There are a lot of things to know about bridal gowns before you go shopping. I'm sure you've read blogs about the best gown for your shape, the trendiest necklines and the off-the-runway details. Honestly, you've probably never done this before, and it can be very overwhelming.
I went in thinking I wanted a gigantic, Cinderella-like ball gown only to realise that I hate the way I look in them with a passion. I thought I wanted lace - turns out I don't like lace on me either. Everything I love to see on other brides, the details that I love to photograph and the shapes that I find most flattering and epic. I hated all of it. I finally found "the dress" when I, through all of my wants, went out the window and just focused on what made me feel good.
It doesn't stop with you saying yes to the dress though. The process continues to the tailoring of your gown. Before you shop for your wedding dress, there are a few important things to remember in regards to tailoring.
Budgeting for tailoring is really important. Ask the bridal salon owner, salesperson or the in-house seamster for an estimated cost on the tailoring that you will need to have completed. Rarely do gowns fit correctly off the rack. Whether you want the neckline completely altered or just the hem shortened, it can be important to know the roundabout cost of the tailoring (which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars). It's also important to remember that different types of dress fabrics can cost more or less to hem and alter. Layers and layers and layers of chiffon are often pricey, and smooth silk is often more difficult while lace can be a bit easier to hide alterations and changes in. Make sure you're prepared to budget for the cost of alterations.
You also need to know where you will take your gown for those alterations! Often the bridal dress chain stores (you know which one I'm referring to) will charge an astronomical amount for alterations because their gowns are from a lower price point. You can take your dress elsewhere for those needed changes - even to another bridal salon with an in-house tailor.
If your dress has any kind of train at all, you will need to have a bustle put into the gown. There are many many different ways to bustle a dress and nearly every bride needs a bustle. If you're in love with a dress but unsure of how it will look bustled, ask before you buy! Some gowns need just a single button, and some will have 27 ties (no lie). You need to know these things! This will be an alterations charge, and you will need to know how actually to complete the bustling on your wedding day. I always have my clients bustle their gowns after the ceremony before reception entrances.
As soon as a woman is engaged, she starts looking for that lovely, magical wedding gown of her dreams and when she finally finds "the one", it is a feeling of absolute bliss. The excitement of carefully shimmying into a gleaming, perfectly fitted wedding dress is truly unparalleled. If like most brides, however, you have chosen to walk down the ceremony aisle in a chic pair of three-inch stilettos and trade them for a lovely pair of comfortable, dance-friendly shoes for the reception, how on earth are you going to prevent your wedding dress from pooling on the floor?
How lovely that you found your dream wedding gown – and on sale, too! The short answer to your question is that a wedding dress should be as long – or as short – as you like, however, obviously, you don't want to wear a gown so short, your guests will receive an eyeful every time you sit down or bend over. Ehem.
That said, there are plenty of short wedding dresses that are perfectly elegant and demure, so don't feel too restricted by how long other people think a wedding dress should be.
However, what you do need to think about is the style and design of your wedding gown because that will determine how much you can hem the dress or, indeed, if you can hem it at all. How much you chop off, too, will impact your overall wedding day look, as well as the way the dress hangs on your body, so it's important to choose just the right length based on your own body and the dress' design, and that's something your dressmaker or seamstress will be able to help you determine.
Traditionally, most bridal gowns are floor-length, but that can mean different things to different designers, so let's first take a look at how dressmakers measure wedding gown length:
Hollow to hem
Hollow to hem is the measurement that a dressmaker will use to determine the length of a dress. It involves measuring the bride from the centre of the collar bone (the hollow) down to the floor. To take this measurement accurately, the bride should be standing straight and relaxed without any shoes on. It's not possible to take this measurement yourself, so you'll need to get someone to help you. Once the dressmaker has this measurement, they will take off a certain amount, typically between 3cms and 6cm, to ensure the dress isn't dragging on the floor and that the bride won't get her shoes stuck in it and fall over.
Your bridal shoes
If you're planning to wear towering heels on your wedding day, you'll want to limit the amount you hem your dress from the floor to 3cm or less. On the other hand, if you're planning on wearing flats, you'll probably want to hem your dress by more than 3cm to prevent you from tripping over it. Around 5cm would probably work well. Statement shoes, those that are highly coloured or accessorised, are a popular choice for modern brides, so if your wedding shoes are a key part of your outfit, you might want to hem your dress by 6cm or more to show them off.
How to Protect the Bottom of Your Dress at an Outdoor Wedding
Purchase an Underskirt
It won't cost you a fortune and will likely save you from all sorts of unsightly stains (think grass, wet asphalt, dirt, etc.) that are bound to occur during outdoor pre-wedding festivities. An underskirt or slip—worn under your wedding gown to gently lift the hem off the groundworks for relatively stationary photoshoots or en route to the site where the photos are to be taken. This way, your dress can at least remain somewhat pristine until the ceremony begins.
Use a Sheet
If you're in a pinch and didn't plan by purchasing an underskirt, you can wrap a sheet around the bottom of your gown instead. Moreover, if your photographer is shooting outdoors, he or she might also cover the area with a sheet or something else to protect the dress.
Having a seamstress install a secure bustle will help with ordinary movement and dancing. Ideally, the bustle should lift your dress far enough off the ground that soil isn't an issue.
