10 Ways to Know if Your Bridal Shop’s Seamstress is Scamming You

Y’all.. I’m confused..
and blown away. Livid, really. Last week, my friend called me in tears about her big day. The shop that had her dream dress is on round two of getting it right. While the first one was defective from the manufacturer, the second one needed a few changes (totally normal). She felt uncomfortable with how they had treated her so far, and was worried she was getting the shaft in terms of alterations options. I pretended to be the friend who wanted to see the dress on her, while she had things pinned up.

We went in with our rehearsed questions and code signs memorized, and she stood prepared for me to give her the eye if something the boutique was saying didn’t sound right. After all, your wedding dress should fit, like a $2,000 glove. Ladies.. if your bridal shop can’t do an alteration, they shouldn’t waste time trying to give you alternative options that won’t achieve the look you want. In this case, her gut was right. Their mission was to get her out the door with as few alterations as possible, and with a dress that didn’t truly fit her. The moment they would comment on how great things looked when she would point to areas that didn’t hug her, I knew they weren’t keen on doing the altering. Which brings me to sign #1.

1. They pretend the problem doesn’t exist

This one should be pretty freaking obvious. When my friend pointed to this gaping spot in the ‘bouquet’ region, the shop owner jumped to compliment the backside of the same area, exclaiming “Your butt looks great! After all, that’s what everyone’s going to be looking at!”

If the shop owner or seamstress is trying to convince you it’s a non-issue, ask your friend/mother/bridesmaids. It’s their job to be honest with you – after all, you’re going to have these pictures for a long time, and the memories of ill-fitting dresses will always last. If you shy away from confrontation, ask someone in your party, or the person coming with you, to voice concerns they see you having. Sometimes it’s a bit easier to agree with the person in your party, without having to stand strong against the shop owner alone. What’s more, is when someone else voices it for you, the boutique can be angry and angsty with that person, and not take it out on you (or god forbid, your dress). YOU are the bride; YOU are supposed to be happy here. This. Is. Your. Day.

2. They run lace through the sewing machine

When it comes to adding length to the bottom of a wedding dress, a lace applique is a common go-to answer. This dress was an inch off the ground in the front – odd, seeing as her height was average for her size, and her shoes were flat Ked’s sneakers. The first step is the pin the lace around the bottom of the dress, arrange it to reach the proper length, then hand sew the lace onto the outer fabric.

This was actually my first question for quality control. I know you wouldn’t try to run a lace & chiffon through the machine, you hand stitch it like a pro. Especially since it’s so delicate, if your machine decides to get confused, there’s no undoing that mess you made. I asked, “Do you have to hand stitch all of that??” with eyes full of wonder. Hehe. In this case, the shop’s seamstress answered correctly and I gave my girl a quiet thumb’s up for the correct answer. If the shop’s seamstress doesn’t answer this question quickly, I’d be curious if she even is a seamstress, if they aren’t sending the dress out to someone else to do the actual work. I’m not sure I would trust someone with my dress who didn’t know the answer, or claimed feeding lace to their machine was the way you go about it.

3. They try to hack the problem

Back to the gaping crotch spot. The side panels and back panels fit perfect. But the true problem here was that the center panel was too wide, so it gaped. This ‘seamstress’ thought that if she PULLED ON THE SILK, it would… well, i’m not even sure what she thought it’d do. So the problem was  now worse than before. Y’all. This is something you NEVER EVER EVER FREAKING EVER DO! But it gets worse. Judging by how she was pulling and stopping to think, I believe her bright idea was to try to pull the outer layer down to remove the gaping spot, and tack that layer to the lining. But here’s where it gets hairy.. She took a needle and thread to the lace overlay and began rigorously tacking it to the lining. in circles. Aka, just stringing the needle through the lace in circular motions and pulling really tight, to try to pull the excess fabric out, but DUH, creating puckers all over the lace.

