There's a good reason wedding dresses are so stunning: They're some of the most carefully crafted garments, and an entire team of skilled and experienced professionals are responsible for making them. The gowns you see when you browse through the racks at your local bridal boutique took years, and perhaps even decades, to create. But the dress's journey from idea to actuality isn't over when you make your purchase. In fact, this just marks the beginning of phase two of your gown's production. To give you an inside look at how wedding dresses are created—from the original idea to the finished product—we reached out to the experts who work behind the scenes to walk us through the process.
Not surprisingly, it all starts with research. Wedding dress designers and merchants travel the world researching trends to incorporate into their newest collections. "Trends we see in apparel, art, and beyond help shape how we approach our design," explains Lori Conley, divisional merchandise manager at David's Bridal. "We also incorporate the expertise of trend forecasting services to validate macro customer trends that would influence our product." From there, mood boards, which include color, trims, and inspirational swipes, are created to set the tone and direction for the season, she explains. "New fabrications, whether discovered at trend shows or through exclusive developments, are presented to support the design team's vision for the season."
Once the trends are identified, the next step involves the team of talented designers. "They often brainstorm and generate dozens of sketches for just one final concept," explains Molly Kang, founder of Floravere, a made-to-order gown company that gives brides-to-be the option of trying on wedding dresses at home. "Sketches are then discussed and narrowed down to the most promising silhouettes and looks." After the sketches are selected, the fabric swatches are procured, which, Kang explains, can often be the most arduous part of the process. "We will hunt down laces, beading or fabric that we think lives up to the concept."
To bring the sketch to life, prototype samples are then made by a team of pattern makers and sewers. "This sample will then go through a fitting process, and a new prototype will be created after any change is made to the original pattern," explains Kang. "We often do up to four fitting and prototype rounds to get it right!" If any hand-beading or embellishment work needs to be done, this is added at the very end. The last part of this step is the approval process of both the pattern and sample.
Once the desired look and fit is approved, a purchase order is sent to the manufacturer, which details the design, quantity, and price of each wedding dress. "Our manufacturer determines which facility will receive the purchase order based on the expertise and capacity of each facility," says Conley. "Gowns are inspected before shipping to ensure they match the design inspiration sample and meet our highest quality standards."
During production, the pattern is reproduced in all of the sizes the gown will be offered in. For Jude Jowilson, a fashion designer who creates custom-made evening gowns and wedding dresses, the biggest challenge in creating these garments is making sure a specific wedding dress will be flattering on all sizes, from zero to 20 or above. "We have brides with many different types of figures so I try to guide her to the right silhouette—a look that will be flattering and make her feel magical."
Once the final designs have been created, samples are released to department store and boutiques in the final range of sizes. That's when the bride-to-be chooses her wedding dress, purchases the size that best fits her, and then begins the process of having her new gown altered to complement her unique shape. "The fitting is the most personal part of making the wedding dress," says Tara Lynn, owner of Tara Lynn Bridal in Sutton, Vermont. "This time should not be rushed, and we make thoughtful decisions over the course of two to three appointments." Though not all bridal salons offer alteration services, a bride can bring her wedding dress to a seamstress for adjustments. "She can change a neckline, shorten a train, add a bustle, or make other small tweaks to fit to ensure that it hugs her body exactly as she wants it to," adds Kang.
As a bride, few things are more exciting and nerve-wracking than the final fitting, and most women say they experience a mix of jitters and total serenity. "When a bride walks into the room and sees her finished wedding dress on the form, she's almost always awestruck," says Lynn. During this appointment, the entire wedding dress is examined—from the hem to the embellishments—to ensure there's not a button or thread out of place. "We might make some final adjustments to the placement of a flower or add a snap to the bustle, but at this point all the layers of the dress are sewn and hems are finished," says Lynn. "However, if the bride changes her mind about the style, a seam, or if she significantly changes sizes, there made be an additional cost associated with these last-minute adjustments."
It's important to note that your wedding dress's journey isn't over after the vows and rings have been exchanged. After the big day, you should have your gown cleaned, wrapped in acid-free paper or muslin cloth, and placed in a pH-neutral container. This will ensure it remains in mint condition for far longer than it would if it were simply stowed away in a closet. You never know, your future daughter may want to wear your beautiful dress on her own wedding day.