The Sewist Bride Buys a Wedding Dress

Two months.

Two months! In precisely sixty days, Professor McGregor and I are going to trot down the aisle and tie the proverbial knot. Woohoo! As you know, I’ve been a rather casual bride. We’re having a simple wedding: Sunday brunch, lovely low key little venue, lots of balloons and flowers and bunting. Thanks to a close held hatred of rigmarole, I’ve officially cut out a lot of the typical American wedding shenanigans. There will be no DJ or releasing of the doves or—just kill me now—garter toss. We can all agree that the marriage is the important thing, not having a gigantic sparkly princess day of wonder. That’s never been my dream.

Except, of course, for The Dress. The very small list of important Grace concerns in planning this shindig were, in order: Professor McGregor, the dress, cake. Since the dear professor is consistently the most lovely man alive and the (three) cakes are being made—fondant free!—by my longtime favorite bakery, the dress absorbed my worries. So, so many worries.

As an advanced sewist, there was one question to be answered. Will I make the dress myself? 

It’s a completely legit consideration, especially in this day and age. Not only are modern dresses hilariously over priced but they are, as I’ve recounted here before, remarkably homogeneous. If you want a strapless A-line white dress, no problem! The shops have rows and rows of neatly hung poofy confections for strap-haters. However, when you start swaying away from the herd? Fat chance. The section with sleeves is minuscule, colors other than white are unheard of, and no one who’s anyone gets married in a short dress.

For sewists, this is enraging. One trip to the bridal shoppe—they can never just be a simple shop, kittens—is enough to start even the most sainted bride plotting the doom of Badgley, Vera, and that hawker of polyester swill, David himself. Sewists are used to taking matters in their own hands. If a pattern doesn’t have sleeves, add them. If you hate the feel of flammable, melt-prone fabrics against your skin, don’t use them. Sartorial beliefs, we have them in spades! All it took was a couple of post-engagement internet browsing sessions for me to know the usual bridal shop was not my destiny.

So, I compiled a list. What was my dream dress, exactly? If I couldn’t find it, sewing was a viable option, so I could afford to be mindbogglingly specific. Thanks to vintage fashion catalogs, a vision quickly coalesced.

Note: Professor McGregor, if you’re reading this, stop right now! Your superstitious side demands it. 

Grace’s Dream Dress: A Bulleted List

  • Bottom-of-knee length
  • Lace bodice
  • Sleeves, preferably 3/4
  • Button back. Not a zipper with buttons over it, either. Silk-covered buttons with working loops or death!
  • Color featured somehow
  • Layered circle skirt for a 1950s silhouette
  • Natural materials, preferably silks
  • Lower neckline

Surprise! This dress doesn’t exist at David’s Bridal. Initially, I considered going with one of the oft-pinned, retro dresses of Dolly Couture, but I had serious doubts about their quality. Reviews were spotty, their standard offerings are all polyester, and no design perfectly fit my vision. Sewing was looking like my best option. And yet…

Y’all, I’m going to be straight up here. I didn’t want to sew my own wedding dress. Down that path lived stress and obsessively washing my hands while sewing and time-consuming muslin fittings. People kept asking me if I had a “clean room” to store it in, while I sewed. Fuck that. I can barely keep myself clean, much less my sewing room. Someday, I would love to make a complete couture gown for myself, but that day will come when there are no dissertations to finish or moves to make. So, I started finding vintage patterns, but dreading what my autumn would be like.

Enter Pinterest. On one of my random wedding dress pictures binges, I typed in the words “short British wedding dress.” The lovely designers across the pond are much more open to retro designs and lengths other than floor. I’d stumbled across a handful of designers with gorgeous not-quite-right-but-almost gowns.

Then I found her. Joanne Fleming, an up-and-coming wedding dress designer out of Brighton. She is famous for her craftsmanship, use of luxury French fabrics, and gorgeous twists on classic designs. If I wanted a bias-cut column gown, she had twenty amazing options. If I wanted a colored lacy confections, there were samples aplenty. And if I wanted a button-back, lace and organza, knee-length fifties confection with sleeves and a low neckline? Oh, that’s called the Annie dress.

Mine, custom made to my measurements and specifications, is shipping out next week. Next week! Yes, I have been ridiculously squealing “Wedding Dress!” at odd times, since getting this news. Professor McGregor is temporarily deaf from all the high pitched squees.

