What is this going to cost?
If this is not the first question a bride asks, it certainly is at the top of her list of concerns. Weddings are expensive and wedding gown alterations is up there on the list of items a bride needs to consider in forming her budget. I know that many bridal stores in my area advise the bride to budget about $150 for gown alterations (not including steaming). Some gowns can come will under this amount while others are much higher. As of the editing of this page today (April 22, 2011) my average gown this year has been over $200.
I have written this page to give brides and idea of what their alterations may cost. It is not a declaration of what I think alterations should cost. Each alteration specialist has to set their own pricing system according to their experience and cost of living in their area. I get letters daily asking what a certain alteration is going to cost. I truly can not answer this question for I do not know the person who will be doing the work. I can not set prices for anyone but me. The alteration specialist you use will have her own set of experience and skills. Something that takes me 10 minutes to do might take her an hour and visa versa. I may know how to do something easily and she may have more difficulty doing it. It is also impossible for me to set a price without seeing the bride in the gown. Pictures are helpful, but there are so many factors to consider that I need to see the body and the dress for real before I can give a good estimate of cost. The same dress on different body shapes will result in different costs. The factors of how the dress was constructed restricts what I can do to it and therefore may raise the cost considerably. These are things I can not determine from pictures.
This page will give you an idea and ranges for what I charge for the most basic alterations that many gowns need.
Basic fitting in the bodice area is usually done at the side seams. Side seam bodice adjustments start at $40 but can go up to $80 depending on how the seams are configured. If the seams have boning in them, the extra work to adjust that can add another $40. Gowns have been designed with extra corsets inside the lining lately. That adds more layers of seams that need to be dealt with at the side seams. This can double the cost to size a bodice. If this work needs to be done at the zipper than it can get over $160 easily because of the complications the zipper may add.
Other alteration needs in the bodice area can raise the alteration cost considerably. Lace and beading that has to be removed to accomplish the adjustment must be reapplied, sometimes creatively for the space it came off of has changed so much. In the case where seams have had to be pieced, sometimes it is necessary to add lace and beading to camouflage the ugly seamlines. This process can get very expensive. My fee for this type of work is $30 an hour. I can give a guess as to how many hours I think it might take, but it's only a guess. I do let brides know when this situation is necessary for her gown and do my best to predict the final cost, but sometime it's just not easy to predict accurately. Most gowns don't need anything this complicated in the bodice area and many need nothing. A good guess would be around $30 to $80 for the average gown. With replacement of beads and other decorations or boning, it can easily go over $100.
Sleeve length is another area I check for alteration needs. If the gown has no sleeves, or short ones, this is not a concern. Long sleeves with much decoration can be as much of a problem to shorten as the bodice adjustments. A cost of $80 to over $100 is not uncommon. Most gowns the past few years have been strapless but I have had several with shoulder seams that need adjusting. This runs anywhere from $20 to $80, depending on decoration that need to be removed and replaced to get to and adjust the seam.
The biggest area of cost in altering a bridal gown is usually for hemming. There are 3 main hemming processes most gowns may need. The first is a horsehair braid hem. This is usually found in satin gowns and can be identified by the stiffness of the hem. There is a plastic webbing (often called horsehair because that's what it used to be made of) sewn at the edge of the hem, often between the outer layer and the lining. This needs to be removed and resewn to the proper level for the new hem length. It can be a tricky process to get it sewn back on at the right tension so that it properly stiffens the hem without buckling it into ugly permanent wrinkles that do not steam out. Cost for this is usually $90.
Shear fabrics like organza and chiffon, need to be roll hemmed. This hem can be identified by the tiny roll of fabric that is topstitched very precisely on the edge of the hem. This is a delicate and exacting process that often has to be done on more than one layer. My pricing starts at $90 for the first layer and $80 for the second, and so on.
Lace fabrics are sometimes rolled, but most often there is an edging lace that is sewn onto the hem edge that will need to be removed and sewn at the proper level for the new hem length. This type hem starts at $90 and can be more if beading has to be removed and reapplied along with the lace.
There are other hemming methods I use for gowns that don't fit into the 3 main techniques. These can range from adding tucks to the front of the gown as is seen on my Creative Hemming page, to bustling the front of the gown.
After these main areas that usually need alteration, the last item to check is the need for the gown to be bustled. I will show the bride the alternatives in the ways gowns are usually bustled and then discuss which looks best. Depending on the decoration on the train one version may look much better than another, but they all are determined by what I call points. The train is lifted to the waist area at these points and secured in various ways. My charge for bustling is dependent on the number of these points, $40 for up to 4 points then $10 per additional points. The longer the train, the more points will be necessary. It used to be that the average gown had around 6 to 9 points. Last year many gowns used only 2 points. This year (2011) I have done many bustles that don't fit easily into one category of Ballroom, French or Pick-up. I am working on adding pages to the Bustle section of this site with several new techniques that brides are loving. Some of these bustles have been quite time consuming and labor intensive to get the train up decoratively. I have had some bustle fees go over $200.
There are many other things a bride may want done to her gown. Depending on her figure and the construction of the gown, these could range from no big deal to major work. These situations I will discuss with the bride, give her all the options I can creatively think of and the cost for each, and then let her decide which is best for her and the gown.
You should be able to see now how bridal gown alterations can put a major dent in your wedding budget, but knowing what you are getting into should help you plan for an easier alteration process.
Most bride's maids dresses I've done lately come in around $40 to $90. Unless there are extra problems like pregnancy, the bride's maids should need only a hem and maybe a little taking-in on the bodice. I've been doing maid hems at $30. Taking in the bodice ranges from $20 to $60 depending on where and how this needs to be done. I look first to do it at the side seams, but if decoration at the sides makes it difficult, it can be done at the zipper. The cost is usually the same. For some situations this is not enough and the dress has to be taken in at the princess seams also. This will add another $30 per set of seams. So if both the front and back princess seams need it that will add $40. And like wedding gowns, if there is decoration, inner corset or boning on these seams that will need readjusting that price will be more.
If you have the unfortunate problem of the maid's dress being too small, letting seams out can cost more than taking them in.
It is not uncommon for a maid's dress to need $100 worth of alterations. I have had a few that went to $200 though it's rare.
Some times a maid's dress can be just as expensive at the wedding gown to alter. Usually they are simpler and take less fussing, but the cost can still be a concern for bride's maids are already shelling out money to buy this dress they probably won't ever wear again. The same goes for mom's and flower girl's dresses. Alterations are always an unwanted added expense.
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