Custom Designed/Deborah

On Friday we covered the process of making a gown from the ground up. Today we're exploring the difference between hiring a dressmaker or designer to create your vision and how to go about finding a good one. So what's the difference?

DRESSMAKERS-Once upon a time before mass production, every woman either had a dressmaker or became her own. Nowadays most dressmakers specialize. You'll want one with expertise in bridal and/or evening wear. Dressmakers either work on an hourly basis or estimate out their labor. They usually work from store bought patterns and expect you to supply the fabrics and materials such as buttons, zippers, etc. This is a good option if you already have a unique cut of silk or know how to shop around yourself for the fabrics.

CUSTOM BRIDAL DESIGNERS-More and more have sprung up in studios and ateliers over the past two decades. They're experts in helping you translate what you see in your imagination as reality. Like a dressmaker, they work one on one with you. Unlike a dressmaker, they usually have tonier establishments and higher prices. The reason? Their services are zeroed in on brides. Most offer small sample collections as well as bolts of fabric right in the studio to inspire you along with your decision. Custom designers usually work all the materials and labor into the price of the garment. Prepare to pay more here. Prices can range from $1K for something simple and unadorned, up to $10K and beyond for the works: full trains, layers of petticoats, underskirts, bustles, intricate beading, etc. Median price range for a custom wedding gown as of this writing would be around $2-5000.00.


ONLINE- Most bridal designers have their own sites and more are using Etsy to promote their lines. If your heart is set on a star designer like Vera Wang and you happen to live in her area, try to make an appointment. Realize some (read: some) top designers do custom work in their flagship store. Remember though top designers get top dollar. As for custom designers without Vera's name but heavy on talent, if you're near a metro area, your chances of connecting with the right one are good. First thing you want to do is check out the gown photos the site. Is her vision and your own on the same page? Next go to her 'Real Brides' gallery . . . (if there is one) see what others looked like on their wedding day in her creations.

SALONS-Bridal salons and specialty stores sometimes employ custom designers or dressmakers either in house or as outside contractors. Depending on how they are set up, sometimes they'll give a referral if it doesn't interfere with the flow of business. In the olden days (1970s and further back), most salons had an experienced staff to deal with custom evening, gala and bridal.

CONSULTANTS-Bridal consultants or planners are an excellent source for referrals and usually know who is truly expert in the area by years of working with them. Some consultants are willing to work on an hourly basis or for a small referral fee.

FASHION EDITORS-Fashion or wedding section editors come in two different types: Regional mags and big time bloggers. The regional mags like San Francisco Bride can be helpful if you reach them directly or run across their editorials on bridal wear. Most newspapers feature a spread on weddings twice a year. Here, private designers are sometimes featured and listed. Ask for back issues. The big time bloggers you already know: Style Me Pretty, Green Wedding Shoes and Bride's Cafe to name just a few. They feature the finest and best in the industry and sometimes (mostly random) do regional posts because some designer, big or up and coming, peaks their fancy.

MAGAZINES-In the past few years, studio and private wedding designers have put gallery style or half page ads in some of the major bridal glossies. A few run regional sections with listings and the designer's particular specialty. Years back (like in the 80s-90s before internet) I found the only mags with these listings were the UK bridal publications. Now, thanks to the work of such publications like The Knot, these listings now exist here in the states.

YELLOW PAGES-Before the internet, this used to be the first place brides looked. After word of mouth, this is still the best place to find a dressmaker (not designer) in my opinion because the designers have all gone online.

FRIENDS-Finally word of mouth and recommendations through friends find the best designers and dressmakers. Someone knows someone who knows someone and often the same name will keep popping up in discussion. Follow it.


A custom designed gown is the pinnacle of pure construction. Brides who opt to go custom believe a gown should be comfortable as well as beautifully lined so she can wear it like a second skin--the whole component moving with her as if it is part of her body. If you think about this, it makes sense. She's connecting with a man. In spirit they link. The dress is symbolic of all that, so it should be a part of her and move right along with her. In the end, a custom designed gown is definitely worth the wait.