Bridesmaid Dresses, Racket or Not?
May 20, 2008 9:05 PM   Subscribe

Bridesmaid dresses & alterations: legit or racket?

I'm wondering if there is a legitimate reason for the amount of alterations that are routinely made on bridesmaid dresses.

I don't have an agenda, I'm just curious and haven't figured out a reason for this practice.

I've only been fitted once, it required a couple different alterations (it looked like it was ordered two sizes two big in the first place). My question at the time was, why can I go into a mall and find hundreds of dresses that fits me perfectly, yet need to be subject to alterations and multiple fittings as a bridesmaid?

Is it just a way for the dress shop to bring in extra money, or do these special tailored dresses really make a finer fit?

For the record, I'm about a size 4 or 5 and slim build. Any insight would be appreciated!
posted by Flying Squirrel to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm a father of the bride, and all I can offer is our own experience from earlier this year. Our daughter went to a bridal shop and selected the style and color of dress she wanted for the bridesmaids. She purchased them (I understand the norm is that the bridesmaid pays for her own dress, though), and the shop shipped the dresses directly to each of the bridesmaids. They were then responsible for getting them altered and could go anywhere they wanted for this.
posted by davcoo at 9:35 PM on May 20, 2008

I've had to buy two bridesmaid dresses.

One came from David's Bridal and it fit me, right off the rack. This is not 100% normal, but it worked for me and for that I was thankful.

The other one was custom made, and I went to two or three fitting sessions. I think this was required partly to make sure my size didn't change too much over the course of many months (and all of us bridesmaids did change size over that time) and partly because she was just making one section, then trying it on us to make sure it fit, then making another section, fitting it again, etc. Or maybe the first pass was like a rough draft, and the subsequent sessions were for finishing. I don't know.

So in my experience, there hasn't been much racketing going on. But I haven't purchased a dress from any establishments that are kind of "in between" David's and custom. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, rather than at the opposite ends. I mean, at David's Bridal there was a rack of dresses in size 6, 8, 10, etc, and you pick the one that fits you best, and then you can have it altered here and there, like any ol' clothing item. I presume what you went through was more involved than that, like being measured first without actually trying anything on.

So I couldn't answer your question, but there's a data for ya.
posted by iguanapolitico at 9:36 PM on May 20, 2008

Best answer: This is mostly speculation, based on what I know about clothing construction as a whole, rather than real data, so take it with a grain of salt, but:

Part of it's fabric, I think. Bridesmaids dresses tend to be made of fabrics with less stretch and drape than most casual dresses that you might buy off the rack, and that means fit becomes a much bigger concern.

Part of it is sense of occasion, and the feeling that it's worth getting the dress to fit perfectly instead of accepting the random fitting problems that women usually just tolerate with off-the-rack clothing.

Part of it is that the dresses are actually constructed to allow alterations (larger seam allowances, as an example) where generally ready-to-wear isn't.

Part of it is that the whole bridal industry is a giant money sucking siphon.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:00 PM on May 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

It's definitely true that multiple fittings and alterations make any item of clothing fit better. For example, in India where lots of clothes are still tailored to fit, getting a perfect fit on each item of clothing often took 2-3 fittings and alterations. This is especially if you are using a tailor who has never stitched that item of clothing for you before. After the tailor has got the fit perfect, he/she can usually replicate that fit much better for similar items of clothing. Since presumably you've never been to the bridal shop before and they're stitching dresses for you for the first time, it's quite understandable that multiple fittings are required. Ready-made clothes don't really fit you quite the same way tailored clothes do, unless you ask a tailor to get them altered for you.
posted by peacheater at 10:01 PM on May 20, 2008

It's probably fair to say that anything associated with the Wedding Industry is a racket... but it makes sense that you'd want a formal gown to fit properly. Rich people get *jeans* tailored, you know? For one thing, if a dress if off the rack and "knee length", it might be above the knee on a tall woman, below on a shorter woman, and it doesn't matter - but if something's meant to be "floor length" or "tea length" and you're standing with a group in identical dresses, it has to hit the right place on everyone. (Some) people notice that stuff. The main reasons most bridesmaids dresses have to be altered is that on *most* gowns you need the bodice to fit - and the straps to be adjusted - pretty exactly. Since women come in different shapes and sizes, chances are that a random dress isn't going to look the way it's supposed to unless it's tailored to your body.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:02 PM on May 20, 2008

First, you should be able to take your dress anywhere and have anyone alter it - you own the dress, so the shop can't make you use their in-house tailors, if they have them. Both times I've been a bridesmaid, the shop has had a handful of people they recommend, but no one on staff. (I had a family friend do my alterations.)

Did you buy a sample size off the rack, or did they take your full measurements and order specifically for you? The dresses in store are usually sample sizes, and generally they'll have a small size (4 or 6) and a larger (12 or 14), just to give you an idea of what it will look like, then they order your actual size. David's Bridal is an exception as mentioned above.

