Everything You Need to Know About Wedding Dress Alterations

Find out exactly when to schedule them and how much to budget.
Samantha Iacia - The Knot wedding style expert
by
Samantha Iacia
  • Samantha writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in wedding decor, trends, and fashion
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Samantha was a features and weddings contributor for The Baltimore Sun
  • She is based in Washington, D.C. and holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism
Updated Mar 18, 2022

After you've found your wedding dress and signed on the dotted line to officially make it yours, you still aren't ready to head down the aisle quite yet. The next step? Wedding dress alterations. The truth is that most gowns will need some level of alterations (like raising the hem or tightening the straps), and while your dress may only need a few minor tweaks, having it properly tailored can make all the difference.

Wherever you are in your wedding dress shopping journey, it's smart to plan ahead for alterations and fittings, including when to schedule them and how much money you should set aside to cover the cost. With the help of this wedding dress alterations guide—and a trusted wedding dress seamstress—your dream gown will look even better than you imagined on your special day. Here's everything to know about how to get your wedding dress altered, from start to finish.

In this article:

Wedding Dress Alterations FAQs

What are wedding dress alterations?

If you've never shopped for a wedding dress before, you may be surprised to find out exactly how the process works once you get started. While you're shopping at a bridal boutique, you'll try on sample wedding dresses to ultimately find one that you love. When you've made your decision, your bridal stylist takes your professional measurements, and then includes those with the order information that is sent to the designer when you purchase your dress. Based on their size chart, the designer creates a made-to-order version of that gown in whichever size is closest to your measurements. But because most people are in between wedding dress sizes (which is completely normal!) and no two bodies are exactly the same, the process doesn't end there.

"Even with exact measurements, all gowns will require some alterations to fit perfectly," says Emily Erdly, owner at Lovely Bride Charleston and Lovely Bride Atlanta.

Since the dress will already be fairly close to your size based on the measurements, you shouldn't need too many adjustments—but you should still plan for a few basic changes for a perfect fit.

"Common alterations include hemming (to adjust the skirt length of your dress), adding a bustle (to pin up your train for a night of dancing!), adjusting the length of straps [or] sleeves, and taking the dress in but also letting it out a bit (we've all been there!)," says Erdly.

Along with adjusting your gown for the best fit, the alterations process is also your opportunity to change or enhance details of your wedding dress, such as sewing a built-in bra, tweaking the neckline, getting rid of sheer panels or swapping a zipper for a lace-up corset back.

Where do you go for wedding dress alterations?

You'll need to research professional seamstresses and tailors in your area to find one who has experience with wedding dress alterations (heads up: this likely isn't a job for your everyday dry cleaner). If you purchased your bridal gown from a store outside of the city or state where you primarily live, we recommend staying local for your alterations, since the process will include several appointments over the course of a few months.

Some bridal salons offer in-house alterations services, which can be a major convenience, and you can possibly get a discount if you choose one of their seamstresses. If not, the salon where you purchased your dress will be able to recommend a few professionals in the area.

Is it hard to alter a wedding dress?

Basic bridal alterations, like adjusting the hemline, fixing straps and adding a bustle to the skirt are all straightforward changes that any experienced seamstress will be able to easily handle. If you're planning to make customizations that are more drastic, such as adding intricate beading or taking in a wedding dress that's several sizes too big, it's especially important to find a tailor who knows exactly what they're doing. Before making your alterations appointment, spend time reading reviews and looking at photos of their previous work—it also doesn't hurt to ask a trusted relative or friend if they have anyone they can personally recommend.

How much do wedding dress alterations cost?

According to The Knot Real Wedding Study, the average wedding dress cost in 2021 was $1,800, so we hate to be the bearer of bad news by saying that your alterations will be an added expense. But luckily, the average cost of wedding dress alterations is fairly low for simple jobs—usually only a couple hundred dollars, depending on the changes being made. Extensive alterations can cost upwards of $1,000 or more, based on your customizations, location and how quickly you need the dress.

How long do wedding alterations take?

