These are the challenges I will be exploring and addressing:
1. Wedding Dresses - Off the peg verses Bespoke.
You can spend an awful lot on a dress these days, in 2010 I came across a big label wedding dress that a friend bought for £5,000, it was ok, but nothing to write home about; even if I used the most expensive of silks I could have made it for a quarter of that! I my humble opinion a number of things has happened to wedding dresses over the last decade that are not great, they have become very unforgiving and they are being made with not terribly nice fabrics, they are rather elaborate and not terribly flattering to my way of thinking. It seems that brides are supposed to make themselves fit into the dress, it should be that the dress is made or altered to fit the bride.
I have a bit of a problem with one particular design of dress, it is very unflattering on most body types, especially if you have any more than an ounce of flesh on you – this is the strapless muffin top dress; it’s great if you are a size six and built like a supermodel but the rest of us mere mortals would look much better in something more forgiving.
Instead, you could find yourself an experienced dressmaker or ladies tailor. Your tailor could create a beautiful dress to your own design, or designed with you if this is not your strong suit. I have access to lots of UK fabric wholesalers, especially of Silk, and can get any number of colours, finishes and weights of fabric to create the most amazing confection for you, most makers know where to get the best for you. The other major advantage of having a dress made to fit, is just that, it will fit like a glove and will make the most of your best features.
This dress I made when working with Gracie Burnett some years ago, the client was a petit lady who had a lager bust that she felt self-conscious about; the dress we made was reinforced in the appropriate area so that the cross over bodice held her safe and sound all day. This was helped with the piping around the neck that can pull tight to prevent gaping.
As I've stated above, a new dress can be very expensive indeed; however, there are bargains if you know where to find them. You can save a fortune if you are canny.
Firstly, have a look in the charity and vintage shops, take your time over this, it may take a little while to find what you want. Some charities sell wedding dresses on their websites as do many vintage shops. If you are up for a day out there are some amazing vintage shops in London around Covent Garden and in the big markets around the Capitol. Most larger towns sport one or two as well so do some research and take a look.
As for online sale sites, there are bargains to be had of course, but beware, the photos can look very different to the article that comes in the post. Another disadvantage of ordering online is that you don’t get to try anything on before you buy; there is also the matter of the pattern cutting. Different factories use different blocks (this is the basic pattern from which designers work), blocks have evolved over the years to take in how our bodies have changed so much, and some organisations have not caught up yet with later sets of body measurements.
Just remember, research, research, research.
This dress my client bought second hand from a bridal hire shop, it was a couple of sizes too big but once it was altered it was perfect, she paid £60 for it and the alterations cost £160 – quite a bargain at £220.
3. Colour, Texture and Fabrics – not just white & ivory, lace and not just polyester
Most wedding dresses are white/ivory and made with unrelenting polyester, that’s fine for the hire market where they will be be worn and cleaned many times. However, the white dress is a pretty new idea brought about by Queen Victoria who wore white when she married Prince Albert. During the early part of the 20th Century it became ubiquitous until the outbreak of World War 2, during the war years women made what they could with what was available and towards the end of the war rationing got very tight indeed so women wore the best dress or suit they possessed – whatever it was. So now we have this hangover that the wedding industry has run with and the meringue reigns supreme.
Colour is beautiful, and there are few who can truly carry off white or ivory without it washing them out somewhat; deeper cream is much better for the skin if you really want to go down this avenue. However, what would you wear if there was no specific colour tradition? For myself (who wore pure white the first time round) I am going to wear French Blue Kantha Silk and Orchid Red Crepe backed Satin (Silk) the next time round, with a fair complexion both of these will look rather fab methinks. If you had access to any number of fabrics and finishes of silk you could be very creative and design a distinctive dress/outfit that would be wholly you!
Have a good think about what you would really love to get married in before committing to what is usually thought of as a wedding dress, if you want to look yourself on your big day then you need to find someone like me to design it with you and make it for you.
I love this wedding dress, my client has been married previously and after a long chat it came across very strongly that she loved to dance and wanted a dress that would flow beautifully as she moved.
You can see here the movement in the dress as she walked into the church, the breeze took the skirt and made it glide as she walked.
This dress is also for a client who had been previously married, she has always been a very glamourous woman, having been in the film and fashion industries before retirement and wanted a lovely soft turquoise dress with interesting lace motifs. In the process of fabric research I found a fantastic new supplier in London who sells lovely stretch satins in lots of colours and lots of very cool laces.
We built in special supports to ensure greater comfort and support to relieve a spinal condition without materially impacting on the design. I was especially pleased with this dress as it was a fantastic technical challenge to incorporate the extra support needed.
I love this dress, made for a Head Teacher when I was working with Gracie Burnett.
Her students wanted her to look like a Fairy Queen and we achieved this with multi layers of silks in the skirt to create something quite ethereal. Apparently the students were awestruck when she appeared at the Church entrance.
