Friday, April 19, 2013
How to Spot Quality: Formal Attire Edition
It's getting warmer and greener outside, and people are coming out of their winter doldrums, which means formal events are soon to follow. Oh yes folks, wedding/prom season is upon us once again. So here we are again with the latest installment of How to Spot Quality: The Bride/Prom Queen Edition. (And check out our previous posts, Part I: Fiber Content and Part II: Shopping Online/Taking Measurements.)
One of the most common phrases we hear in the studio is "these alterations are costing almost as much as the dress!" Well if you got your dress for a bargain, there is often a reason... and many times that reason is what stands between you and a custom fitted garment. In order for clothing to be made cheaply, it must be made quickly, and on a massive scale.
This is not to say you need to spend a grand on a perfectly made-for-you dress every time you need to attend a formal event. There are, however, many immediate indicators for how expensive your alterations will be, and you can decide from there whether you really want the dress. Think of it as an emotional as well as a monetary investment, not unlike purchasing a new car. You want to check out all the features and quirks of the vehicle before you buy; you wouldn't just walk off the lot with the first flashy red sports car you see just because you look really good next it. You would want to know things like the MPG, how expensive the tires are to replace, and whether any parts are currently on recall, so you don't find yourself at the mechanic in two months giving over your vacation money to fix all those little unseen problems.
This same logic can be put toward a dress, and there are a few key things to keep in mind when considering your purchase (or your bridesmaids' purchase.)
We all love the drape and flow of chiffon, but let me tell you it is a pain to hem, and it can quickly get expensive. The most prominent issue with chiffon is when it does something called "dripping" after it has been hemmed. This often occurs overnight or in the hours between hemming and pickup, in cases when several inches have been trimmed off. With the weight of those trimmed inches off, the fabric can bounce back up or sag down in a different way than it was when the hem was marked, making an uneven hem. And then when the hem has been evened out after it has dripped, dripping can even occur again if the garment has not had enough time to hang undisturbed and properly get used to gravity at its new weight.
This is common because almost all floor length dresses made in a factory are purposely made several inches longer than even the tallest person would need, partially to ensure the dress will be floor length for anyone, but mostly because it is a lot faster and easier to indiscriminately cut hems without having to worry about whether they are straight or even. Which brings us to...
How many hems are in your dress? Unless you are looking at an unlined sheath dress, you have at least two hems. If you have a chiffon overlay, tulle between your shell and lining, and/or multiple layers on your shell, those are all separate hems. If your dress hem is more than 75" around, that usually costs a little more. Chiffon hems can cost a little more as well, due to the issues described above. Just because it is one dress does not mean your seamstress is only taking it up once. Count your hems, and multiply your estimate by that many. And the opposite of hems are...
Do all your seams line up? Seriously, take a close look, because it is quite possible that they don't. Another common victim of factory-made garments are seams, especially at the points where several seams meet. If you have a patterned dress the likelihood that the seams will not match up increases tenfold. There is also a keen possibility that the side seams and/or waist seam are not even or in the same place on either side. If your seams do not match up in a way that flatters your body (and everyone is different; know what works on you and makes you feel beautiful) my recommendation is that you RUN AWAY. If the pattern doesn't match and it bothers you, there is nothing that will salvage that dress after you notice it. Run away!! You could almost get a custom garment with the amount of taking apart and remeasuring and putting back together differently that is required to fix an uneven seam on a formal garment, because it usually has so many...
How many layers are in your dress? your shell is one layer, but then you may have an overlay, and lining, maybe some interfacing, and likely some boning in the bodice. All of that has to be taken in evenly, and if there is boning that has to be removed and then stitched back in. Modern bodices have a good deal of structure to give the silhouette we all think of when we think "bridal" or "prom," and in order to have structure you need several layers to create the stiff skeleton and then put the softer decoration on top. And if that decoration includes...
Now we're really cooking. I love sparkles as much as the next person, maybe even more. But if you find yourself falling in love with a beaded bodice, do absolutely everything in your power to ensure that you purchase one that fits. Taking in a jeweled or beaded bodice requires hand-stabilizing each bead along the new seam line, individually crushing the beads inside the new seam allowance, and often (though not always) taking in the entire seam by hand. Hand stitching is a specific and extremely time consuming (not to mention more physically demanding) art, so the more hand stitching is required, the higher the alteration price. Speaking of taking bodices in...
Where is your zipper? Is it on the side or the back? If it is on the side and the bodice needs taking in, save yourself some grief and move on. It is impossible to take in a bodice with a side seam zipper without removing and repositioning the zipper, much to your wallet's chagrin.
Alright ladies (and gentlemen) when you are out shopping for a formal dress and you are looking for the perfect fit with the perfect price tag, please take this advice to heart. While it may be easy to buy a gorgeous dress off of the clearance rack, it is not always so easy (or cheap) to alter. If it's the dress of your dreams, we are happy to alter it for you, but if you don't want to be the next victim of "my-dress-cost-less-than-these-alterations!" syndrome, be prepared to pick up your garment and investigate it! Remember: chiffon, seams, hem, layers, jewels, and zippers! Good luck!!