29th June 2012 . The Dress Weddings

The Case for Going Bespoke… Part Two

Hello dearest Uttersons, and welcome back to Part Two of my little exploration in to the world of bespoke wedding dresses.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am very close to going bespoke myself, and was keen to hear from brides who had gone there, made it, worn it, and most definitely not looked back.   We heard from Hannah and Joanne, two ladies who went bespoke simply because they struggled to find The One in the bridal shops.  And today we hear from two more, each with a unique and inspirational tale.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to Isabel Kelly, a freelance PR consultant and the first person (go Isabel!) to get in touch with me when I initally put a call-out on Twitter a few months ago.

Isabel ‘lucked out’ (her own words!), as her close friend was a trained couturier and offered to make her wedding dress.

Isabel in her bespoke dress. (With designer friend in the background!) Image by Jacqui Matthews

So Isabel, how did you know what to go for design-wise?

“I didn’t, but we were very naughty and went to loads (and I mean loads!) of wedding dress shops with my mum in tow to try dresses on. I’m not going to lie, this was the best bit of the wedding planning! I tried on dresses that were extortionate and I could never had afforded (one of them was £12,000 and this was quite a few years ago now!) but we used it as an exercise to find out what suited me and what I loved the most. I also looked constantly online – Ellie Saab was an inspiration. I also trawled lots of wedding fashion shows online (yes, I was a bit obsessed!) so eventually I was able to pick out pictures I liked and sent them to my friend.”

I should probably interject here- working in a bridal boutique, you may be wondering what I think of ‘trying without an intention of buying’.  Well… bridal boutique owners are obviously aware that not everyone is going to buy from their shop, and indeed it is the bride’s prerogative to do what she has to to find her perfect dress.  Of course there are going to be some people who will visit boutiques to try on dresses and see what styles suit- and where else are you going to be able to do this?  But all I will say is this: be discreet.  There was a post that ‘went viral’ a couple of months ago about a bride who went to have fun and wasn’t so discreet about it… and this unsurprisingly riled a few people, including myself.  But if you are friendly and open and serious about finding something that looks fab… well, maybe you won’t need to go bespoke at all 🙂

But anyway, back to the matter at hand. My fear, and I’m sure it’s the same for many brides considering having their dress made, is that it will become the designer’s dress, rather than mine.  But as Isabel says:

“I had total control over the design. The only thing that caused debate was that I wanted a strapless dress and she advised me they are a pig to wear as they constantly slip down, so we compromised on really skinny straps to hold the dress up (which was needed as it was a heavy dress!).  She was right of course and I didn’t have to worry about pulling it up all the time. My friend sketched the design, so I knew what it would look like in advance. We also went fabric shopping together round her favourite (and secret!) fabric shops, so it was a great way to ensure I had plenty of input. The result was a fitted fishtail dress in blush coloured satin with a cream antique lace overlay.

Wow.  I love blush pink wedding dresses and that fishtail silouhette is gorgeous! What a lovely combination of sexy and romantic…

“When I tried on the first pattern (she made the initial toile in linen to gauge the sizing and fit etc) I was horrified as it was obviously a linen dress and I did think, ‘Have I done the right thing?’. But the finished result was obviously nothing like that! The best aspect of having a bespoke dress made was that it was being made just for me and that I knew my friend very, very well and we could have a good gossip. The worst was thinking that if anything went wrong it would be a dreadful way to end a friendship! “

Haha! Thankfully no friendships were harmed in the making of this wedding dress, and I’d like to thank you, Isabel, for sharing your story and beautiful dress with me.

So.  Thus far we’ve heard from Hannah, who had tried on so many she’d become ‘dress blind’; Joanne, who pretty much knew what she wanted but just couldn’t find it in the shops; and Isabel, whose talented friend offered to make her wedding dress.  Our final tale is from Laura- fashion fiend and owner of vintage clothing boutique, Bluebird Vintage.  Laura’s tale is very interesting, as being a naturally stylish and discerning girl she knew exactly what she wanted and had the conviction and confidence to make it happen.

