Advice from a dressmaker: Choose your wedding dress to please no one but yourself! by Felicity Westmacott
This beautifully written article is a must-read for every bride: it’s uplifting and an absolutely compelling read by our fave, lovely bespoke dressmaker Felicity Westmacott. Grab a cuppa, you’ll love this!
Wedding dresses should tell a story, the story of YOU.
Choosing your wedding dress can feel very daunting. With all my experience helping more than a thousand brides the most important advice I like to give is: “Please yourself!”
You will love your dress but no one else will love it as much as you do. Your opinion must come above all others. Don’t compromise on anything just to please someone else.
Helping brides find their dress style
I am so lucky to do a job I love so much. It’s just wonderful to see so many happy people enjoy the work I do and know that it makes them feel good. A well designed and well fitted dress will make you feel truly out of the ordinary. Even dresses that now seem old-fashioned, or too normal to someone of alternative tastes are very out of the ordinary compared to what we all wear in everyday life.
As a bespoke dressmaker I don’t sell ‘my style’ unlike off the peg designers with their collections.
What I love most about my job is the new challenge each bride brings. How to dress her to her best advantage, hitting all her priorities; body shape, budget and taste. Brides come in all shapes and sizes and with hugely varying tastes. I don’t have favourites, whether I’m making an elegant satin shift, a Victorian style corset or all over beaded sparkles, I enjoy every style for its own merits. And when I’ve done my job right (which is always!) I get thank you letters like: “You understood me, the design was exactly right, I feel amazing, it was as if you read my mind, this is the most beautiful dress in the world.”
Every bride is unique
But it’s not just my work that does the magic. It’s this bride, in her dress, on her special day.
Each dress is special for the bride who wears it and would not suit just any other woman. Even if it had been fitted properly and with a professional photographer and hair and make up making the best of it. We professionals do our best with styled photoshoots and models, but there is a very good reason why real weddings are the most popular articles on wedding blogs. The unique magic is having your own dress, that shows you to your best advantage and as you want to be seen.
What is a wedding dress?
I see my job as creating a very special dress or ensemble, almost a costume but not quite, more a ceremonial garment. I’m not hoping to change my brides into something they are not. But I aim to bring to the foreground each client’s essence, something of her inner self. My designs unleash all our inner princesses; be your princess a gothic vixen, classic English rose or modern fashionista.
Other people’s wedding dresses
Your wedding dress should be everything to YOU, but it is a mistake to assume this means it is as special to the people who see you. Your dress will make you happy and confident and beautiful and your friends and your mum will agree and tear up; despite all this, it is still NOT ‘the most beautiful dress in the world’. And no one else would choose your dress! Sounds a bit extreme, yet it is true.
To illustrate, think about a wedding you have attended. Unless you were the bride’s mother or her best friend, how many of the dresses do you really remember in detail?
For most observers at any wedding the dress really doesn’t make much impression beyond the day, as long as it fits and is vaguely the expected aesthetic for the bride’s personality.
Half the guests are male and brought up to be less interested in fashion (what a shame, thank goodness many break the mold). Of the female half some still don’t care, and for those that do half again come from the previous fashion era. So they can’t appreciate the subtlety of your choices as you wouldn’t appreciate all the elements of their wedding dress choice. The context, the ‘fashion now’ is missing. And the last few people, your best friends and family will all have varying tastes, no one exactly the same as yours. If they are good friends, they will love your dress as they see it on you, but they wouldn’t want to wear it themselves.
Other people’s opinions of your wedding dress
I find it hard to stay quiet when I watch a bride have a wobble about her dress choice because of someone else’s opinion.
Whether that is a voiced opinion from mum-in-law “A short dress! Not white?!”. Or the imagined criticism of guests; “What if they think it’s a meringue” or “I don’t want people to think my dress is boring”.
Especially when I know the dress really suits the bride’s figure and wedding plans and she loves it. Even if other people think your dress looks like a tablecloth – so what?!
I make all styles of dress but I specialise in alternative styles, be that colourful, historical modern sequin jumpsuits or OTT spectacular.
I make plenty of ‘normal’ ones too, if wedding dresses can ever be described in such a pedestrian way.
It is sometimes a surprise to people how different our tastes and outlooks are. What feels boring to one bride feels beautifully traditional to another. A neckline that feels too daring and provocative to you might make another woman feel a million dollars. And protests against conformity come in all forms, I’ve seen a bride choose a very conservative wedding dress to break free of her hippy parent’s oppressively outlandish expectations.
Fashions seem different to different people
It would be foolish to try and predict what other people will think of your wedding dress.
A simple Grecian style dress evokes classic beauty to some but is boring, shapeless or dated (“like my mum’s 70’s dresses”) to the next person. A big dress is gorgeous to one observer but too much, an overwhelming meringue, to another (oh don’t get me started on that awful phrase, ‘a meringue’ – we must stop using it).
When we take such care to find all the details we wanted; perhaps a sweetheart neckline, a button up back, a delicate lace fabric, and a fit and flare skirt, trying for modern but traditional simplicity; it is frustrating to realise not everyone will see what we hoped.
The associations you have with any given design element are not the same as anyone else. We’ve all had different life histories and formed different opinions. And even if they do see modern-boho when that’s the vibe you wanted they still may not like it!
So how does this help me choose my wedding dress?
Do I seem very negative? Bear with me, there is a method to my madness.
Even though all the above is true it is still my life’s work to make every detail matter. I want it to matter to you and I want us to mull over every detail in pursuit of the perfect whole. During the design and fitting process I want you to feel the magic of seeing your ideal dress swim into focus in the mirror. But it is important to understand that it is perfect only because YOU are wearing it, and you are seeing it in YOUR reflection. For anyone else, it is only a dress.
Wedding dresses should tell a story, the story of YOU.
So, if I have done my job as I should, anyone who sees you would agree that this is the dress that tells the story of you and your wedding day. No other dress would have quite hit the mark with the same punch. Hopefully many people will also think the designs I create are objectively beautiful too, or the dress you find off the peg is really splendid. But to expect anyone else to think your dress was perfect above all others would be unrealistic. We are searching for YOUR perfect dress, not anyone else’s!
And why do we expect other people to love our choices? Why should it matter so much? The point of your wedding dress is not to please anyone else, or to set a new fashion, or to be my best work ever, or to make your mother in law happy. The dress is meant to please you, and no one else on earth matters.
If your wedding dress makes you happy, you will stand confidently and other people will see your inner beauty more clearly, as if the wedding dress is a magic mirror for seeing the real you. The dress is a frame, you are the picture. Choose your dress as best you see fit; with care, with love and with attention to detail; or choose instinctively in one appointment only; but above all, choose to please yourself!
Header image credits: Models @megsnmichael Concept/Photographer Jade Marie Photography Florist Holly & the Ivy Dressmaker Felicity Westmacott Make up/Hair Stylist – @emmaartismakeup Jeweller