When I got married a little over a year ago, it was my second go ‘round. Fueled by fantasies and a rash of friend’s weddings, I had hastily succumbed to the desire to be a bride when I was 22. Having found a willing subject, I made the grand announcement to my shocked family and friends. There I was, wide eyed and clutching a copy of Brides magazine, while my sister and mother went into action, planning everything from the guest list to the cake.

Of course, their hearts where in the right place, but their tastes where strictly their own. My sister helped me to pick out a dress, a conservative, shin length concoction of lace and beading, with a high neckline that demanded (she insisted) that I wear my long hair up. I looked stiff and awkward, and the look of numb terror on my face in most of the photos foretold the sad outcome of that marriage 5 years later.

Flash forward 20 years. Much to my surprise, here I was contemplating remarriage. That’s actually an understatement. I was over the moon in love with a man who was literally my Prince Charming. My wedding would be a celebration of us and our love, and I stubbornly set out to attend to all of the planning and details myself. This included improvising by ‘making’ my own dress.

How’d it all come out? Well, everyone who was there that day was touched by our obvious love for one another, and by our wonder that the miracle of actually having a ‘happily ever after’ was happening to us. As for the dress…well, you can read my list of do’s and don’ts- and judge for yourself.

When making or customizing your own wedding dress:

  • Do be realistic. I realized I couldn’t make my dress entirely from scratch, so I bought a simple, unadorned dress and modified it.
  • Do be open to buying online and off the rack. What luxury to browse hundreds of dresses at whatever hour I wanted! I especially loved the chiffon Ever Pretty dresses on Amazon, all of which were elegant enough to serve as a gown, yet simple enough to make the perfect canvas for my own personal touches. With my Amazon Prime membership, I could check out several dresses, and get free shipping, as well as free returns. Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial
  • Do get creative with color. My soon to be husband went to school in New Orleans, and had an affinity for the color purple. I’ve always loved the color lavender, so it seemed perfectly natural to opt for a pale lilac dress instead of the more traditional ivory or cream.
  • Do add sentimental touches. My mother had passed away and among the pieces of jewelry she left was a long rhinestone studded chain. I never really knew what to use it for, but it added the perfect touch of bling to my dress. I simply attached it to waistline of the dress with needle and thread in a scallop pattern. It added an elegant touch, and was a special way to honor my mom.
  • Do pay attention to details. I made a velvet sash in burgundy which complimented the lilac shade of my dress and perfectly matched both my bridesmaid’s dresses as well as the groomsmen’s bow ties. I also added a lacy flounce to the floor length slip I wore under my gown, hand stitching it to the hem so that it peeked out from under the dress.

While it’s good to have some guidance in terms of customizing your dress, knowing what not to do can be equally important:

  • Don’t skimp on alterations. I saved a lot of money by customizing my own dress and buying most everything online, but one area to not skimp is in alterations. If the dress is too long or not fitted properly in the bust or shoulders, have it altered before you start customizing.
  • Don’t leave anything to the last minute. I had my velvet sash that wrapped around the waist of my dress, ending in a bow in the back with long tendrils that would flow down, in lieu of a train. I attached the waist piece, but left room to attach the bow, which I would attach the morning of the wedding so it wouldn’t get wrinkled. Bad idea. In the rush of excitement, I forgot. The 2 inch gap in the back where the bow should have gone was clearly visible in several pictures.
  • Don’t neglect to get second opinions. Ask a bridesmaid or friend to have a formal dress fitting with you. Have them take pictures of you in your gown from every angle and every conceivable type of lighting. After all, you’re going to be the center of attention. You want to make sure there are no unsightly bulges that will appear in photos taken at certain angles.

Despite a few mishaps, customizing my own wedding gown was a labor of love. I passed the long months of waiting for the big day by perusing craft stores and Pinterest for those little details that would make my dress me. It was deeply satisfying to sit in the evening, stitching bangles and baubles onto the dress I would wear to marry my beloved. When the big day finally arrived, the gasps of our guests and the grin on my grooms face made the entire effort well worthwhile.

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