At this point, I’m giving off looks of absolute horror, and trying not to yell at her to step back. On top of all of this, she was in such a hurry that she pricked the bride several times with her needle, because she was trying to get it done while the dress was still on her to see if her hack worked. (Hint: It didn’t. But are you surprised? I’m not.) This was a ridiculous attempt at a quick fix to a problem that requires trouble shooting. The right seamstress oftentimes holds onto a dress for a week before they come up with an idea on how to work through the problem.. They do not just vigorously take a needle and thread to something hastily because they don’t want to do the actual alteration the dress requires. This is a bargain bin answer to a couture issue. Which brings me to the reason.. why?

4. Alterations are included in the cost of the dress

No no no no no. This may sound like a relief when you hear this from a bridal boutique. “Wow, are they sure friendly,” you might think.. Unfortunately, ‘free’ alterations just means they’ve marked up the cost of your dress, whether you need alterations or not. No well-respected or skilled seamstress could afford to do things this way. When they say “oh honey, we’re taking care of you!” What it means is this:

  • The shop tells the seamstress the dollar amount their alterations must stay under to make their bottom line. So if you need several areas altered, they will most likely choose to focus on 1-2 things (a hem, a bust line) and minimize the amount of alterations you need done.. Some simply ‘forget’ to change the lace pattern on the bottom, or fix the height of the bustle. A second visit after alterations will usually be met with surprise alterations costs.
  • Any alterations you need will be handled quickly – not always correctly. This could result in the dress hanging to one side, puckering (like #3), and my favorite – leftover beads and lacing that aren’t removed from the bust seams when they are darted, resulting in chest bulges.

Be weary about the work quality and honesty of shops that include their alterations in the cost of your dress.

5. The seamstress pulls the dress UP from the shoulders above where the the natural bodice would wear comfortably.

This is a big indicator that this particular seamstress is afraid or anxious to do the actual alteration that needs to happen. The true problem here was that the dress needed to be taken apart in the front and taken in from the front panel only. Instead, this seamstress decided that if only she could get the dress to rest higher on the bride’s body, then that gape would disappear.. But the dress hugged her body all over perfectly, it was just. this. one. spot.

The proper fix would be removing the lace appliqué from the seams, taking about 5″ worth of seams apart, and taking in, from the front middle panel only, just a little less than half an inch from each side of the middle panel. Once this is done, then that seamstress can reapply the appliqué over the seam as similar as possible to the original (we’re fans of taking crazy amounts of pictures before removing any lace).

To push for this entire dress to be lifted, when the shoulders are just a thin bit of lace with no support, is pure delusion. Those shoulders would inevitably stretch throughout the ceremony, and without serious bust changes, the dress would fight her body all night to slide back to where it naturally fits her in the bust, waist, and hips. When you have a mermaid shape like sweet Sammie chose, you don’t get to pick where it falls on your body – it hugs the whole thing. Looser dresses with real straps (A-lines, etc.) present more opportunities for lifting, but at this point, this seamstress is literally giving away 4 hours of work just to save her one.

5. “I’ve been doing this for X years” matter of factly

See, I’ve only just dipped into altering wedding dresses, but there’s one thing I’ve learned. If you know how to alter multiple seams, reattach lace, adhere beading, and press as you go, the biggest difference is the color of the dress. Now I didn’t say I was a seamstress, so I’m sure any soft suggestions or issues I carefully pointed out were met with hostility because I must not know what I’m talking about. But again, if you are the bride, or have been instructed by the bride to stick up for her, your comments are valuable. They are important. And, they’re necessary. They should NOT be met with “I’ve been doing this for ___ years.”

