As of lately, personalization has evolved as a top wedding planning priority, be it individualized vows, food, music, and everything in between (adios, tradition). What to-be-weds may not know, though, is that customizing your wedding dress can also earn you major points in the same originality vein. Or, maybe you’re just not in love with bridal boutique offerings and want to go your own way to flaunt your sartorial sensibilities. Whatever the case, it's worth noting that you have more shopping power than you think. Customizations, big or small, give your made-to-order wedding fashion a specially unique treatment for your own big day, without compromising on the notoriously high-quality designer construction.
To prove our point, we spoke with bride/designer duo Sabrina Bryan and Hayley Paige, who collaborated on The Cheetah Girls alum's one-of-a-kind, princess-worthy ball gown for her October 6, 2018 wedding. Just in time for the pair's joint Say Yes to The Dress episode, which airs February 16, both Bryan and Paige shared details on the entire wedding dress customization process for fellow brides-to-be. Whether you're looking to modify a few components or create an entirely new gown from the bottom up, read on for everything you need to know about tailor-making your own bridal frock, as well as how to go about it in the first place.
What to Know About Customizing Your Wedding Dress
Fully Custom May Not Be Realistic...Or Even Necessary
We get it—you want to walk the down the aisle in a gown that no one's the seen the likes of, and that brings the bridal feeling you've dreamed of since you were four to fruition. But don't get too hung up on following in the footsteps of brides like Priyanka Chopra and Meghan Markle. Paige notes that, because of the hefty designer workload attached, creating a fully custom dress isn't the most accessible undertaking (unless you turn to a specialized or couture dressmaker). "It really does depend on the magician of the designer because most brands out there don’t offer full customized gowns from start to finish," she says.
Instead, she and Bryan collectively picked apart dresses from her current collection, using the Lorelei gown as a base and pulling pieces from an assortment of garments to create the dazzling finished product. "I went to a boutique and tried on more of her dresses and was able to tell her what I liked," Bryan adds. "We basically blocked out ideas from each of her dresses that I really liked to create the dress that I had."
It Will Cost a Pretty Penny
Because customizations automatically demand such a personal attention to detail, the process requires more wiggle room in your dress budget. "You’re not just taking up the time of the labor cost and sewing and pattern making, but also the designer can’t be working on anything else while they’re working on your gown," Paige says. "There is such a priority there that you get, so it’s wonderful and special, but it’s also very exclusive." For dressmakers more prone to building made-from-scratch pieces, Paige predicts an uptick in price of about $10,000 to $15,000.
But don't fret, brides on a budget—start small and take a cue from Bryan's customized wedding dress. Depending on the bridal designer, you should have freedom to make tweaks to anything from the hemline to the sleeve length to mixing and matching bodices and skirts.
You Won't See the Finished Look Right Away
Want to extend your dream gown's bodice, or turn a long sleeve garment sleeveless? No biggie—just know that you can't catch a glimpse of the finished product, customizations and all, until it's fully completed and ready for alterations. But, Paige actually drew a sample of Bryan's completed creation before making any headway. "For what you can’t see on the body, it’s important to see on paper," she says. "I really believe in the sketch process to animate the design and give [Bryan] an idea of proportion."
Time Needs to Be on Your Side
As with any wedding gown, a custom dress isn't made overnight. Paige estimates spending an average of eight months to a year on Bryan's original frock—a timeline that fellow brides-to-be should also religiously abide by. "I think it’s really important to hit the ground running when it comes to customizing anything because you really want to give the client time to have conviction in all of those decisions," she adds. "They don’t actually see the dress in its entirety until its finished state when you’re doing something custom, so you want to be patient with the process and give it a moment." But, don't get the ball rolling so far out from your wedding day that you start to second guess yourself.
How to Create a Custom Wedding Dress
Pinpoint Your Designer
To start, do as all brides should do—have fun browsing Pinterest and Instagram (how Bryan found Paige!) to narrow down your most must-have wedding gown styles. From there, research your favorite recurring designers and whether they offer customizations. And, if you already have a vision in mind for a completely made-to-order garment, make sure that it aligns with your chosen designer's aesthetic. "I always try to make sure that the idea and the essence of the brand really resonates with our clients if they’re going to do a custom look," says Paige. She added that "that’s the tricky thing with designing something custom is that if you’re idea is way off base from what I would normally design, I would be very hesitant to work with that client because I would want them to work with a designer that really matches their concept and their vision."
Try On Dresses...And Then Some More
Next, the best part—shopping! Head to bridal boutiques to pinpoint your dream style IRL, and don't be shy about taking gowns that weren't initially on your radar for a test run. After all, you're not just looking at each dress as a whole—you're getting a feel for its individual pieces. "Until you are standing at a beautiful salon in a dress with your trusted confidantes, you’re really not going to know what you want," Paige advises. "I fully believe in the power of dress-up and to do that first and foremost to give yourself a moment to just enjoy and believe in the shopping part of it. Then, to kind of take a step back and decide, if you still want to customize something, what are you loving and what elements can you pull apart that you can really have confidence in?"
Based on her own experience, Bryan encourages brides to "try on a lot." "I made it a point that anything that kind of caught my eye, whether I thought it was gonna look good on me or not, I tried it on," she says. "That’s the best advice I’ve gotten from multiple of my girlfriends." To that note, she also recommends hitting multiple bridal salons over the course of a few days—don't just cap it at one and done, especially since you're doling out more dough for customizations, anyway. "You’re looking at putting out a lot more money, so [the gown] really needs to fit your body and be the perfect dress for your body," Bryan adds.
Scope Out Trunk Shows
After you've honed in on your fave bridal designer, also look into any trunk show opportunities he or she may be hosting at your nearest bridal boutique. Not only do you get the chance to meet with said dress expert in-person, but you can get a better feel of the collection and which individual silhouettes/designs meet your fancy. At Paige's trunk shows, for example, she'll dress a bride in one gown, then layer it with another to give her a concrete sneak peek of a potential skirt swap. "In that situation, you have a little bit of control over the process and you can kind of visualize it on you," says the designer.
Leave the Heavy Lifting to the Pros
When all the nitty gritty customization details have been sorted and you've been properly sized, place your full trust in the designer to take over and work his/her magic. Know that you won't be left completely in the dark throughout the gown's development, though. Paige sent photos and updates to Bryan, like when her custom beading arrived, to keep her in the loop and confirm that she hadn't changed her mind.
Prep for Alterations
Finally, as you wait for your completed gown to arrive, book fittings in advance with a local seamstress a few weeks out from the big day. (Bryan turned to Paige's Beverly Hills flagship retail boutique, JLM Couture, to modify her own wedding frock.) You may need as many as three alterations sessions, but after that you're officially aisle-walking-ready in your brand-spankin'-new custom dress.