Traditionally, wedding dress alterations begin about two or three months before your wedding day. This leaves enough time for the alterations shop to finish everything, while also being close enough to the big day that your body won't change drastically (and result in a dress that no longer fits). But because of the ongoing wedding boom, it's better to start the process even sooner, just to be safe. Keep in mind that you'll need more than one alterations appointment—the average number is three—so you'll want plenty of time to schedule them in advance and save yourself the stress of feeling overwhelmed at the last-minute.

"While prior to the pandemic we would generally suggest leaving a two-month window for alterations, we now recommend contacting your seamstress as soon as you have your gown to create the best game plan together," Erdly says. "They will work backwards from your wedding date and provide a schedule for your alteration appointments. Depending on your timeline, some seamstresses can also accommodate rushes."

What to Expect at Your Wedding Dress Fitting

When to go

Once you've hired your seamstress, book your first fitting as soon as possible—ideally three months or more before your wedding day. The appointment will last about an hour, so we recommend scheduling it for a day when you won't be rushed, whether that means going on a weekend or taking an afternoon off from work.

What to bring with you

You already know it's important to come prepared when shopping for your wedding dress, and your alterations appointments are no different. There are a few specific items you should have ready to go to ensure the best experience.

"For a successful first fitting, we recommend bringing your shoes that you have chosen for your big day, as well as any undergarments (bra, shapewear, etc.) that you plan on wearing," says Erdly. "Have expectations that your gown will not fit absolutely perfectly at the first fitting—and maybe even the second—that's what this process is for. Remember: The dress doesn't wear you; YOU wear the dress!"

Who to bring with you

While it can be fun to have your entire crew of bridesmaids and family members with you the first time you try on wedding dresses, your alterations appointments are different. Limit yourself to one or two VIPs who genuinely need to be there, like your mom and maid of honor. This gives you the opportunity to have a second opinion without overwhelming the appointment (or taking up space in a seamstress' shop, which may not be designed to accommodate large groups).

It's especially important to have at least one person with you for your final fitting, particularly if you'll need help getting dressed or bustling your gown on your wedding day. The seamstress can show your sidekick how to handle any tricky fastenings on the dress, such as hidden corsets, hooks or a tiny row of buttons down the back.

Wedding Dress Alterations Timeline

8-10 Months Before Your Wedding: Purchase Your Dress

The rule of thumb is that you should start shopping for your wedding dress about a year in advance, or shortly after you've finalized your date and wedding location—whichever comes first. You might have to shop around a bit to find your perfect dress, but as long as you purchase it about eight months before your wedding day, you'll have plenty of time leftover for alterations.

4 Months Before Your Wedding: Your Dress Arrives

Once you've purchased your wedding dress, it can take anywhere from four to six months for it to actually arrive (remember what we said about the made-to-order process?). Spend that time researching local seamstresses, shopping for wedding day undergarments and finalizing your accessories so they're ready to go for your first fitting.

3 Months Before Your Wedding: First Fitting

Aim to have your first alterations appointment on the books at least three months before your big day. This will be the lengthiest appointment, since it's when most of the work will be done on your dress. Your seamstress will add pins to the hemline, straps, waist and any other areas that need adjusting, so don't be alarmed if it doesn't look like your dream wedding dress right off the bat. This is also when you should speak up if you want to make any major changes to the style.

1 Month Before Your Wedding: Second Fitting

Traditionally, your second alterations fitting will take place about a month or two after the first appointment. If your dress didn't need much altering in the first place, you might be able to get away with this being your final fitting. Otherwise, it's a chance for you to see how the dress fits after the first round of alterations, and for the seamstress to make any additional adjustments.

2 Weeks Before Your Wedding: Final Fitting

The final fitting should be scheduled around two weeks before your wedding day. At this point, your body and weight are generally the same as they will be on your wedding day, so this appointment will give you the most accurate fit. It's a big moment—this is when you'll see the dress exactly as it will look when it's time to get married (cue the happy tears!).

If everything is good to go, you'll be able to take your dress home with you the same day as your final fitting. The dress should already have a garment bag from the designer, but be sure to ask your seamstress for tips on how to store your wedding dress in the interim before your wedding. Generally, you should keep it safely hanging up and out of direct sunlight to prevent wrinkles and discoloration. Finally, double-check that the dress has been professionally steamed, and ask your seamstress what to do about any last-minute wrinkles. They'll be able to tell you the best way to refresh the gown without accidentally damaging the fabric.

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