Make It a Team Effort
In other words, get by with a little help from your friends. Holding up the bottom of your gown, especially when walking outdoors. Don't forget to utilise your bridesmaids too. They can help lift the dress or carry your train as needed.
Remove Your Shoes
Rocking a wedding gown with a tulle bottom or other delicate fabric? Hall strongly suggests removing your shoes before putting the dress on or taking it off. Duly noted.
Spray the Hem
3M makes a Scotchgard Fabric Protector spray that can be used to prevent your gown from getting dirty. There are a few cleaners who offer this service as well. The trick is to spray the hem enough to protect it without leaving a line between the part of the gown that has been sprayed and the part that hasn't. When in doubt, leave it up to the professionals to avoid misusing the product.
Try to Be Careful
But not so careful that you can't have any fun, of course. We caution brides before the wedding about asphalt, concrete (stains, abrasions), and black dyed mulch stains. Err on the side of caution by avoiding puddles or other problematic areas. Most importantly though, remember that the idea is to wear the dress, be comfortable, and experience every moment of the day as it comes. It's going to be a challenge to keep the dress perfect, and that's perfectly okay. After all, there aren't many stains that a dry cleaner can't get out.
But after all of that, I'm actually here to talk about shoes. Yes, shoes. When you take your wedding gown for alterations, they usually require that you bring your shoes. Why? Because they need to measure the height of your hem.
If you are wearing heels for any part of your wedding day, your dress will be tailored to hit the floor in those heels.
See where I'm going with this? So many of my brides wear heels for their ceremony and then immediately change to flats for their reception. Many of them are not prepared for how inconvenient and uncomfortable it can be to spend the evening in a dress that is 3" + too long.
If you don't think that would bother you at all, then you can stop here. I've had plenty of brides who do this and never once even realise the difference, or it doesn't bother them.
When your dress is hemmed to accommodate your heels properly, once you change into flats, the hem will be too long. Sometimes drastically too long. On a photography note, if a client has chosen not to do a first look and does not have their heels on for portraiture following the ceremony, I will likely not capture many full-body shots because the dress will not fall and lay properly.
It's when they get into the reception that I've had a few brides totally panic. Their gowns are getting filthy (more than just the bottom of the hem) and torn from getting stepped on. Years ago I had a bride whose hem was so, so long after she took off her heels that someone stepped on the back of her dress while she was dancing and it knocked her to the floor. Ouch.
Brides have been doing this exact thing for years though. Why is it a problem? In short, it's not. I just want this to serve as a little warning to brides who plan to preserve their gowns or want to be able to dance and move at their reception very comfortably. It's one of those situations that you don't realise would even be an issue until you're in the heat of the moment and it's already too late.
Consider adding a bustle
You can have your seamstress put a secure, and custom made bustle in place that will gently lift your wedding dress far enough off the ground and pin it in the back. When a bustle is added to your wonderful dress, changing your shoes is no longer an issue. But because bustle loops show a tendency to break, it is a smart idea to attach some safety pins to the underside of your gown in case of an emergency.
Buy a bridal petticoat
A bridal petticoat is one of the most affordable ways you can prevent your flowing gown from pooling on the floor when you switch from heels to flats. Not only will it gently lift the hem of your wedding dress at least an inch off the ground, leading to a flawlessly polished look, but also save the bottom of your lovely dress from all sorts of unsightly stains (think grass, wet asphalt, dirt, etc.) that are bound to occur during the after-party hours!
Wondering how you can keep the hem of your wedding dress from getting dirty? Check out our blog posts.
Purchase two pairs of shoes that have a similar heel height
Is there a "wedding rule" that you have to have two pairs of shoes with a dramatic height difference? We don't think so! You can (and you should) always purchase two pairs of shoes that have a similar heel height so that changing from a pair for the ceremony and photos to another for the reception does not damage your dress. What we are saying is, if you cannot ditch your heels, ditch your flats and go with comfortable yet elegant high platform wedges instead.
Buy a knee-length reception dress
So you don't want to purchase two pairs of shoes that have a similar heel height because you want to show off both your fabulous heels and flats? Then how will you change your wedding shoes freely without getting all steamed up about the hem of your skirt dragging as soon as you change out of your high heels? You can take the tried-and-true route and get yourself a second, knee-length wedding dress, which you can change into right after the ceremony.
For the best wedding dress dry cleaning service, check out My Dress Box.
Your wedding venue
If you're planning a backyard wedding or an outdoor wedding in a park or garden, you may want a slightly higher hem to prevent your dress getting too dirty on the ground, or picking up fallen leaves or grass. Equally, if your wedding venue has many stairs, especially on your route to the ceremony, a higher hemline can reduce the possibility of you falling flat on your face.
In addition to these, think about your height. If you're a little on the short side, you may want to have your dress' skirt as close as possible to floor-length, without actually touching the floor, in order to look slightly taller.
Also, consider how much dancing you plan to do. If you're expecting to dance the night away, or you think you'll be kicking off your bridal heels when you hit the dance floor, you'll do better with a slightly higher hem of perhaps 6cm.
While a floor-length bridal gown is still the most popular option, don't forget there are plenty of other styles for brides who want to try something a little different. Shorter lengths such as tea-length, ballerina, knee-length, or even minis are available for brides who don't mind breaking with tradition and showing off their fabulous pins.