4. Jewellery and Flowers – Hand made, original, family heir looms, button/bead bouquet
Some of you will want to use family pieces for your jewellery, and I actively encourage this as it will bring absent and beloved relatives into your day. For those of you who want to buy something new there are many wonderful makers of one off pieces that often work out less costly than something from a main stream jeweller. Swing by many of the local craft fairs in your area and you will undoubtedly find someone who makes beautiful pieces; my friend at Glass Owl makes her own glass beads and is a silver smith so can make the most amazing wares – I have a number of pieces that she has made for me including a pair of earrings that she made from a bracelet that my grandfather bought for my grandmother on his way up through Europe in 1947, a lovely heirloom now.
If you have a friend who makes wire work, you could design something like this which my son made for my dancer bride to match her dress.
As for flowers, these can be astonishingly costly! If you can find a wholesaler for flowers to be made up by a friend and decorate the church yourself you will save a fortune. My Grandmother decorated the Church for me first time round, and a friend of a friend made the bouquets; the flowers themselves I bought direct from the wholesalers and in 1992 the whole package of Church, bouquets and table decorations and the flowers themselves cost less than £100.
I have recently been very enthused by Button, Bead and Brooch Bouquets and got in contact with Wedding Buttonique, a maker of really pretty examples of this kind of work via Etsy after coming across her work and falling in love with it
These are examples of work by Wedding Buttonique, she is based in Manchester but does a lot of bespoke work with clients all over the country and very kindly sent me lots a details about her work and these beautiful pictures (see shopping guide below to contact direct). As you can see these flexible and individual creations that can be incredibly personal.
5. Under Garments – Bras, corsetry, support, undergarments to make you feel pretty
Now, undergarments are pretty personal at the best of times, some of you will be very happy to go braless, have just uplift inserts, or will want lots of support to tie down those wobbly bits that make you feel self-conscious. A word to the wise about curves – they are beautiful and you can do a lot these days to make the most of them, AND only around 2% of the population are a standard size, so please stop fretting.
First find a flattering silhouette for your dress, ideally with straps, sleeves or a jacket, then, go to a good underwear fitters. There are independent stores all over the country in larger towns and cities. Get measured and fitted properly by an experienced fitter, older ladies who have been doing it for decades are the best as they have seen it all and are very skilled at making you look your best.
If you want to create a look without straps showing there are a number of avenues to try, you can go without if your dress has lots of good support build in, you could explore uplift inserts or stick on cups. My personal recommendation is a good and well fitted strapless bra with a low back as this will support you well. Taking a step up from the bra are body support garments, there are loads of these, and they will pull you in and lift you up a treat, but you do need to get them properly fitted if you have not bought one before.
This whole area is a matter of personal taste, but if you get it fitted well you will be well away for looking and feeling amazing – just bear in mind that the only person who knows what is under your dress is you and if you want the support, don’t worry too much about how plain support garments can look – they are prettier now than they ever have been before though which is good!
6. The Groom – the suit, waistcoats, ties/cravats, shirts, future use*
I know you chaps like to either choose for yourself, or your good lady bride will have firm ideas about what she will want you to wear, and everything in between. Suits can be pretty expensive to have made to measure and if you are not a standard shape it can be a bit tricky to buy one off the peg, but, you can save money in a number of ways.
Charity shops are a great place to look if you are on a really tight budget and you can often get something really nice for between £5-£50. You can also get good second hand bargains in designer labels online. And don’t forget off the peg, a high street suit can look fab with the addition of a good shirt and tie/cravat.
All of these are less easy to make work if you are not a standard size and shape, that’s where someone like me comes in; you can get a suit that fits around the waist and chest and can have the sleeve heads moved if they are too wide, the back of the jacket can be sculpted, sleeves shortened and trousers altered to make it all fit beautifully.
Before committing to this though, do your research first, ensure the person you select to do the alterations will do a good job, moving sleeve heads for instance is a pretty specialist job – I do it all the time but not many of us do.
Research, research, research is the key, and talk to the person who does your alterations BEFORE you buy a suit that needs changing.
Shirts can also be obtained for a lot less at second hand, my sons have a comprehensive collection of very good shits that have been bought for less than £5 each from charity shops. Good shirts can make a less expensive suit look very classy and there are lots of very good outfitters all over the country – in the oddest places sometimes; where you find private schools there are always good shirts to be had. Coloured shirts look very good indeed and grooms look amazing in innovative colour ways and pattern.
Consider before buying what you will wear these garments for in the future too, spending a fortune on a great suit is all very well but if it sits in the wardrobe never to be worn again it is a waste! Choose a suit you love, that you want to wear again, that will look good as separates with other jackets and trousers you already own and think about other occasions too. In bygone years a man would have a suit made every few years and they would literally wear them out – very cost effective, and this is why suits are made the way they are, especially trousers with that wide seam allowance in the back.
All of this also applies to ties and cravats, if you never usually wear a tie, get one that you really like, understated, good quality and will go with anything. I personally think cravats are a bit of a waste of money, but if you like them, go for it.
