How to Get a Custom Wedding Dress Made Just for You

Angela taking a new bride's measurements

If you’re not finding the perfect dress off the rack, them a custom wedding dress may be the answer. But how do you get a custom wedding dress made? 

In this article I’ll outline the custom wedding dress design process and give you a few tips about how to get the dress you’ve always dreamed of.

The Modern Wedding Dress Shopping Experience

Your wedding day may be the one time in your whole life when everyone you know and love is gathered together in one place — and all of their attention is going to be focused on you! So naturally, you want to look amazing, because you know that what they are going to remember about your big day is you

But not everyone has the patience or the time for the modern wedding dress shopping experience.  It can be daunting to think about what type of dress you want, let alone finding one that fits you perfectly. There are so many different styles and colors to choose from, and even more shops and online vendors.  Many brides decide to go custom simply because they hate pushy salespeople in salons who are more interested in moving product than what actually looks the best on you. 

Simply put, wedding dress shopping is often stressful and unpleasant. Which is not the best way to start your bridal journey.

Angela showing fabrics to a new bride

How to Prepare for Your Custom Wedding Dress Journey

Looking at pictures in magazines and on Pinterest is a great way to start thinking about your dream dress — and you should do that for sure!  A Pinterest board is a good way to organize your inspirations so you can share them later.

But even if you have already decided that a custom dress is the right choice for you, I always recommend to go to at least a couple of bridal salons and try on some dresses.

By actually trying on some different styles you’ll get a better feel for how they really fit, and which ones  are most comfortable for you. You’ll also get a better sense of what you like, and just as important, what you don’t.  Remember, comfort is important, and you want to find a style that you’ll be comfortable in for a few hours.  The best way to do that is try several different styles on and see for yourself. 

And take some pictures of yourself in some dresses so that you’ll have visual reference points for your designer, both of styles you like and styles you don’t.

Consider Your Budget

While I’ve written a more detailed article about how much a custom wedding dress costs, I’ll briefly say again here that it really depends on the bride.  There is a wide range of solutions available, from several hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars.  But whatever price point you’re looking at, remember that going custom is actually a lot more competitive in terms of price than you may think.

First, with a dress that’s custom fitted for your body, you likely won’t have the additional expense of alterations, which can often be quite significant, often several hundred dollars or more.  

In addition, your designer will often be able to source higher quality fabrics and details than you’ll find on off the rack dresses at a similar price.  You can actually get more in a custom dress for the same price as off the rack, especially if you are looking at designer dresses.

And finally, while the investment you make in your bridal gown may be a lot less than some of your other wedding expenses, it may be the most important in terms of how you and your guests actually remember the big day.  So getting the dress you really want is actually really important.  Get the best quality dress you can afford — you won’t regret it.

Consider Your Timeline

While some wedding blog writers would have you believe that your custom dream dress can be made in a few weeks, that’s just not going to be realistic in most cases.  The timeline is going to vary from vendor to vendor with the type of service they provide and the complexity of the project. Intricate beading, custom fabrics and the more exact placement of embellishments and details can require hundreds of hours of work to complete.  I recommend contacting a designer at least a year in advance.

Starting the process early is better, because it allows enough time for sourcing materials, fitting sessions and any alterations that need to be made. Sometimes you’ll need to make design changes along the way, or some unforeseen global event can disrupt supply chains for certain items, as we’ve experienced the last couple of years.

Also, if you’re planning to make any major changes to your body — like weight loss, liposuction, breast augmentation, etc. — then tell your designer from your first consultation, so that they can consider how their design will need to be adjusted from your current measurements.

Consider Different Types of Vendors

When you’re searching for a designer, understand that not all vendors offer the same service, or even mean the same thing by “custom.” Some companies are using software apps to build your dress from templates and prefabricated pieces — so it’s “custom” based on your choices of silhouette, design features and fabric.  A designer boutique usually offers a “made to measure” service for a style from their collection.  And individual designers create a one of a kind wedding gown specifically for you based on your inspirations and requirements.

Some vendors offer an experience which requires a minimum amount of interaction, if any, with the person who makes your dress. Others offer a more traditional and bespoke experience, with visits to the designer’s atelier for fittings and even a glass of champagne with your besties.

And it’s no surprise that now some designers will work with you remotely over Zoom as well, so your choice of designers doesn’t necessarily have to be based on where you live.

So you should start by considering what kind of wedding dress journey you want to have.  If you opt for the more traditional and personal approach of working with an individual designer, the experience can be a really fun way to prepare for your big day.  

