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What You Need to Know About Wedding Dress Alterations

Before you step foot inside the bridal salon, here are some tips you should keep in mind.

Wedding dress alterations can be tricky, and many women don’t realize the steps they must take following the big purchase of a wedding dress. Get advice on what to expect when it comes to your alterations!

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Photo: Lauren Gabrielle Photography

You've likely dreamed of shopping for your wedding dress since you were a little girl, but what was most certainly not in your dreams was the logistics of wedding dress alterations. Though important – and most of the time essential – to your wedding dress process, many brides don’t know that they need to account for the period of snipping, clipping, and tweaking that must go into a wedding dress before it’s ready for its bridal debut.

Wedding dress alterations can be tricky, and many women don’t realize the steps they must take following the big purchase of wedding dresses. Though every woman's bridal alterations will be different, there are some consistent things to keep in mind when it comes to planning the timeline of your wedding dress alterations before the big day – as well as suggestions on what to keep in mind before you head to the first fitting and beyond leading up to your wedding day.

In order to help you organize your time while you're preparing to wear the most important dress of your life, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of tips you should keep in mind before you swipe your credit card to purchase a wedding dress at the bridal salon.

Bride with Succulent Bouquet and Father
Photo by Anastasiia Photography; Bridal Salon: The Boutique by B.Belle Events; From Real Wedding: Interfaith Wedding with Purple + Emerald Color Palette in Florida

How long before my wedding should I get my dress altered?

While there are of course exceptions to every rule, we're outlining a general timeline to keep in mind as you begin searching for your dream wedding dress. If there's a particular wedding dress designer or bridal salon that you've been eyeing and have your heart set on, we encourage you to find out their specific timelines so you don't miss out on having the wedding dress of your dreams. For those who would like a general idea of a typical timeline for wedding dress alterations, see below:

The General Timeline for Wedding Dress Alterations

10-11 Months Out: Purchase Your Bridal Gown 

Find and buy your beautiful wedding dress. While this might seem like it's a bit far out from your big day, many designers need time to get the wedding dresses ready and send them to the bridal salon you've selected. We also encourage brides to have a venue in mind when they start dress shopping, so the gown can fit the formality and vibe of the ceremony site. You don't want to order a heavy ball gown only to decide that you're getting married on the beach in Hawaii and would prefer a flowy sheath!

3-4 Months Out: Your Dress Arrives for Alterations 

Bring your wedding dress to a tailor, seamstress, or the bridal salon for alterations. Many bridal salons offer dress alterations as part of their service, so we recommend checking with your bridal salon first! If you'd prefer, you can also find a local tailor, seamstress, or dressmaker in your area who does alterations in your neighborhood. These wedding vendors will be particularly helpful if you don't want to make multiple trips to a destination bridal salon that you visited when you found The One.

Bride in Low-Back Galia Lahav Dress
Photo by Brett Matthews Photography; Bridal Salon: Bridal Reflections; From Real Wedding: Traditional Ceremony + Glamorous Reception at Landmark Venue in New York City

2-3 Months Out: Your First Fitting 

When you're two to three months out from your wedding day, it's probably time for your first fitting! Fitting #1 will give your seamstress or tailor the opportunity to pin (or mark) your gown with all of the necessary alterations roughly eight weeks before your wedding day. We also recommend bringing your wedding undergarments, as well as your wedding shoes with you to this appointment – or at least shoes that are the same height as what you'll wear at your nuptials – since this appointment is when your hem will be set. Before you leave, make sure you schedule your next fitting!

4-6 Weeks Out: Your Second Fitting 

About one month before your wedding day, you'll have your second fitting! Fitting #2 will be similar to the first fitting in the sense that you'll want to have your wedding shoes and wedding undergarments, but we also recommend having any jewelry and accessories you'd also like to wear for your wedding ceremony. If you're in between a few options, bring them all so you can decide! 

The second fitting is also where you'll want to address any underlying concerns, confirm everything requested from the first fitting was completed, and you'll decide if your dress essentially looks how you imagined. If there are any changes you want to make, speak up at your second fitting!

2-3 Weeks Out: Your Third (and Sometimes Final) Fitting 

Two to three weeks before your wedding, you'll have your third – and often final – fitting! Many seamstresses and tailors suggest three fittings; however, sometimes a fourth fitting is necessary – so be prepared for that if it's the case for your wedding dress. Often, your wedding dress will go home with you after your final fitting; however, if additional alterations are necessary, you'll need to pick up your wedding dress from your bridal salon or seamstress at a later date (preferably two weeks before your wedding day).

