains or losses or significant expected body shifts (pregnancy, medical treatment, plastic surgery, etc.) and when you should schedule your appointments. 
  • If the gown's too small, there may not be anything we can do. Bottom line. It's just a really risky move and why we always recommend sizing up if there's any doubt. On the other hand, details and seams can't just be placed anywhere and dropping more than 2 sizes can be impossible or end up costing thousands. Sizing matters.
  • The cost of alterations has to do with the amount of specialized time (fittings and actual work) and materials. It really doesn't matter what the original price of the dress was. It's all about what changes need to be made. Bodice construction is complicated, skirts can have lots of layers...it's not usually just a simple "lift it here, tweak it there". Lace and beading usually needs to be picked off by hand and reapplied carefully to maintain the design of the gown once it's a different size and shape.
  • As a bride, be very specific about what you're hoping for in the changes. The more explaining and communication the better, usually.
  • Sewing studios can be unsafe for little ones or tight quarters for groups if they aren't set up to accommodate them. Make sure you find out ahead of time what their guest policies are so that your appointment can be as organized as possible.
  • Expect 3+ fittings, depending on the amount of work to be done. 
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Tips for stores:

Your store's relationship with your alterations specialist can be a huge perk and stress relief. Or not. When it is though, it's a great thing for everyone involved, so take the time to find someone you really love! A smooth process starts on the selling floor and communication and good advice is the way to make it happen.

Many alterations specialists I know will come in and give you the info you need about what to tell brides. If yours will, do it! 

For example, there really are plenty of changes that just can't be done well. Backless dresses can't give lift and support. Thin fabrics can't be pulled incredibly tight. Necklines can't always be moved or built up. Straps and sleeves sometimes just look out of place. Some skirts can't go poofier (or less poofy). If it's not the kind of change your alterations specialist has given the ok for before, be careful about promising it can be customized. Ask for some guidance from them about what you can say to brides about possible changes for your dresses. Have them come in and run ideas by them for common requests while looking at your samples.

This is also a great time to get their input on the tips and info you can be giving your brides. They may even already have some resources made that you can pass along. Tami of Great Lakes Wedding Gown Specialists does a great job with this for their brides with videos to explain important concepts. If your local alterations places haven't done this, you can always share hers from their Facebook page or Youtube channel! The more education brides have available, the better.

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Finally, the most important point I can make:

Don't overpromise. Sometimes we get sucked in to creating a dream with a bride or hopeful in closing a sale and we'll tell brides that something can be changed or accomplished in alterations. Or we'll try to help them feel at ease and answer their questions about what they can expect during alterations. We'll start suggesting what will need to be done and how much time or money it will take. While we're just giving an idea, the brides can take it as a final answer. If the work is different than your quick glance sees or the bride remembers something incorrectly, they can be surprised and upset during their first fitting and it can be unnecessarily difficult for the alterations specialist. 

How can you balance being helpful to the bride and answering questions with not overstepping the alteration specialist's expertise and ability to run their business? Give them all the info we've covered so far. Good expectations and being prepared helps everyone involved. Then help the bride learn the language to articulate their concerns and wishes, but don't tell them if or how something can be done or give an estimate for how much. And give them the tools to communicate clearly.

I love the idea of a little note sheet for the bride to take home after their dress pick up. You can circle and jot down their concerns and wishes. Keep it simple - things like "fix loose straps", "look at fit on hips", and "attach sash to waist". Give them a summary of the things they should bring and have the alterations shops' contact info on there. To make it easy, I've made up a starter sheet for you. Use it as is or add what you'd like!

----> DOWNLOAD THE INFO SHEET HERE <----

But make sure to run it by your favorite alterations specialist first!