Choosing an alternative wedding dress: Brides, dress to please yourself, not others.

Choosing an alternative or unusual wedding dress can be daunting. As a bespoke dressmaker I have met many, many brides embarking on the thrilling experience of deciding what they want to look like on their wedding day. I try to mention a few things at our first meeting but first and foremost I tell them: “Please yourself!”

You will love your dress but no one else will love it as much as you do. Don’t compromise on anything to please others.

Alternative wedding dresses come in all flavours

jareth bride gay wedding dreee outfit inspiration box hedge maze hever castle

alternative bridal ensemble of silk button blouse and black high waist trousers

I have met brides with very different tastes, body shapes, budgets and priorities. I have designed and made so many different styles of wedding ensemble I can’t possibly describe them all; from boned corsets with beading, hooped skirts and historical touches; an understated satin shift; or ethereal draped and layered silk Georgette. Almost always I love the dress design we come up with together and almost always I get an effusive thank you letter afterwards or a tearful and happy bride at her last fitting. “You understood me, this is perfect, I feel amazing, I feel comfortable, this is the most beautiful dress in the world.”

The best job in the world

What a lovely job I have! To make people so happy, to make people look and feel amazing. Yes, not just good but amazing! Wedding dresses are always amazing, they are always out of the ordinary. Even a fairly typical of-it’s-era strapless, ruched to one side, a-line, ivory satin dress is very out of the ordinary compared to what we all wear in every day life.

But it’s the whole package that does the magic, THIS bride, in THIS dress, on THIS day. Another girl would not pull off the same dress as well, not even if it fitted her, not even with the best photographer in the world. There is something very special about a bride, in her own dress, that no staged shoot can re-create (which I suppose is why the real weddings features are so popular).

My job is to create a costume, a ceremonial garment. Not to transform my clients into anything they are not. I aim to bring to the foreground a bride?s real, hidden, inner-self. My dresses set free, for just one Cinderella day, all our inner princesses, be that princess a medieval maiden, ultra modern fashionista or subtle, classic, English rose. But how ever successful your wedding dress is at making you beautiful, confident and happy, it is not, (despite all those positive, warm bubbly emotions, all of mum’s tears when “the dress” is found), it is NOT the most beautiful dress in the world. And no one else wants it. Harsh, I know, but true.

vneck wedding dress full skirt cadbury purple silk

Purple silk wedding coat

An unforgettable wedding dress

Think how many weddings you have been to? How many of those dresses do you honestly remember in any detail? Unless you are a recent bride or a bride-to-be yourself, then wedding dresses really are just a haze. Fifty percent of the people at your wedding are male, and for the most part not that interested in fashion. Of the female half left, another 25% aren’t interested because bridal fashion has moved on too much since their own wedding day. They don’t have the context to be able to understand the nuances of each choice you made. The last section, your best friends and contemporaries will almost certainly have different tastes to you. While they might honestly love your dress on you, they wouldn’t be seen dead in it themselves on their wedding day.

For this reason do not compromise!

There will be a few people who’s opinions seem to matter too much to ignore. Your mother, your best friend, your fiancé who has said: “Please don’t wear anything big and puffy!” (For advice on considering your mum’s opinions in wedding planning see this blog post.) I have heard too often a client say “I don’t want that style/colour/neckline” because she believes others will think <insert opinion here> of her if she wears it. Even though it is the best style for her and she secretly loves it. I suppose some people might think X, Y or Z, of your dress choice! But so what?

Choosing an alternative wedding dress

Choosing an alternative wedding dress can seem the obvious choice for some brides, for other’s it feels daring and provocative. It many surprise brides worried about choosing something unusual, that for other brides opting to be traditional can feel just as controversial. In some families expectations can be that this woman should not conform or be too ‘boring and normal’ and that can feel just as oppressive in it’s own way. A protest against hippie parents might be to choose a very modest and traditional wedding dress!

Other people will see your dress differently than you expect

You can’t predict what other people will make of your wedding dress. One person’s “full a-line” is another’s enormous, god-awful, meringue. (Oh! Don’t get me started on that terrible phrase “meringue”, there’ll be a whole post on that I promise!) Your perfect, floaty, Grecian number evokes the intended classic simplicity to one viewer; an odd predilection for shapelessness to another; and their mother’s dated and embarrassing draped evening dress to the third.

You have chosen the fabric, the neckline, the button-up back, the pretty lace edging and the medium-length train to evoke a traditional, old fashioned, English country rose vibe. But you can’t predict for sure that anyone else at your wedding will have the same association as you for any of those elements. And even if they do, they may not deem such themes desirable.

bride glances back in custom made illusion back wedding dress

modern traditional bespoke wedding dress with silver lace and illusion back

…So why bother?

But I want you to bother. I want every aspect for your wedding dress to matter, to be mulled over, to be a necessary part of the whole, to be perfected during the fittings until the most beautiful dress in the world emerges before your eyes. But you must know it is only made so by YOU wearing it and YOUR gaze in the mirror. For almost everyone else is is only a dress.

But if I have done my job right, everyone if asked would agree that no other dress would have told the story of you and your wedding day with quite the same truth. Perhaps one or two people will think it is objectively beautiful. But I would put money on the idea that not one person in a thousand would choose your dress for their own wedding day.

And why should they? You probably wouldn’t have worn their first choice of wedding gown either. The purpose of your wedding gown is not to please others, nor to set the trend for future brides, to be the pinnacle of bridal design or to satisfy your in-laws opinions on modesty. It is to please you, and no one else.

If your wedding dress pleases you, others will see your inner happiness and confidence and know you are beautiful even if the dress is not to their taste. The dress is merely a frame, you are the picture. But the wrong frame will spoil the picture. Choose wisely, choose instinctively and choose to please yourself.

bespoke wedding dress for vegan bride in summer garden

bespoke blush tulle wedding dress on a very happy bride

Traditional or Alternative: bespoke is the way forward

I hope my advice has helped ease any anxiety you may have been feeling about choosing an alternative wedding dress, or any style! As a bespoke dressmaker I take particular pleasure that every dress I make is unique. I love making all styles of wedding dress and would be excited to hear about your ideas. Feel free to contact me to book a consultation today.

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Felicity Westmacott

I write about all aspects of weddings, dressmaking, fashion history, and the human relation to clothing. I welcome comments and debate.

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from design to completionbespoke wedding dressesFelicity Westmacott
Dorking, RH4 1RT241 High Street• Visit the Studio •
Dorking, RH4 1RT241 High Street• Visit the Studio • 07762 543230TOUCHGet in