Angela fitting a new bride with a custom wedding dress

Choosing a Wedding Dress Designer

Some factors you may want to consider include the designer’s experience, the type of wedding dresses they specialize in, and the price range they work within. Visit several individual designers’ websites or Instagram accounts to get a feel for their style and work. Some will be a better fit for your personality and vision than others, and it’s important for you to feel confident about who you’re going to be working with. 

Once you’ve selected a designer, you’ll want to make an appointment with them for an initial consultation as soon as possible.  Again, the sooner you start the process the better, because some busy designers may be booked out a several months or more.  And you’ll want to give them plenty of time to complete your project so that you can be relaxed about the timeline and the process. 

The Initial Consultation

Your first consultation is an opportunity for you and your designer to get to know one another a little bit.  You’ll of course want to bring your pictures and inspiration pieces to explain your wedding vision, and show your designer what styles you prefer.  It’s also good opportunity for you to ask questions you may have about the designer’s work and what their process is like. 

One thing you’ll definitely want to discuss is your budget for your dress. There are a lot of decisions that go into creating your dream dress, and your designer can guide you to the best way of achieving your vision, within your budget.

Remember, it’s important to be honest with your designer, not just about your budget, but also about what you like and what you don’t. A good designer is going to focus on your needs and desires, and will be honest with you about what styles and silhouettes will work best for your body type.  They are there to help you not only look your best on your big day, but also to feel your best about yourself and the image you project.  Preparing for your wedding day is usually a rather emotional process.  You want someone in your corner who understands what you want and can help you achieve it. Clear communication is a must.

Approving a Design Proposal

After your consultation, your designer will present you with a design proposal, which will usually include a sketch of your dress and some choices about different fabrics or details, based on the information you provided during the consultation.  If you have any questions or changes you want to make, now is the time to say so. 

If you like what you see in the proposal and are ready to proceed, you’ll most likely be asked to sign a contract and put down a deposit (or even pay in full upfront, depending on the designer).

Once you’ve approved the design, your designer will start sending you samples of fabrics, lace and other design materials. You’ll have some decisions to make along the way, and your designer will help you make the best choices.

Measurements and Fittings

Next, your designer will take your measurements and get started creating a unique pattern for your dress. Often they will produce a mockup dress in a less expensive fabric (like muslin) before finalizing the pattern so they can make any necessary adjustments before starting the actual dress in your chosen fabric. Sometimes, a second mockup dress might be necessary. Usually at least three to four fitting sessions will be necessary, depending on the designer and the complexity of the design.

Visits to the designer’s atelier can be a fun and luxurious experience in itself, and brides often bring a friend or family member with them to enjoy the process. These can be some of the best moments leading up to your big day. In my experience as a designer, I’ve seen that it’s often an occasion for happy laughs, and even a few sentimental tears with your closest friends and family.

When your actual dress is completed in your chosen fabric, you’ll need to do at least one more session for any final alterations. By this time, your dress should need only minor adjustments if at all.

And then voila! Now you’re looking fabulous wearing your dream wedding dress and it’s time to get ready for the big event!

Angela Kim in her atelier

Final Thoughts and a Few Tips

Having a custom wedding dress made may seem extravagant or even a bit daunting at first — in fact, it can be both a better investment and less stressful because you’ll get a dress that fits perfectly and is exactly what you want.  Here are a few tips to get the most out of your custom wedding dress journey:

1. Be flexible. When you work with a professional designer, you’re hiring a qualified expert to help you make the best decisions about how to achieve the results you want.  Sometimes the design will require changes as you go along because something isn’t working.  Let your designer guide you and listen to their suggestions — they’ve done this before and know what’s going to look the best on you!  

2. Be open-minded. While you may have some ideas about shapes, silhouettes and fabrics, listen to your designer’s suggestions about what is going to work best for you in terms of your vision and your budget. They might suggest a design that maybe you hadn’t considered that you will actually like better and bring out your best look.

3. Be creative. There are lots and lots of options when it comes to details, fabrics and embellishments. A good designer can source exquisite materials from around the world, and even create custom fabrics so that your dress is truly one of a kind.  Do your research and ask lots of questions — let your imagination explore the possibilities!

4. Be patient and trust your designer. Creating a custom dress can be one of the most fun parts of your bridal journey, and it’s even better when you can relax knowing that you’re in good hands. A good designer is also a good communicator, and knows how to ask the right questions and really listen to your answers. They will also keep you updated on the progress of your project as you go along. It’s a long process and will require several calls, appointments and decisions that you’ll need to make.  Sometimes it will seem like a long time to wait — but it will be worth it!

5. Be comfortable. I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. You’re going to be wearing your dress for maybe several hours, with all eyes focused on you.  You want to look stunning, of course. And to do that, you’ll need to feel completely comfortable. And the best way to do that is by having your dress fit you perfectly with a design that suits your body type, the season and the occasion.