I have been involved in the fabric side of the textile industry for more than 40 years, the last 20 years mainly focusing on bridal fabric development and importing. Many brides have asked me the same question including my now 2 married daughters:
‘I’m getting married, where do I start?’
Choosing your wedding dress can be confusing and exhausting; navigating the daunting array of magazines and social media pages, trawling for the perfect dress. Getting started, as they say, is often the hardest step. But even after you’ve hit the pavement, when it comes to choosing The Gown, you might find yourself met with bamboozling terminology and vague claims about things like the design, construction and origins of your gown and fabric. In this post I endeavour to set out the basics on these matters to help you navigate the wide (and, let’s face it, sometimes emotional!) world of wedding gowns.
A quick word before we launch into it: when it comes to your wedding gown, the ideal gown is the one you feel the best in. Period. There are, of course, certain advantages and disadvantages to the various options at your disposal (as discussed below), but it is not the aim of this post to judge anyone. In my (long) experience with brides, it is likely you are already feeling the heat on every choice from your guest list to your menu. You won’t find any more of that here.
So, with that said, first things first: the lingo. It is important to know the difference between an ‘off-the-rack’ and a ‘custom couture’ or ‘bespoke’ gown. Once you know your budget, the next step is figuring out which of these options is right for you.
An ‘off-the-rack’ gown is just as the name suggests: you try on a sample of the gown you like straight off the rack, in-store. Most boutiques will carry one or two of these samples in each style. A copy of the gown you select is then brought in and altered to fit your body. Very few off-the-rack gowns are made in Australia: most are manufactured off-shore in bulk and imported as ordered. Sometimes this results in a less expensive gown, but not always; when you factor in alterations.
Once you have selected the style you want, the attendant will take your measurements and order the closest size. This is normally slightly larger to allow for alterations. To achieve the perfect fit, alterations are required in nearly all cases and often come at an additional cost, depending on what needs to be done. Clarify these costs with the retailer and factor them into your budget.
Also consider that these alterations can sometimes change the visual dynamic of the dress. If more fabric is needed – for example to add sleeves or fullness to the skirt – then you may find that an exact match is not available. This will leave you having to choose something different or forgoing the change altogether. Be clear before you place your order, to ensure that what you see and what you expect, is in fact what you get.
It is a common misconception that this sort of gown is made specifically to your measurements: this is not strictly the case. The term ‘made to measure’ (which I have heard used to describe everything from off-the-rack to bespoke garments) is apt to mislead here: it often simply means the pre-made gown you choose is then altered accordingly.
‘Custom couture’ or ‘bespoke’:
A bespoke gown is unique in that it is created especially for you and what you like, from scratch. This usually gives the best and most flattering fit.
There are many reputable creators of bespoke gowns – some work from a shop front, some from a studio and some from home. Some have design skills and some are more focused on construction or both. These options mean that you can usually find the right person to match your objective and budget.
Here are my five commandments when choosing fabric for a bespoke gown:
1. Before you make any decisions, take time to try on sample gowns to determine the style and silhouette you feel the best in. Some creators may have sample gowns available for you to try on for this purpose, and this is also a good way to examine their workmanship. A creator can then work with you to adapt a sample design you have viewed, or design something just for you, perhaps incorporating any elements you liked from the gowns you tried on or a particular concept you have in mind.
2. You need to feel comfortable with the person who creates your gown. You will be spending a lot of time together during fittings over the coming months, and it should be an enjoyable experience!
3. It is also a good idea to touch and feel the fabrics you are considering for your gown, and look at colours against your skin, in natural light and in the shade. Our showroom is specifically designed for this purpose and allows you to play with the fabrics in a relaxed environment. However…
4. Critically, remember: not all fabrics can be used for all gown styles. For this reason, under no circumstances should you make (or feel pressured to make) any decisions to purchase fabric until after you have engaged and consulted with your creator of choice. Your creator should be able to guide you with style and fabric choices to make the gown of your dreams. Bridal fabrics are expensive by nature, and a hasty choice before this consultation can prove to be a costly mistake – especially if what you have purchased turns out to be unsuitable for the design you have chosen.
5. The creator alone is the person you should refer to for an all-up costing of your gown, as they are the expert and are privy to all the hidden costs, as they are the ones making the gown.
Next, a note on your fabric and its origins. There are many myths and illusions regarding silk and laces – many promulgated as a sales technique. Here are some facts.
Sixty-five per cent of the world’s best silk is produced in China. The balance is produced throughout Asia, and small amount in Brazil.
There is no current production of silk yarn in Europe as there is no mulberry (silk worm food) produced in Europe anymore. Therefore, there has been no silk yarn production in Italy since the 1960s. European commercial silks are now imported as un-dyed goods from the aforementioned locations, then dyed or printed in Europe.
All lace, no matter where it is from, is made by machine. The fabric is produced in a ‘web’ of pieces, generally in multiples of 6, 8 or 12 pieces per web production depending on the width of the design. No lace can be produced one individual piece at a time.
‘French lace’ carries with it a romance born from the rich history of lace production in that country. There are now only eleven lace manufacturers in France. However, it is important to remember that all lace manufacturers, no matter where they are situated, produce their lace in the same way described above.
Chinese lace may not have the ‘romance’ of the French name, but the quality is very good. These laces are ideal for heavy beading as they are more robust. Chinese lace is used by many international bridal designers and is more budget-friendly.
These are not ‘lace’, but rather a tulle base that has the design embroidered onto that fabric. They come from all over the world, but are mainly produced in China, which is highly regarded.
Like embroideries, beaded fabrics come from all over the world. The Indians are regarded as the world’s best hand beaders, and I send all laces to trusted beaders in India. The costing of the beadwork is based on the design and intricacy, as well as the quality of beads. All our beaded laces are made to the Tyler’s requirement and to our strict quality standards.
Finally, although there are many wonderful people in the wedding industry who will work tirelessly to give you the perfect gown, it is important to remember that mistakes can happen. Thankfully, the Australian Consumer Law entitles you to certain guarantees in respect of your wedding dress (see https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees/consumer-guarantees). These cannot be contracted out of.
Whilst this post is not intended to constitute legal advice, here are some tips to avoid heartache, or deal with issues should they arise:
1. Do not allow yourself to be pressured. Yes, considerations of timing and availability are inescapable when choosing a wedding dress. No, I have never heard of a bride walking down the aisle without a gown;
2. Take lots of photos of the sample gowns you are shown and try on. This includes close-ups of important design features such as necklines and corsetry;
3. Read carefully any document you are shown or asked to sign, and make sure you understand if you are liable for additional or hidden costs, including for alterations;
4. Always obey commandment four above, when buying fabric directly. If you have purchased fabric on the basis of a misrepresentation made by the seller, or if you have been sold fabric which is not fit for the purpose you made known to the seller, then you may have rights under the Australian Consumer Law (see, eg, the link above);
5. Always ask for and keep samples of the fabric to be used for your dress. This way you can be sure your gown is made in the fabric and colour you ordered when you follow the next tip;
6. Always ask to inspect fabrics and your gown in both direct sunlight and shade – including at least once during the construction process to check your specifications are being met. Many fitting and show rooms do not have natural light and the artificial lighting in these spaces can make a gown appear very different to how it will look on your wedding day. For example, some ‘white’ fabrics will throw off a ‘blue’ hue in natural light which you may not like;
And ultimately, remember… No doubt, as your big day approaches you will have much on your plate. But do not forget your rights referred to above, and do not be afraid to demand them if the need arises. When it comes to your wedding gown: whatever you need to do to walk down the aisle feeling like your best self, do that. Good luck!
– Michael Tyler