Our trade is beautiful, unique, and important, and yes, we seamstresses put up with A LOT from stressed-out bridezillas and mothers of brides who like to fling iPhones, but a sewist worth her salt knows there’s always something to be learned, and sometimes, people who don’t know a thing about fabric come up with unique ideas that do help solve the problem. If your seamstress snaps at you – even if you’re speaking up out of concern for what she’s doing to your dress in real time, it’s time to reality check her and remind her who the customer is. If you end up in an edgy situation like I did, where the seamstress somehow thinks berating her customer’s friend is the key to making her happy, try saying gently, “I don’t think this is working. Let’s step back for a minute and see if we come up with any ideas.” This reminds the shop who’s working for who, and that good things do in fact take time. If it gets too heated, and you’ve already paid for your dress, this is a perfectly acceptable spot to say “I think we’re done here. I’m going to get changed – this isn’t the bridal shop experience I wanted.

7. They’re trying to stretch your dress to fit

STAHP IT ALREADY ARGGHHHHH NOOOOOOO!!!! Don’t do that! It’s satin! It’s silk! It’s lace for Christ’s sake, lace won’t cause this problem! Man-handling wedding dresses will not make them fit the brides better. What you have is an actual construction problem, so it’s not something that stretching it temporarily will help it lay right as you walk up the aisle. What’s more, is the middle panel is already too big!!!! What do you really thing stretching is going to do here, besides just give you something to do that’s the opposite of what I said needs to be done??  This is madness. At this point I’m shooting my friend the “GET OUT OF THIS DRESS AND LET’S TAKE IT HOME” look in full-force.

8. Just add cups/pads

I’ve been hearing this one all day. It doesn’t fit up top so what do they say? Instead of taking it in, “here’s some padding, just shove it in right there.” This gives you that busty fluffy look you definitely didn’t want – it isn’t in style, but it’s cheap for shops to peddle. These pads cost them 75 cents a pair, and tacking them in might take 10 minutes tops. Bringing in the top of your dress, realigning the cup lining, and sealing up the seam? This could take a couple hours, but the difference is quite obvious in your wedding photos. If you want the dress to lay against you naturally and fit like the $2,000 (or $10,000) dress that it is, pads, cups, inserts, whatever – are not going to give you this look. Doing it right will cost you a bit extra of money, but if the girls are far off from a perfect close fit, there’s honestly no comparison between the two types of alterations.

9. Removing layers is expensive

No it isn’t. Some dresses are just a little too poofy for bridal taste. If you’ve found the perfect dress If you need crinoline or taffeta removed from the inner lining of your dress, this isn’t an ordeal at all – it’s actually an hour’s worth of work- tops. If your seamstress has a seam ripper and proper lighting, this shouldn’t be an issue worth balking at. Most seamstresses know how easy this change is, so I tend to only hear about this one at the few and far between shops who include alterations in the cost of their dresses. Provided that the layers you want gonesies aren’t critical to the construction and support of the dress, removing them is practically zero hassle.

10. They’re downright rude or condescending

Nope. Get out of there. You deserve to be made happy, and anything else that comes out of their mouth besides, “If I do what you want me to do, you won’t be happy with the result. Here’s why….” is inexcusable. Back at #6, when I was trying to conceal my looks of sheer horror to my friend, I passively asked “Won’t pulling and tacking the top fabric to the bottom make it all bunchy?” I was met with looks of embarrassment & the response, “YOU just need to let ME work my magic and believe in me and it’ll work. Thomas Edison didn’t make a lightbulb on the first try..”

Being rude, snappy, and degrading is a sign of being nervous, unqualified, or negligent in the trade.. None of which you need related to your wedding. If you’ve got more than one of these little issues going on with your current wedding dress seamstress, it’s time to look elsewhere. Oftentimes, smaller towns have seamstresses that charge less for the same work, so making the drive can be worth your time. Speak with your seamstress ahead of time over the phone to get an idea of whether or not you’ll be a good fit, and describe in detail what seems like needs to be done. Provide pictures if you can! A good seamstress will:

  • do a walk-through with a friend on how to help you into your dress
  • teach you & your ‘person’ how to do the bustle
  • jump to offer you several different solutions to the same problem, with advice on which would be best vs. $$$
  • remind you to wear the right undergarments & shoes to every fitting
  • do a free bead check on the entire gown (I charge $2 per beading section if any needs to be reinforced)

Good luck!

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