rule

Pricing Bridal Alterations

rulef


added March 2010

Hello,
 
First of all let say that what I am about to ask, I totally understand if you can't answer my question.
 
I am a seamstress for a bridal shop in Massachusetts, I have been asked to do alterations on a dress that would normally have to be ordered hollow to hem.  The dress is discontinued and the bride wants the sample dress, the dress is made for a girl 5' 9" the bride is 4'11".  Mermaid style, lace and beads from top to bottom with a train, also the neck line goes straight across and the brides want it to be a sweetheart neckline. There is a piece of lace that goes down the front to a "V" to the hem.  Approximately 9" or more would have to come off the dress in order to be the right length, or the dress would have to be reconstructed in order to fit the bride to the right perorations. The lace at the hem is  about 6" wide lace and has long peaks.  It will be a lot of work to get this to fit her and look right with out it looking like we shrunk the dress to fit!
 
The owner of the shop said they could do it for $250.00 they gave the job to me but I feel the job will take a lot of time and a lot of work and that $250.00 is very low.  I quoted the mother of the bride between $600 to $700 complete and ready to wear for her big day.
 
Is there any way you can tell me if you agree with me or the owner of the shop?  I just tired of doing all this custom work and not getting paid for my work, oh and on top of that I have to give the owner 15% of the price. You don't have to give me a price just tell me if I was right or over charged her.
 
Thank You,

Bridalwishes  ( Lauren )

 

Hi Lauren, 
 
I have had challenges like this occasionally. The 9" may actually be an asset for making this job easier.
 
Let me ask a few questions:
Does the "V" lace need to be moved up? Or can the 6" lace be moved and some of the "V" be lost at the bottom?
Is the beading sewn through the under fabric or just on the lace?
Does the bride understand that taking off 9" of this mermaid hem will lessen the swish of the hem and may make it look skimpy?
Will she accept a gathering or pleating between the breast area to create the sweetheart neckline or does she want you to convert the neckline seam to a dip?
What is it about this gown that she likes most? The mermaid style, the lace, the color, the discounted price because it's discontinued? Do you have other gowns that can be ordered and give her the most wished for elements?
 
What is your relationship with this store? Do you set the prices for alterations or does the store owner? Is this sale dependant on your doing this alteration? i.e. If the store ends up getting stuck with this dress will the owner be upset at you?
The $250 quote sounds low to me. Does she normally quote so low for such extensive work?
Are there also body adjustments that need to be made? Her 4'11" frame could have all kinds of needs in the body area for fitting. Was the bride or Mom shocked by your $600 to $700 quote?
 

Do you have a picture of the gown? Perhaps a link from the designer's site?

 

Leanna,
First let me thank you for getting back to me so fast,  The bride and the mother would like the dress just like they see it.   The lace is beaded right through to the under layer, so it would have to be unbeaded.   I figured with the price that the owner gave her I would only work for $4 an hour and that is not even minimum wage.
 
Thank you

Lauren

 

You may not have to un-bead anything. The 9" might be enough to simply cut the lace and the fabric it's sewn to and move both up to the new position and reattach it using a dense zigzag. Once the hem is refitted, you simply cut out the backing fabric and you don't have to re-bead anything.
 
I don't know your situation with this store, but I would never work for $4.00 an hour.

added July 2007

Dear Leanna,

I cannot say thank you enough times to express how I feel after reading the info on your website.  I am a custom seamstress and clothing designer and I also work with a local pageant/prom shop doing alterations.

Recently the shop approached me wanting to change the way we handle alterations.  they would like all alterations to be charged through the store so they can mark up the prices to cover the cost of using the store and also there would be insurance as some of the gowns I alter are $3000+. 

Unfortunately in the process they would like for me to come up with a price list or my alterations.  They are having a hard time grasping the concept that while I can say a hem would be $35+ I cannot give a specific figure as each gown is unique.  Different fabrics, beading, multiple layers etc all come into play.  They also recieved a price list from another seamstress that was ridiculously low ($7-15 for a hem) and now they are asking why I charge so much.  It's laughable as my hourly rate is between $20-25 and as you've said that does not factor in the time it takes for things like trips to the fabric store, needles, sewing machine maintenance, bookeeping, etc.  It is so frustrating!!!

I am going to give her your website to look at so she gets a better understanding.  At this point I feel I have the upper hand, I have customers that travel from as far away as Washington DC to Charlotte NC for me to alter their beaded gowns.  I also have customers that I sew for all over the country.  I've done costumes and gowns that have been at Miss America and on nationally televised TV.  I not only sew but I design and I'm good at what I do.  I don't like being bullied and that's what I feel they are trying to do.  It is extremely frustrating.

Sorry to wane on.  Very few people understand the frustration of being undercut by those who sew as a hobby business.  Few people understand that what we do is a specialized skill and one we work hard to perfect.  I take great pride in what I do and I refuse to appologize for wanting to be payed for my work.

Thank you again for your site.  If ever you would like to chat with another seamstress feel free to send me a note.  As a side, I also work with renaissance festivals (I direct a childrens theatre troupe) and LOVE bellydancing.  While don't have time for lessons right now I would love to eventually take them. 

Sincerely and with much appreciation,
Angela

Do not let anyone bully you. I do understand how you feel for I have been there. I have learned how to totally refuse to let myself be manipulated. I work totally separate from the Stores. I carry my own insurance. I set my own prices and if anyone doesn't like it there are plenty of alternatives. They will get cheaper prices that go along with cheaper workmanship. I do get some who whine, trying to get me to match the other people's prices. I just tell them I refuse to lower myself to their level of workmanship. I don't let price be the argument. I have lost work through stores because of this, but it is so much better to be independent.
 