The only alterations I made were to add a blush pink back-bow sash and coordinating pink silk petticoat binding. It is lovely, it is wonderful, and I’m not slaving away in my sewing room, cursing the day lace was invented. Joy! 

What do you think, friends? Would you sew your own wedding dress or go with an indie designer/seamstress? I’d love to hear about what you chose for your own. Sure, it’s just a dress, but it’s probably the only one we’ll be asked about for the rest of our lives. It’s also worth noting that one of my favorite bloggers, Mel from Poppykettle, is much braver than I and taking the plunge on making her own. It’s sure to be a gorgeous, fascinating process.

– Grace

Note: Here’s a link to my favorite real bride shoot, featuring an Annie dress. Lovely, no?
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57 thoughts on “The Sewist Bride Buys a Wedding Dress

    • Thank you, CB! Not going to lie, if I’d stumbled on this dress pre-professor, I’d probably have ordered it in another color, just to own it. Her designs are swoon-worthy.

  1. Agreed. That dress has some magic all right! So beautiful! And good for you! I remember cracking under the pressure of finding a dress in a size 16 so I ended up buying the first thing that fit me. Lucky for me, I to believe the marriage is what counts … And I to have a fella that is the tops! The dress was 99 dollar hell, but the marriage is … Heaven. Best wishes!

    • Thank you so much! No lie, a big part of my decision to ixnay bridal shop was the foreknowledge that they use a sample size 8. I am not only not a size 8, but I’m fully aware of what trying on a too small dress can do to my psyche! I like my size, so why be made to feel bad about it at a bridal shop? Sending my measurements off was a much healthier way of doing things, for me. Also, you and your guy sound a wonderful match! A heavenly marriage should be everyone’s end goal!

  2. It’s Effing Gorgeous, capitals intended. Yeah – the Brits really know how to do things! And thank you – I’ve got a huge warm fuzzy feeling and it’s especially special because I totally get excited every time bloglovin tells me you’ve posted 🙂

    • Thank you, Mel! I feel the exact same way about your blog. Your couture sewing classes, especially, have me cheering every time there’s a new post. I’ve so loved watching your gorgeous makes come together!

  3. That is a BEAUTIFUL dress! I was just talking to a friend about wedding dresses today, and she and I both share a disdain for the strapless gown. It’s just so overdone. Why look like all of the other brides on one of the most important days of your life? I am thrilled for you that you found what you were looking for! I hope that when the time comes for me, I’ll be able to find my dream dress too. Congratulations!

    • I totally agree about strapless gowns! It’s fine if that’s the one thing you’ve always dreamed of wearing, but it’s really gotten to the point where it’s practically our only option. How absurd! Not everyone is going to look good in one, nor should they. A wedding gown should be individual to the woman wearing it, always.

      And thanks! 😉

      • My sentiments exactly! I got married 3 weeks ago and I had trouble finding a dress that wasn’t strapless. I refused to look like every other bride and I knew I wanted a dress that looked different and was made of lace. The dress I chose in the end was the only full-lace dress in the bridal shop, and one of the very few non-strapless dresses. If anyone’s curious: http://on.fb.me/1gLc9DJ

        By the way, that’s a GORGEOUS dress. I love the whole vintage feel and I wish I had found something like that to wear.

  4. Your dress is beautiful and perfect! The dress I want is actually pretty easy to find, but not the stereotypical wedding dress. I want lace, mermaid style. I was going to go with strapless but there are amazing ones with lace illusion necklines or whatever you call them or lace cap sleeves or what have you. I am going shopping the weekend after next! Not to David’s bridal, but to other local bridal shops. And I know they have dresses like I want, just have to try them on! 🙂

  5. Ohmygod this post has my thoughts exactly! I get married next December and don’t want strapless and I want a vintage style with lace and beautiful buttons and sleeves! I also don’t want to spend my house savings on it. I will hunt until I find. Your dress is beautiful!!