If someone took your measurements and you still ended up with a dress 2 sizes too big, I would ask them to remedy that - they should order you the proper size, and rush deliver it if necessary, or pay for the alterations. Length, though, is something they usually can't do anything about. Both my dresses were about 8 inches too long.
posted by peep at 10:06 PM on May 20, 2008

I agree with earlier posts about reasons why you might want to get a formal dress tailored, but in my experience the racket part is in how much the store might charge for the alterations. I've found less-expensive altering done by an independent tailor. YMMV.
posted by pril at 10:08 PM on May 20, 2008

I imagine it's also because they're designed to be adjusted to fit everyone, not just to fit the median. So the length will be much too long to allow extra tall people. Also, and this is pure speculation, I would imagine that each dress would be designed to fit at the most complicated part/most difficult to alter part of the dress and be too big for the rest so it can be taken in to fit just about everyone whatever shape they are.
posted by kjs4 at 10:09 PM on May 20, 2008

When my brother got married, his fiancee picked out the bridesmaid dress she liked at JC Penny's and then we each bought our own. (Penny's being both affordable and nationwide.) Mine gapped a little in the front and was a little big through the waist so I had it altered. In the pictures, the difference in fit between my dress and the others is very clear. So, yes, even in an off-the-rack dress, alterations can make subtle but significant difference in how it looks.
posted by metahawk at 11:10 PM on May 20, 2008

It really does depend on the vendor. There are really bad vendors out there who will deliberately order a dress in the wrong size to force the bridesmaids and brides to get alterations. And some people who try to do alterations have no clue what they're doing. The smart thing to do, as it is in using any service, is to do your homework, to ideally go with a vendor who has been recommended to you by people who've bought from the store with full satisfaction, and to inquire into the price of any necessary alterations. And at the first sign of rotten customer service or of a hustler, leave if at all possible.

Damn am I glad I can make any special occasion dress myself and so not be at the mercy of any such industry. The horror stories I've heard!
posted by orange swan at 5:14 AM on May 21, 2008

When you're just shopping for a dress, you usually like a dress because it fits you well. When you get a bridesmaid's dress, it's selected by someone else and your size might not fit/flatter you in all the right places, but you get it altered in order to look better in what you're stuck with.
posted by srah at 5:55 AM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, most people will wear a dress for every day (or even for a party) that *mostly* fits because that's what all ready-to-wear clothes do: *mostly* fit. People get obsessive about detail and perfection at their weddings, so they don't want attendants in dresses which *mostly* fit and tug or gap or hang oddly in photographs. So, as both kjs4 and metahawk point out: the dresses are cut and sewn with the expectation they will be altered and the difference in fit is quite noticeable in photographs.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:33 AM on May 21, 2008

It's sort of a racket- but the more formal garments become, the more alterations they require. Try to buy a mens suit off the rack and have it fit, for example.
posted by gjc at 6:40 AM on May 21, 2008

Off the rack never fits as well as custom tailored. For the best fit, ALL off-the-rack clothing should be altered to suit the individual's shape and idiosyncrasies. But this is America (I'm assuming) and we buy cheap clothing made in factories that sort of fits and are used to walking around where everyone is wearing something that hides their body's actual shape.

The reason why formal gowns and suits cost more to alter than, say, a simple unlined sheath dress, is due to the number of layers (linings, overlays, etc) the number of seams (many formal gowns have 2-3x the number of seams in a simple dress) and the delicate fabric (which requires special care when making alterations so that you can't see where the work was done). Major waistline alterations to something like a pair of designer (but off-the-rack) jeans are similarly complex and expensive, so it's not only bridesmaids who have to put up with it: it's also us apple-bottomed girls!

I sew most of my own clothing to fit these days (I've all but given up on off-the-rack) but I've done alterations for friends and family when they were in weddings, and I can tell you from experience, bridesmaids dresses are costly to alter for a reason!
posted by foxydot at 7:58 AM on May 21, 2008

I've been spending a lot of time in bridal shops lately, as I just got married two weeks ago. What I discovered is that there are two different kinds of places to get bridesmaid dresses: bridal boutiques and David's Bridal. David's Bridal dresses vary as far as quality and fit. My bridal gown from there fit right off the rack, shockingly enough, but most of those dresses are designed to fit the curviest and tallest girls who wear each particular size. The dresses can then be altered down for petites and people with a slim build. Off-the-rack retail dresses are sized to fit an average person.

At a boutique, the main difference in the dresses from David's Bridal is that they have a lot more choices, but only have one of each dress. This means that when you go to pick out gowns, you may not be able to try on the dress before you order it. If you are a size 14 and their sample dress that you want is a size four, you are ordering blindly. For this reason, many dresses that are purchased may not fit as well as expected and will need altering.

I do think there is a bit of a racket going on, too. My local David's employs a local seamstress as their in-house alterer, which isn't so bad, but some companies and boutiques ship the dresses out. My cousin recently got married and all of her dresses arrived late (2 weeks before the wedding) and all of them were three sizes too big! They didn't receive a refund or compensation from the bridal boutique because of fine print and "sizes may vary" legalese. They took them to a local seamstress who basically had to rebuild the dresses.
posted by bristolcat at 8:30 AM on May 21, 2008

I think the alterations are due to a lot of the reasons mentioned above, primarily being that someone else chooses the dress for you. When you pick out a dress for yourself, you select one that fits, right?

If you foresee yourself being in more than one wedding, I would recommend finding yourself a seamstress. I am tall and thin, and therefore have had to take bridesmaid dresses out at the hem and in at the bust, and I found a woman who will do that for me at $15 a pop. Yay!
posted by emd3737 at 8:24 PM on May 21, 2008

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