I do have a price list but it is flexible to each garment needs. It's set for about $30 per hour for each task. I don't charge for fitting times. I make a good amount. I get all the work I want and say, "no" to many callers.
 
My wedding gown hems start at $80. Many are much more for additional layers and fussy fabrics. Brides maid's hems start at $30. $7 for a hem is just horrible. That's not even minimum wage for the time involved. This is a skilled trade. Plumbers get $75 an hour or more.
 
You sound like you are experienced enough to be independent and not have to deal with this silliness. Get yourself a business phone line and a yellow pages add. It may take a bit if time for your reputation to get around, but I'm sure you will have all the work you want very quickly.

added July 2009

I  looked it our Webside today, very informative for the Brides. I got
all my skills from my dear Grandmutter in Germany. I am doing Alteration
for Bridal Gowns ,since 1983.
Our store closed it 2008. So I am doing some Alterations it home . I
would get so much work it Prom time so I stopped doing it. I am in
Rochester N.Y. so the Prices on
Alterations are alot more.  Maybe you like to updade your Prices a bid.
Have a good Day Heidi

My prices are high for my area. I would not be able to charge what they do in New York. I do update the pricing annually and I keep an eye on what the folks around me charge. It's hard to set prices that are fare for both the brides and me.


added July 2008

Hi,
Leanna, I have been sewing since the 8th grade and start a sewing business
In 1996. One of the problems that I have is deciding on the price that I
Should start off with for Wedding dresses. I am told that my prices are too
Low. I compare them to other seamstress and they do appear too low, but I am
 
Not sure what my minimum price should be for a wedding gown. Do I price
According to the style of the gown, such as if I am doing an a-line halter
Top gown, no beading, no lace out of satin. I live in a Medium to a large
Size city and the pricing for the retail stores such as David’s Bridal is
Rather low, I do understand that retail and custom are different. How do I
Get my customer to understand the difference as to why custom cost more than
 
Retail? I have tried charging by the hour as well as charging by the garment
 
And I am still not making what I should be making based on my experience. Do
 
You have any suggestion or ideas that you can give me? I am in the Austin,
Texas area.
Look forward to hearing from you. I love your website and refer to it often
For advice.
 
Thank you, Barbara
 
I no longer make garments from scratch because in my area it's just not
Going to pay me what I want. I do strictly alterations now because I can
Charge what I need to. I am way more expensive than many others in my area.
 
In town and I still get as much work as I want. I say "no" to many callers.
When you have the reputation for doing excellent work and have been in the
Same location for the word to get out about you, you do not have to explain
Anything to anyone

added January 2008

I work in the school system but do alterations on the side. I am in the process of altering a wedding gown and have no idea what to charge. Can you help me?  This is what I have done so far: took up the shoulders 3” on each side, changed the neckline from scoop-neck to v-neck, added 21/2” inset in each side seam to expand bodice 5 inches. Hand sewn 23 lace appliqués to front, back, sides and both sleeves. I still have to shorten the hem 4 inches, add 10 yards of lace and bustle the back. Can you give me a fair estimate of what it should cost to do these alterations?  I want to be fair, but also want to get paid for my time.

Sincerely, Gwen

Wow, that's a lot of work! I just finished a gown that had almost that much work, minus the insets, and it was almost $400. Do you have any idea how many hours you have in this job? Any seamstress with good skills should be getting at least $20 and hour in my humble opinion. I charge $30 and hour. I seriously doubt I would do this job for less than $600. Did you give her any kind of estimate for this work? 

No. She didn’t ask. So far about 10 hours.

Gwen

Gee, you are fast.
 
You need to be giving her an idea of what the work has come to so far. If you wait till the end she can give you one horrendous fight about what you are asking and refuse to pay it. She can claim you never told her you were expecting payment too. $200 to $300 for what you have done so far is reasonable.

added July 2007

Leanna,
I just found your website. I have been altering bridal dresses for several years now. There have been several times that brides have "outgrown" their gowns and needed altering. Seams could not be let out enough so I removed the zippers and created the lace-up closures.  It takes somewhere around 4-5 hours to do this. What do you think is a fair price to charge?

After reviewing your price page, I realize I have been undercharging by about 66% on everything that I do!

Vicki
Franklin KY

The 2 dresses I have pictured with lace-up backs were very different. One was quite easy (about 2 hours of work), while the other drove me nuts. I charged about $80 for each because it was a learning process. The next one that walks in the door will be at least $100, and I'm going to look at the inside of the gown much more closely before I quote a price. 
 
I usually gear my pricing on $30 an hour adding on for fussy fabric and complicated construction. This is the high end of typical for the city I am in. Some places couldn't handle that much and some places it would be low. There are many factors in pricing, including the skill level of the sewist. I don't like giving out my prices because the person asking might not have the same experience level of my business and is therefor not worth what I would charge. That said, most ladies who are sewing for profit are not charging anywhere near enough for their skills. Sewing is a skilled profession that needs to be respected just like pluming and carpentry. Those professions charge hourly rates that can make you cry.
 
No matter what level you are at, putting a price on your work is not easy. You want to be fare to your customer and also make a profit for yourself. When it doesn't work out that I make a profit, I chalk it up as a learning experience and move on to price that item better the next time I get one

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