It’s every bride’s nightmare. The days are ticking by, and that size-4 wedding gown that seemed so doable half a year ago is now looking like a case of reckless optimism. Before you start looking for underwear with industrial steel boning, take a deep breath and repeat: “It’s fine. The dress can grow.”
It’s always better to buy a dress that’s bigger than your size so you can take it in later, but what if that’s not an option? What if you found the perfect, one-of-a-kind wedding dress in an antique store and you’ve already fallen in love? What if you, against all advice, were hoping you could actually lose 20 pounds in the month before your wedding? Luckily, it’s possible to add a few sizes to any dress using the techniques below. Use caution, however; unless you’re very experienced with sewing, or your alterations are very minor, it’s best to take the dress to a professional.
Letting Out the Seams
If your dress has a generous amount of material inside the seams, consider yourself in luck. Many formal occasion dresses do leave extra material for such an eventuality, since alterations are common to ensure a perfect fit for the special day. If you undo the seams and sew the same lines closer to the edges of the material, the entire gown expands. It helps to sew the new seams before ripping out the old ones, so the old seams keep the material aligned until the new ones are in place.
What if your dress fits perfectly in length, but feels tight across the chest, waist, or shoulders? Letting out the seams in only a specific part of the dress can also help conform the garment to your body. Since everyone is built differently, sometimes a compromise between standard sizes is really the best solution.
Letting out the seams is an easy fix when your wedding dress is only off by about one size. However, what happens when you need to expand the dress more than the seams will allow? In that case, it’s time for more drastic measures.
Have you ever seen a dining room table with a panel of wood that can be added in the middle when guests come over? You can work the same magic with your wedding gown. Gussets are panels of additional fabric that can be inserted between seams to give a dress more breathing room. Gussets are usually added on the sides, under the arms, to stay inconspicuous. They can be triangle-shaped to allow for more room in just the top or bottom portion of the area. Don’t forget to add beading or lacing on any new material you insert, so it will match the rest of the dress perfectly.
In order to make gussets look like a natural part of your wedding gown, you have two options. The first (and easiest) is to match the fabric exactly. If you don’t just happen to have an extra bolt of the fabric the dress was sewn from, you can “cheat” by stealing fabric from a less conspicuous part of the dress. Taking a few inches from the bottom hem can provide you with a perfect strip of fabric for a gusset–just be sure to add a lace or contrasting trim if the gown becomes too short. If your gown came with a shawl or underskirt, you can use it as an easy source of matching material without borrowing anything from the dress.
Unless you’re intentionally going for an asymmetric look, gussets should always be added evenly on both sides. Splitting the size difference between two gussets also means each panel only has to be half as big. If your dress’s design contains multiple panels anyway, you can let out each seam and add a narrow gusset in between each panel. This approach is more labor-intensive, but will result in a very natural look.
If you can’t find enough exactly-matching material, you can make gussets out of a contrasting material instead. In this scenario, you will want to add enough of the contrasting material in other areas on the dress (like the neckline, around the sleeves, or around the bottom hem) so that the insertion on the sides of the dress look intentional. This falls in with a common mistake cover-up: do it a few more times, own it, and no one will know that it was a mistake in the first place.
Adding Corset Lacing
If you don’t have extra material around the seams and you don’t want to add extra panels, there’s still one simple solution. You can remove your gown’s zipper and have it replaced with corset lacing. The crisscrossing patterns of high-quality ribbon or lace as they loop through the side holes will draw attention away from the alteration and add visual interest, to the overall benefit of your gown.
Unfortunately, corset lacing can only be done with some styles of wedding dresses; the sleeker your dress, the less likely that adding lacing will be a good option. Dresses with voluptuous skirts and well-defined bodices are the best options for adding corsetry.
These alterations are not meant to be tried by first-time hobbyists. If you’re at all hesitant to take on a large, complicated sewing project, take your wedding gown to a professional seamstress or alterations shop. After all, you fell in love with the dress and you want it to be perfect for the big day. Why take any chances?
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.