  6. Ah your list of wedding priorities is exactly the same as mine (substitute Professor for MrOsprey). And your dress is a-ma-zing. I am an amateur sewist and I have that Elizabeth Taylor Cat on a hot tin roof dress in mind for my own but it is going to be horrifically difficult (for me) to sew… I can see it crumpled on the floor in an unfinished mess two days before the wedding. I can see myself resorting to fabric glue at the last minute…

    • Osprey, that is one my all time favorite Hollywood costumes! It’s absolutely to die for! You know, other than working with a ton of chiffon, it shouldn’t be super hard to make. Are you using a pattern for it or designing your own? I’m so psyched to hear about the process!

      • The pattern making is the easy part, it’s the actual sewing that might be hard. I will keep you updated! I am very tempted just to buy, after seeing so many indie designers online.

  7. Wow, your wedding gown is beautiful. I got married 2 years ago and it was an amazing day. I wish you the same and remember to savor it as much as you can because it goes by very fast! :)**

  8. Congratulations! It’s a beauty! I myself I have contemplated the very question! I majored in Fashion Design and even worked at a bridal design firm for a while after college. I have a feeling what I want doesn’t exist, and if it did, I could probably never afford it! I made my aunts wedding gown and my sisters. Both turned out lovely. I’m no where close to getting married, but I imagine when I get there, theres a good chance I’ll be slaving away in the sewing room!

  9. I love it when a bride commits to an aesthetic not just “to be different” but because it’s what they want and it suits them/their wedding/etc.! This dress is totally beautiful and I’m so glad you found it! I have to agree – I wouldn’t want to sew my own wedding dress. It’s sort of like making your own birthday cake. Yes I’m a baker and I CAN, and yes it will be amazing, but… well. It’s just nice to have someone else do it! Congratulations, and I hope it’s everything you dream of!

  10. You’re dress is absolutely beautiful! Best of Wishes! It’s so refreshing to see brides who know what they want AND the dress turn out beautiful…versus too much of everything puffy mess!!

    I know some indian brides who have bought white lenghas and worn them as the wedding dresses…but again it’s just as $$$ as a western wedding dress…but the detail, the lace, gor-geous! But if you want a short one…you’re a goner…thank you for all the links!

  11. Gorgeous dress 🙂 I love it, and I’ve never seen one quite like it.
    I am barely capable of threading the sewing machine, so I’ll pass on doing my own sewing. I think i’ll be visiting some vintage shops, instead, and just find something (in whatever colour) that appeals to me.

  12. What a beautiful dress! Can’t wait to see your wedding photos. I faced the same dilemma as you — whether or not to make my dress. Ultimately, I chose a pattern I liked and fabric I liked, and had a local dress designer sew it for me. I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem right that a bride should have to make her own dress.

  13. Beautiful dress! Love that it verges from the norm. I am not a sewist, but I would not sew my own dress if I were.

  14. I got married late in life (52) for the first time. I felt I was a bit too old for the usual hoopla. So, no trad wedding, just a damn good lunch in a restaurant with a tropical pool in the gardens, where we exchanged vows in a short and dignified ceremony, no best man/bridesmaids/speeches. And I wore a short, coloured dress. Gasp… It was a cocktail dress in silk grosgrain, in charcoal, silver, hot pink and a tiny flash of aqua, with silver beading around the rather high neckline. Hot pink strappy sandals. The Husband wore black pants, white shirt, silver vest and a teeny pink orchid as his buttonhole. So, dear Grace, I’m WITH you on the dress. I’m WITH you on the ceremony. I refuse to participate in marketing-driven lash-ups and I’d rather spend the money on a really, really spiffy honeymoon. We did :-). Love your blog. K

  15. That is a stunning dress! My mother made mine, as I was also quite specific about what I wanted – 50s shape, sweetheart neckline, particular fabrics, etc.

  16. Love your dress, and I completely agree about not wanting to go through all the wedding tradition standards. I too chose something out of the ordinary for my wedding several years ago, although as I recall I DID find it at David’s Bridal. Only, it was in the bridesmaids’ section. Tank-style top in chocolate brown, and a floor-length, bunched skirt in a sort of coppery shade. Not for everybody, but I love earth-tones, and white just isn’t my color. Best thing about it? Got it on sale for about $100.

  17. 2 of my sisters sewed their own wedding dresses. Classic styles. (One of them is no longer alive.) 3rd sister had hers made in Chinatown, …a white floral textured satin cheong-sam , high neck mandarin collar, short sleeves, but dress long down to ankle with side slit. She looked excellent.

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