Finding the one
Your mission – to find a stunning gown that will make you look and feel gorgeous on your big day. But where do you start to look for this important attire? Check out our breakdown of the options available before you hit the shops.
Having a designer create your wedding gown is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to splash out on an exquisite, one-off couture creation.
‘A designer will combine their skill, years of expertise and their eye for fashion with your ideas to create a gown perfectly suited to you and your body shape,’ says Corina from Corina Snow Bridal Couture. ‘You’ll usually have to spend a little more money for the services of a designer, but in return you’ll get top-quality materials, services and craftmanship.’
The higher cost of a designer gown not only reflects the designer’s skill, imagination and experience, but also the quality of fabric used and the time and work involved. Most designer gowns cost upwards of $3000.
Browse bridal magazines and ask for recommendations to find a designer whose work you love, then make an appointment. During the consultation, the designer will listen to your ideas, discuss fabrics and styles, and may show you some of their work or sketch a design.
‘At your first consultation, your ideas are discussed while you try on a selection of gowns,’ says Anita of Vinka Design. ‘As a designer it is our job to interpret your likes and dislikes, and then come up with a master plan. It’s not just a gown – it’s the thoughts and dreams, hopes and aspirations of who the bride is and how she wants to be portrayed.’
If you decide to go ahead with a design, you’ll have a number of fittings, depending on the designer’s approach and the complexity of the design. Some designers will create a toile (calico mock-up), which is used as a template, while others work with fabric directly before all the fine detailing by hand is completed. Your last fitting will usually be within two weeks of your big day to account for any weight changes and ensure a perfect fit.
If you don’t have the budget for a designer gown but would still like to have a dress custom made, then buying a pattern and utilising the skills of a professional dressmaker can be a cost-effective solution. A dressmaker will offer some guidance and advice, but the style choices will mainly be up to you.
When choosing a dressmaker, ask about their experience, ask to see samples of their work and references from previous clients. It’s important to feel confident with your dressmaker because they may be working with very delicate fabrics and you want them to achieve a professional finish.
Once you’ve decided on your dressmaker, check whether you need to provide them with patterns, or whether they have a supply of their own. Usually, you’re responsible for purchasing the fabric, although your dressmaker will be able to help you decide on the type and quantity, and may even accompany you to the shop or their supplier. From now the process is very similar to having a gown made by a designer – after an initial consultation you’ll have a number of fittings, in some cases starting with a calico toile, and concluding with an appointment close to your wedding date to make any final adjustments.
The cost of a gown made by a dressmaker will depend on the fabric and the amount of detailing.
ready to wear
Bridal salons and some designers have ranges of ready-to-weargowns from their own and/or international collections that brides-to-be can view, try on and order. The price of ready-to-wear gowns depends on the label, but start from around $1300 up to $5000 for couture ranges. The average price is $2500.
If you’re not sure what you’d like to wear, this option is ideal as you’ll be able to try on a variety of styles to see what looks best. Some bridal salons also have veils, shoes, accessories and lingerie for sale, so can you try these on with your gown and get a feel for the overall look.
‘A ready-to-wear gown is great because you can view the quality of the fabric and see what the finished product will look like before you buy it,’ says Lori from Astra Bridal. ‘You can see how the fabric sits and there is no mystery as to whether the final product will suit you.’
The typical order time for gowns is four to six months, so Lori recommends beginning your gown search around 12 months before your big day. ‘This means you will have the full range of gowns to choose from and you’ll have a relaxed experience!’
Before you visit a bridal salon, it’s best to book an appointment, especially if you’re planning to visit on a Saturday. Most bridal salons charge a fee for trying on gowns, (usually around $50), which may be refundable with purchase, but will often let you come back for further consultations if you don’t find the right one on your first visit. During your consultation, you’ll discuss your style preferences, try on a number of gowns, and possibly browse through catalogues for designs that aren’t in stock.
Once you’ve chosen a style, the gown will be ordered in, or made to your size. Although you’re purchasing a standard design, in most cases, you’ll have the option of other colours, sometimes different fabrics, and you may even be able to alter other elements of the style.
Alterations can also be done if necessary, so check whether these are included in the price.
Buying a ‘designer’ gown online for a couple of hundred dollars sounds tempting, but have you heard of those sayings ‘too good to be true’ or ‘you get what you pay for’? These are usually the case with wedding gowns bought online.
Many brides who purchase a gown from a website find themselves with an ill-fitting gown (despite providing numerous measurements) made shabbily from inferior material. Combine the cost of alterations with import tax and possible replacement gowns, and you may find you were better off ordering the real deal from an authorised retailer in the first place.
Allow yourself plenty of time to look for the perfect gown, as rush orders may incur an additional fee.
When visiting a bridal salon, designer or dressmaker, take a trusted friend or relative for their opinion, and if possible, a few examples of styles you like.
Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Many designers,
dressmakers and bridal salons have payment plans, allowing you to pay in installments after an initial deposit.
Ensure your gown suits the theme and style of your wedding, as well as being practical for the time
Choose a gown that suits your personality, expresses your personal style and flatters your figure – one that makes you feel confident, not self-conscious.
Before purchasing a gown, examine it from all angles, including the back. Check for puckering, wrinkling or bunching, which may indicate that the size/fit isn’t right.
Make sure you can move freely and sit comfortably in your gown. If the style you’ve chosen has a long train, check that this can be hooked up
Pure white can look too stark on some skin tones. You may find that off-white or ivory are more flattering, or you could go for shades of soft pink, icy blue, latte or champagne.
Remember to choose your lingerie early as it needs to be worn for fittings, and buy your shoes before the gown is hemmed.