7. Bridesmaids – shopping around, retailers, department stores and nice things from discount centres, future use*
I get very cross indeed about bridesmaids dresses, there are dozens of companies that make quite pretty dresses that are often made in the same factory as cheap imports from online and charge a fortune for them. Rather telling is that they often don’t publicise their prices up front, they reel you in and when you feel committed they hit you with the price because they regard you as a captive audience. Last year I had a client who paid over £600 per dress for 4 dresses from a company in London who traded on a made to measure ethos; ONE fitted and all the rest had to be altered so much I practically remade them at an average cost of £200 per dress, I could have made them all from scratch for around half the original price and they really would have been made to measure!
Consider department stores, discount villages, charity shops, second hand, vintage stores and made to measure with a private dressmaker/tailor in your local area. If the bride or her family is paying, suggest this delicately and put forward ideas, if the bridesmaids are paying, be a little assertive and suggest taking a look at the high street for nice dresses that the bridesmaids would like to wear after the wedding day, it is a lot of money to spend and it does not have to break the bank. One of my brides took her bridesmaids to our local shopping village and got some lovely vintage style dresses from the previous season at one of the outlets for £20 each – and they were fantastic. All she did was to pretty the dresses up a little with her own home made jewellery and bought some ribbon for belts that she paid very little for at the local haberdashers.
8. Mother of the Bride and Groom – not just for that day, thinking outside the box, future use*
Ladies, consider what actually suits YOU! The uniform like outfit for the mother of the bride/groom of a semi fitted ¾ length jacket over a sleeveless princess line dress does not suit everybody. There are retailers that suffer the same pitfalls as those who provide bridesmaids dresses and it has become a bit disheartening for those of us who love good clothes. Think about what this outfit is going to do after the wedding day, invest in something that really suits your figure and don’t be afraid of breaking with tradition.
This outfit I made for a friend who doesn’t really do skirts or dresses and who is a fellow maker and is very creative herself. She had a very firm idea about what she wanted so we created together this outfit with 100% silk, Palazzo Pants, a long sleeved top and an Embroidered silk Jacket that she wears with jeans quite often.
These are the pants and top without the jacket, she wore this a lot on holiday in Greece last summer.
This is an outfit I made for another friend who wanted something she would wear a lot after the day and placed herself in my hands to design for her; she also had palazzo pants in printed denim to match the silk jersey tunic and Kantha silk waistcoat and scarf as it was an Autumn wedding. She really loves her outfit and was really comfy and confident all day long and had lots of compliments.
On the day
9. Father of the Bride and Groom – shop around, re-use, alterations, future use*
Calling all fathers of the Bride or Groom to get a nice suit that you like and will carry on wearing for many years to come! Take all the points for the Groom listed above and do your research and get your money’s worth.
The Father of the Groom in Photo 16 bought his suit in a local charity shop for £40, it is a Paul Smith suit that fitted him perfectly and was wonderful under his Vicar’s vestments while he officiated at his Son’s wedding.
1. 10. The Local Shopping Guide for the most fantastic things;
These are companies and events manly based in Dorset, Wiltshire & Somerset as I am in North Dorset but if you go online and ask around on social media you will surely find what you need in your area
· Jewellery – local craft makers and fairs, in my area there is Gillingham Arts & Craft Market www.gillinghamartsandcraftsmarket.co.uk/ Crafts at the Exchange in Sturminster Newton, Tinker Belles Market at Stourhead, Camelot Market, Town Hall Shaftesbury. Home made by friends (most of us know someone who does beading and makes beautiful things) family heirlooms
· Wedding Buttonique – email; WeddingButtonique@gmail.com, Etsy; https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/WeddingButtonique, F/b; https://www.facebook.com/weddingbuttonique/.
· Clothing &Undergarments – Just Jane, http://anniesjustjane.co.uk/ 28 Milford St, Salisbury SP1 2AP. Hine & Parsons 28 High St, Shaftesbury SP7 8JG.
· Discount shopping – Clarkes Village, http://www.clarksvillage.co.uk/ Somerset. Bailie House, http://www.bailiehousewarehouse.co.uk/ Sturminster Marshall, Dorset. Charity Shops, in our local area Salisbury and Sherborne are the best destinations in my area. Wow Retro Men’s & Ladies, http://www.wowretro.co.uk/ 179 Drury Lane, Covent Garden WC2B.
· Menswear – Squires http://www.barbour.com/shop/squires-shaftesbury 29-31 High St, Shaftesbury SP7 8JE. Chas H Baker, http://www.chashbaker.com/ 15 Milford St, Salisbury SP1 2AL.
Future use relates to what you would like to do with the garments once the big day is over, I’m sure that you want to make the most of the investment you will be making and get value for you money.
I do hope you find all this useful, weddings are pretty daunting events and are jolly expensive; however, if you want to save lots and still have the most amazing day with your friends and family, go for saving all that dosh and put it to better use. All of the best weddings I have been to over the years have been the ones that have been produced by utilising the pool of skills and creativity in their family and friends.
Good luck my friends!