Why does a bespoke dress cost so much money?

Published by Claire Gould on

Do you find wedding planning can be overwhelming sometimes? You’re not alone if you find you have a million questions to ask, about every aspect of your wedding. Organising a wedding isn’t something any of us do every day, it’s all new territory and a little crazy at times. I read so many questions from couples – do we need this? how does this work? and so often, why does this cost so much? It’s fine to ask! We have a lot of the answers here in our Advice archives.

bespoke wedding dress price discussion with Ailsa Munro (1)

I love Ailsa Munro‘s dresses: Ailsa is by far and away my favourite independent wedding dress designer, and she’s written this wonderful piece for us today about the cost of a bespoke wedding dress. I hope you enjoy it!Claire

Since I started my own business I’ve been confronted with two quite different opinions about my pricing strategy. Brides sometimes expect having a dress made for them to be cheaper than going to a bridal boutique, whereas other industry professionals have told me I’m undercharging (most of my dresses cost around £1800-£2500). A blog post by Olivia Bossert inspired me to explain what goes into the cost of your couture wedding dress.

1. Marketing

Any dressmaker that you hire has to first advertise so that you know they are an option. Very few people come to me straight from Google or my website, so a small amount of the cost of your dress is associated with how you found me in the first place. Whether that’s spending 2 days at a wedding fair, putting together a styled shoot for a magazine or blog or spending a little cash upfront on Facebook or internet advertising, this is a fairly big business expense for me. This is why referrals are so important to me and to other small wedding businesses, and why so many of us offer discounts to people who recommend their friends.

bespoke wedding dress price discussion with Ailsa Munro (3)

2. Consultation and fitting time

The point of getting a bespoke dress is that firstly, you get exactly the design you want. Sometimes it will take me two hours in a first consultation to get this completely right. Then there can be up to four further fittings to ensure the fit is completely perfect and that all the details fit and look right. Conservatively, I probably spend about 6 hours in consultations with every bride on the run up to the wedding day, and dressmakers need to charge for this time.

3. Experience and design

This is a slightly abstract concept, but creativity and experience are big factors in how your dress turns out, and that will factor into the cost of your dress. To try and explain it better, think about paying for a painting. Sure, the time and materials that go into it are a factor, but you’re also buying from a specific painter because you love their work and you want a piece of it in your home. You would spend more on a painting my an established artist than you would a home-painter. The same is true for a couture dress, you pay more to have an experienced atelier make it rather than your auntie on a sewing machine.

bespoke wedding dress price discussion with Ailsa Munro (2)

4. Pattern cutting and sampling

If you’re ordering from a pre-given selection of dresses (for example, if you want a dress that is exactly like one from my sample collection) this stage is shorter and your dress will come out a little cheaper. If your dress is completely bespoke however, your dressmaker will need to spend quite a bit of time pattern cutting and making a toile of the dress. A toile is a first draft of the dress in cheap fabric, that allows the dressmaker to see how the fit and style is going to work. The time and materials for this need to be factored into the cost of the dress.

5. The fabric

I think it’s pretty obvious that the cost of the fabric has to be factored into the cost of the dress! However, it is not by a long way the only factor. Halving your fabric costs (by going for polyester over silk) will not half the cost of your dress. I think it’s almost always worth stretching the budget for a completely silk dress.

6. Making the dress

This is the other obvious cost- the sheer amount of time spent making a high quality couture dress. Most of us are accustomed to buying off the high street, often clothes made in India or China where people are paid an equivalent of 50p a day. They also use fairly low quality, quick production techniques. This means it can seem a little expensive buying high quality garments domestically produced.

7. Rent on a workshop or studio

If your dress takes 2 weeks to make in the studio, the price of the dress has to cover the rent on the studio for those two weeks. Some small businesses can operate without premises, but often creative businesses need space for their tools and equipment.

So there you have it. This list is by no means exhaustive, I haven’t mentioned the wear and tear on machines or the cost that goes into packaging your dress, but I hope this list gives you a bit more of an idea of where the money you pay for your wedding dress goes when you choose to have a handmade item. It can seem like a lot of money, but in the wedding industry you really do get what you pay for; most of us are much smaller companies than you would usually deal with and we cannot afford to overcharge or disappoint even one customer.



Claire Gould

Claire spends her days writing - either in beautiful calligraphy or online. She lives on the edge of the English Lake District only minutes away from the beach, where she loves to escape and unwind. Claire's calligraphy can be found at www.byMoonandTide.com. Claire launched the English Wedding Blog in November 2009 - it's been a top 10 UK wedding blog ever since, with a regional focus we hope you LOVE.


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