That’s Laura. And what a headpiece!
(Image by Ruth Jenkinson)

I’ll let Laura take it from here…

“I own a vintage shop, and have always had my heart set on an original vintage wedding dress, but after losing the one dress I found in 6 months of searching (the seller on Etsy accidentally sold it to someone else- after I had put down a deposit!) I started to become increasingly panicked that I would run out of time to find another that I loved. I also dislike modern wedding dresses, and did not have the budget or inclination to buy an overpriced, traditional dress off the peg. I was lucky in that a friend of mine works at the London College of Fashion and put a call out for young designers to make my dress.  I was contacted by a few, from which I picked a fantastic graduate called Charlotte who’s work I really liked.

I knew I wanted a 1950s style dress, and had my heart set on a particular Dior gown, but the fabric alone would have bankrupt me. I knew I had to scale down my ideas and so collected together pictures of dresses I loved, and that I knew would suit my shape. I have a small waist and big hips- a classic 1950s shape- which is why I have always been drawn to that era, and most of my clothes are from then. I must admit I struggled at first because there were so many different styles of 50s dress I really liked, but after considering our venues, time of year, budget, and also the occasion (when would I get to wear a big ball gown type dress ever again?) I settled on a dress which I adored, (worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the film ‘A Place in the Sun’) as the basis for the design of my dress.”

As with the other girls, Laura insists it was a truly collaborative affair… “We worked together and Charlotte made suggestions from a practical point of view, as well as the best fabrics to use. We looked at designs together, and emailed ideas back and forth in between fittings. It was completely collaborative, which was great.”

Laura’s beautiful 50s-style dress was made by Charlotte Harwick, founder and designer at Wilden Bride London.  Based on a corset, it was draped with zibeline silk, decorated with flowers and petals made from the same silk, and scattered with tiny silver beads. The skirt was made from oodles and oodles of tulle.

“I have no regrets about the process, the design or the outcome of the dress. I had natural worries about how I was going to look, but every bride does. I think Charlotte did a wonderful job of turning our ideas into a reality. The only ‘bad’ aspect is not being able to try on the finished garment at the start and say that’s ‘the one’… but that’s because you get to design it instead, and have input in to the whole thing; from the look, to the fabric and the budget. The very best thing is having an item custom made to your own body so it should fit you like a glove.”


So, dear readers, have I persuaded any of you to go bespoke?  Or are there underlying niggles that you just can’t shake off?  Certainly a major factor for a lot of people considering having their dress made is the cost, but all four girls felt that their bespoke creation was more cost-effective than buying from a shop.  Only Joanne conceded that hers was over her original budget, but this is to be expected when having a dress made just for you by Suzanne Neville!  And as Laura so eloquently puts it: “A custom-made dress which is made for you is the most wonderful item of clothing you could ever wear.”

So what advice would the ladies give to anyone thinking of having their wedding dress made bespoke?  Well, funnily enough they all said very similar things, so I’ve bullet pointed them for you.  You can thank me later.

  • Research your dressmaker.  Go on recommendations or at least see examples of their work.  Choose someone you can trust and be comfortable with.
  • Do plenty of research and collect images of the dresses that make your heart soar.
  • Try on a good selection of wedding dresses to get a clear idea of what shapes and styles suit your body.  (But for god’s sake, be discreet! ;))
  • Set a budget and stick to it.  You may have to find alternative fabrics to ensure your dress doesn’t become too expensive but your designer should be able to guide you and give you lots of ideas.
  • Go fabric shopping with your designer if you can.
  • Be honest, and don’t be afraid to raise any concerns if you are unhappy; alterations and adjustments can be made, so be vocal.
  • Go for it! (Thank you, Hannah.)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little post twosome as much as I’ve enjoyed putting them together.  It’s certainly made me more confident to take the leap- and there definitely is something utterly special about having a one-off item of clothing made just for you.
Ladies, it’s been a pleasure- and thank you SO much for sharing your experiences, images, and words of wisdom.
I think it might be time to sit down with my seamstress.
Sama xxx

Sama x

No Responses to “The Case for Going Bespoke… Part Two”

  1. Kate Ruth Romey

    Go for it Sama. When else would you have a dress made just for you?
    I love the dress Charlotte designed, I’ve seen some of her other gowns and they’re all so special X

  2. Reeta

    As bride currently going through the bespoke route (wedding in Oct 2012), I say it’s probably the best decision I made thoughtout this whole wedding planning process.

    I’m even commissioning here to turn it into a cocktail dress after so i can wear it over & over again! So many dresses get stored away. It’s such a shame!

    Reeta xx


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