Having your dress made by a dressmaker can be considered a risk. Each dressmaker brings their own design sensibilities and unique experiences to the task.
Brides should recognise that when they have their dress/es made by a single, private dressmaker they are usually paying less than retail and with good reason. Bridal shops and mass produced retail stores often have the benefit of having made the designs they offer a number of times. During this process the pattern and the construction techniques can be refined. Each sample dress is called a ‘toile’ (French for ‘trial’).
When you have a dress privately made, two comparisons stand out. The first is that you do not have the luxury of having the dress made a number of times, therefore it can be a little risky as to the finish.
The second is that the retail and bridal stores have teams of people working on designs, designer, patternmaker, cutter, draper, sewer, beader, for example . Many heads can be better than one!
This said, a private dressmaker may have worked as any part of a number of teams at stages of their career and have developed a nice bevy of skills to deliver a top notch garment. On the other hand, when problem solving the mechanics of a design the dressmaker may not have a second opinion to turn to or may not be an experienced beader.
A certain amount of trust and confidence in the process is required by the bride and bridal party to achieve the desired outcome. It helps if the bridal party can communicate their ideas succinctly. Images are quite an important part of the process in this sense too. It enables the dressmaker to see how the effect was achieved by someone previously. You can be clear about what it is that you like. It can be a fine starting point even if it is not exact. I currently have a client who is having an amalgam of 3 similar pictures.
Dressmaking is a process. The initial toile, in calico, poly satin (for drape) or both, is the time to discuss with the dressmaker whether the design elements fit your vision ie. necklines, general fit, flare on skirt, width of straps etc., after this it can become trickier as the garment is cut in the real fabric.
The dressmaker may re-toile her own changes a couple of times during the initial stages, with dummy fittings only, to get the skirt to look like the agreed picture/drawing or to get the cup size right for a large bust for example. Each dressmaker will have their own work code on how much time and effort will be spent refining. All of this can be very time consuming. This will likely be the difference in what you, as the consumer, pays for. A perfectionist is likely to charge you more, in theory.
The above is a domestic form of couture dressmaking. ‘Couture’, strickly speaking, employs sophisticated hand stitching techniques. Colleges in Australia rarely teach these as we compete with mass produced and pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) garments.
Ideally speaking, a dressmaker-made dress should provide a better fit than a standard sized dress. Many Bridal boutiques offer ready-to-wear ranges in standard sizes, often made overseas, at less than the pricey ‘couture’ ranges, which are more customised. You may be given one fitting/alteration if buying a standard size or not, depending on the shop. Comparatively, you should be able to have a greater input into your chosen design by having it made privately as there are more fittings – like with couture gowns.
The difficulty for dressmakers is interpreting the design the same way the bridal party does. Also, the web and magazine pictures used for inspiration are highly constructed images (models, photographers, makeup artists, stylists, setting/decor, lighting). The images do not allow you to see the detail or the flaws. My advise here is to wash your hair, wear makeup and feel good about yourself when going for a fitting with your dressmaker. And be realistic with your expectations.
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