Bride in Floral Appliqué Veil
Photo by Max & Friends; Bridal Salon: Mark Ingram Atelier; Planning & Design by Beth Helmstetter Events, Inc.; From Real Wedding: Outdoor Destination Wedding with a European, Garden Party Feel in California

Special Considerations for Wedding Dress Alterations 

While every bride, wedding, and dress are different, there are always similar considerations to make sure you keep in mind as you're wedding planning. Even if you love how your wedding dress looked the first time you try it on, almost every single bride has their wedding dress altered. Yes, it's an additional investment, but you're spending money to make sure that the wedding dress you spent so much more money on looks incredible and makes you feel like a bride. As you're dress shopping and planning your alterations, keep the following in mind:

Changes in the timeline. 

The general wedding-dress alteration schedule may shift depending on what you’d like done to your gown. For major alterations, such as changing a silhouette, adding beading or embroidery, or other large-scale changes, speak with the tailor or salon you’re working with in order to get a more accurate idea of what will be happening when. If you're doing typical alterations, such as hemming the gown, taking in certain areas, shortening straps, inserting a bustle, etc., the general timeline should hold true.

Don’t use your gown as a goal. 

Some women looking to lose weight before their nuptials will order their wedding dress in a smaller size than they fit into at the time of purchase; however, we recommend against this practice. Though you may be motivated, consider that it is far easier to take a dress in than it is to let it out. 

Many seamstresses recommend being at your goal weight or body image at the first fitting (at least eight weeks before the big day) to ensure that the alterations are being made to fit you on your wedding day. However, don't worry if you're weight is fluctuating between fittings! Your seamstress or tailor will be able to provide some give or take in fabric to ensure you feel beautiful in your wedding dress.

Allow for special circumstances regarding “something old” fabrics. 

If you plan on wearing your mother or grandmother’s wedding dress – or incorporating substantial elements from one or both of their gowns into your own – be prepared to cope with a “no” from your tailoring team. Some older materials seem to have stood the test of time, but going through standard alterations can change that rather quickly. Trust the professionals to find a more subtle way to add these sentimental elements into your ensemble. 

Also, if you plan to have part of your dad's shirt (or grandfather's shirt or handkerchief) sewn into your wedding dress, make this clear to your seamstress or tailor! They'll be experts at where to place these special items and make sure that they're presented prominently without altering the look of the gown.

Wedding Portrait for Backyard Wedding
Photo by Natalie Watson Photography; Bridal Salon: Wedding Atelier; Planning & Design by Evoke Design & Creative; From Real Wedding: Black-and-White Luxe Backyard Wedding with Modern Minimalism Style

Pricing for Wedding Dress Alterations 

Salons may charge differently. 

Some bridal salons, seamstresses, and tailors charge for alterations on wedding dresses per service, while others will provide you with a flat rate for the alterations. Determine in advance which payment plan you’re more comfortable with – a flat fee may be better for a bridal gown that requires a lot of alterations (for example, a dress purchased at a sample sale or a gown with lots of beading and intricacies) and a per-service pricing structure will be better for more simple alteration needs and dresses with easier fabrics to alter – like crepe as opposed to a beaded lace dress.

There will be a wide range of prices. 

In some cases, brides are looking for only minor alterations, which might cost around $50, but this number can go up quickly with added/significant changes. Wedding dress alterations can cost between $50 and $1,000+ depending on what you need to have done – especially if you're paying per service, keep in mind what "needs" to be done and what "might be nice" to have done, and decide accordingly. You may also want to ask your bridal salon what specific alterations you want or need before you purchase the frock just to ensure you know how much to budget for dress alterations.

Don't be afraid to spend on alterations. 

As we mentioned, there are a wide range of prices when it comes to your dress alterations. Like all parts of wedding planning, it's important to stay informed of costs so that you not only know what to budget, but you also know what to expect for each service. Most dresses will need to be hemmed, have the sides taken in, and have a bustle added... and this can cost between $400-600 with some seamstresses. If you have a lace dress, this cost can easily increase! 

While this may seem like a lot of money for some sewing, your seamstress and tailor spend hours making sure your wedding dress has the perfect fit. Not only do they take the time during the fitting to measure, pin, and mark, but the work itself can take multiple hours to ensure it's done right and look professional and pristine. If you entrust your seamstress with one of the most important gowns of your life to make sure it's absolutely perfect, you'll be likely be pleased with results – and therefore pleased with how you look in all of your wedding photos for years to come!

Newlyweds with Custom Neon Sign
Photo by Haley Ringo Photography; Bridal Salon: The White Dress; From Real Wedding: Poolside Wedding Ceremony + Nightclub-Inspired Reception in Las Vegas

Find more wedding fashion inspiration and advice, and browse hundreds of wedding photos in our photo galleries to see the wedding dresses chosen by real brides.