I got married this past May and I'm still reeling from the fun of it all. One element with which I was fairly obsessed was finding a fun dress. I'm not a white gown kinda gal, so I was on the hunt for something colorful. I was not into the idea of trudging to a brick and mortar store to try on a bunch of white dresses I doubt I'd like. Would I miss this particular rite of passage? Nah. Plus, you can always re-create that kind of bridal shop moment in your own home.
I decided to test the waters in customizing a dress online. There are lots of stores that do that theses days, with some of them even sending test dresses out like the Warby Parker of online dress shopping. It's pretty cool, but I knew I wanted something from an independent seller who could really personalize the look itself. I'm already an avid Etsy window shopper so my favorites were already full of dresses I was into. It was all just a matter of narrowing down the search to a reputable designer who made dresses I liked. Easier said than done? Actually, it was pretty easy.
Here's my story of buying a custom wedding dress online and a few tips I learned along the way…
Don't feel limited
If you're reading this site, you already know that prints, colors, and all kinds of styles are fair game in wedding dresses. You're not limited to white dresses, long dresses, traditional dresses, or even dresses at all! When you open up the possibility of a custom outfit bought from an online marketplace like Etsy, you're expanding your options exponentially. And custom outfits and dresses can be made at any price point.
When I went hunting for my dress on Etsy, I wanted a two piece dress with lots of color and a bit of a princess vibe. I ended up finding designer Inge Stalyte, owner of Wardrobe by Dulcinea, and it was an AMAZING process. I don't think I could have easily found a similar style in a brick and mortar store without some hassle. So while it's certainly riskier to buy a dress online, the benefits can be well worth it.
Before I found my beloved Inge, I did a fair bit of research on designers beforehand. I decided to focus primarily on Etsy since I knew it would be easy to source reviews and there just seemed to be a lot of options in my preferred style. I focused on designers with a lot of reviews, and most of them very high. It's pretty easy to find designers with almost all 5-star reviews. Once I'd targeted an Etsy store that had what I liked, I saw that it had amazing reviews from lots of people and had been on Etsy for about six years — I knew it was worth the gamble.
Here's more on how to avoid getting scammed buying a dress online.
Take cues from your initial interactions
I reached out to Inge via Facebook since Etsy was acting up in messages that day, and she was more than willing to communicate in any method I preferred. Despite being based across the world in Lithuania (a lot of designers are based around the world), she was ultra-responsive right from the start despite the time difference. I always feel like those early interactions are just foreshadowing for how the process will be, so this was a great sign.
Inge also had a TON of up-front information such as how long her production queue was (she's popular!), what the design limitations are (almost none!), and what the process looks like. I knew how long my dress would take, when she and her team could start on it, and what to expect. It was super transparent, which is exactly how you want it to be when buying online. If you feel like anything is shady, it probably is.
It doesn't hurt to ask!
Once you've chosen your designer, you've got to decide what custom elements you want. This is the super fun part. I chose one of her existing ombre tulle skirts and asked if she could bring up the ombre dip dye a bit for more drama and add pockets(!), both of which she agreed to do.
But then I decided on a totally different top that I randomly found and that threw a wrench in the plans. The colors of the skirt now wouldn't quite match the new top. Inge to the rescue! I asked if she'd look at the top and choose new dip dye colors based on it and she said YES. I mailed the top to her since she wanted to see it in person and in natural light, which made perfect sense when you're matching colors. I was psyched to see what she'd do.
So if you've got something weird, wild, or unexpected in mind, it never hurts to ask.
Respect their knowledge
Inge didn't deny any of my specific requests, but I do know that she'll push back a little if you ask for something that might compromise the quality of the design. For instance, she designs her skirts with these satin waistbands with covered buttons that are truly gorgeous.
As you can imagine, sometimes folks want an elastic waist to accommodate any weight loss or gain that might happen. In this case, you're asking a designer to make something look just not as good as it could look. So while she'll cave in certain circumstances (like when a bride got pregnant unexpectedly and had no idea how big her waistline might be by the wedding day!), she'll likely push you towards the original waistband. To me that made perfect sense and I'd rather just make any alterations necessary than compromise on the quality.
As with lots of professional wedding vendors, putting your trust in their expertise will usually pay off.
Take careful measurements
After finding someone reputable and narrowing down your style choices, the next challenge is getting the measurements right. Inge had lots of measurements she needed that match each dress style. She even had video tutorials for how to measure yourself with a friend. I ended up going this route since my skirt was pretty easy to measure and I was using my own top.
But if you're buying a full dress and/or it has fitted elements, you'll want to consider getting fitted professionally by a tailor or dressmaker. Make a list of the measurements your designer needs and bring it with you.
When buying online, you won't always have the convenience of fittings later on with the designer, so be prepared to take it to a reputable local tailor to have any alterations made.
Twirl in your amazing outfit!
Once I received my skirt (and the top I'd mailed, of course!), I was THRILLED. Inge chose the most gorgeous colors to match my top, which was no easy feat as it was a very multicolored floral pattern. The pockets were ultra-handy all day and at the ceremony when I got to whip out a hanky for my adorably teary groom. I was just so happy and very glad I didn't settle for something less like me from an in-person store.
Former editor Megan was at the wedding and her reaction to my walk down the aisle (that I didn't even see until I saw the video footage), made it all worth it…
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