Recently a bride-to-be inquired about having me make a custom wedding gown. She’d found an exquisite, couture gown she wanted me to copy. I asked about budget: $1000. Even if we cheated and used an inexpensive lace, just the materials would eat up most of that. I had to disappoint her.
A custom wedding gown can be about the same as an off-the-rack gown with alterations. But that doesn’t mean a bride can have any gown she admires. It means that if a bride is spending $1200 for an off-the-rack gown and budgeting $500 to $750 for alterations (and that’s a reasonable range), she can probably have a custom gown made for $1700 to $2000 or even a bit less. In fact, a custom gown will almost certainly be nicer than an off-the-rack gown because it’s made to please the woman who will be wearing it. Custom wedding gowns fit the bride’s body, have the details a bride actually wants without details she doesn’t want, and don’t use factory construction techniques so little problems such as flimsy invisible zippers are easily avoided.
But what if that $20,000 gown is exactly what the bride wants?
I’d recommend taking the photo to a expert seamstress/couturier who specializes in bridal and evening wear and asking, What would it cost to have you do something similar?
For about $5000, I could make a wedding gown like the one in the photo. We also might have created one that was inspired by that gown for $2500 or so. But materials for a custom, one-of-a-kind gown are much more expensive. Large manufacturers can source wholesale quantities of tulle for as little as $1.00/yard. (Cheap netting is even less.) Lace, beaded or embroidered fabrics, chiffon, georgette, organza, linings, etc., whether silk or polyester, bought in smaller quantities are all more expensive at retail. And custom labour is mostly fine hand sewing.
For my gowns, I make a toile using muslin so that we can perfect the design, nail down fit and details, and avoid wasting expensive fabric. Then I make a corset or corselette and any other necessary infrastructure to provide the perfect support. Finally, I use the toile to cut the gown and linings from the fabrics chosen, hand baste, fit, and do lots and lots of hand sewing. Often, even the seams must be hand sewn so as to build in structure and shape. It’s a labour intensive feat of carefully executed design and engineering.
But I don’t charge retail mark-ups. Customers would soon dry up if I charged even four times the cost of material and labour. I charge for materials and make a quote based on the estimated number of hours it will take me to make a gown times an hourly rate plus about 20% for the unexpected. (There is always the unexpected.) My rates are close to or even a bit less than off-the-rack with alterations. Many other expert seamstress/couturiers offer highly competitive rates.
If you know a bride-to-be and an expert seamstress/couturiers (you really need this level of expertise for lace, beading, embroidery, etc.), suggest she consider a custom-made gown. It won’t be cheap but it can be less than off-the-rack with alterations. And, if modesty is a concern, custom is a way to have something other than strapless with fake cap sleeves.