Troublesome Gowns


added March 2010

Hi Leanna,
Thanks for your helpful site!  I bought your bustling video and it was helpful. I have a gown I am altering for a bride that she bought "previously loved". The dress is a size 10 and she wears a size 4.  It has spaghetti straps and no internal structure.  She wants it to be strapless.  It is overlaid with a stretchy net with lace and sequins worked in patterns, mostly over the bodice.  The foundation is a light silky satin and it has a very lightweight lining material attached only at the sweetheart neckline and along the zipper.  The overlay is tacked at the neckline, but otherwise unattached.

Question:  The boutique salewoman assured the bride that the alterationist (me) could "sew a corset into it".  wow.  At first I said, "what?".  But as I realized that she wanted the straps removed and that the dress needed to be able to stand up by itself, I knew I would have to add bones to hold it up. It is a "shift" dress, no waist seams of any kind.  The princess darts and rear darts end just below the waistline in only the satin and lining, but not in the lace overlay.  There is no stiffener in any layer to add body to it. I have slept on this and want to know your opinion.  After altering it from a 10 to a 4 (by pinning it on the bride to fit - remove up to 5" at top), I could add boning to the lining layer attaching it to the dart seams, front and back, and to the side seams.  I might also add horsehair braid along the top edge from the princess dart through the underarm seam and ending at the back dart to add body to the top edge.  Should I also iron in some interfacing on the lining?  Do you have any other suggestions? What do you think?
Thanks for your time.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi Connie,
Wow, this is a big job. I like your idea of ironing in some interfacing. It might not be easy to get the iron in there to get a good seal. Have you done this before?
If the princess darts aren't full seams, than you need to extend the boning to the neckline as if the seam was there. You sometimes need to use 2 strips of boning for good support.
I have occasionally sewn in a corset type bra to give support for this type of gown. Its hard to find a bra designed right for the situation but if you can it's a good solution and saves you a lot of fuss. 

added August 2003

Hello Leanna;
I wrote to you a few weeks ago asking for advice. I have a wedding that I am making bridesmaid dresses for 6 ladies, and two of them are pregnant. Well.... make that three... I got another phone call from one girl who had just had her final fitting two days before finding out that she was expecting.

The reason I am emailing you today is that I had a bride bring me a gown this weekend. She only had the dress on for a few minutes when I lifted the train to see what I was in for when it came to bustling it... to both of our horrifying surprise, the entire underside of the train was absolutely filthy. Not just dusty, or "tried on"... it looked like it had been drug across a parking lot after the rain. UGH!!!

I asked her if she had purchased the dress as new, and she assured me that it was. Upon further inspection, I found that this was not the only "soiled" area on the gown. The more I looked the more I found... everything from make-up on the inside of the bodice to black greasy smears on the ends of the satin ties that lace up the back. I have never seen such a mess.

Of course the bride and her mother were devastated. So was I. I have altered many gowns from second hand shops, yard sales, bargain basements, and never have I seen such filth.

The dress was purchased new at a so called Bridal Shop which boasts of their three floors of immaculate Bridal Gowns and the most excellent customer service, blah blah blah...

First thing monday morning the bride called the shop to see what the deal was. She thought she was purchasing a new gown, what was the deal? She drove nearly three hours to this shop, and when she found the dress it was perfect... she never dreamed it would become such a nightmare.

She was told that because she paid cash for the dress the day of the sale... cash and carry... that the store wasn't responsible for having the dress cleaned. Had she put a deposit on the dress and came back later, they would have cleaned and pressed it for her for free.

All they would offer her is a voucher for her gas to drive the dress back down there and they would clean it.

To me, this is ridiculous. We are talking a lot of time, driving three hours one way... and then having to go back to get it when it was clean. They told me, that this is common. They have no control over how dirty the dresses get from patrons trying them on, and that it was "Normal".
To me, this much filth is NOT normal... I have seen gowns looking better AFTER the reception, than this dress looks coming straight from the store. I would be embarrassed to allow anyone to try such a thing on... let alone actually let them walk out the door with it, cash and carry or not.

She called a few different cleaners in the area, no one will touch it. I have offered to do what I can to get it clean, but I cant make any promises... I don't even want to touch it in the condition it is in. The bridal shop says it will come clean by handwashing and spot cleaning with Tide.

My point is... how can they call this a new dress... NO WAY.

The bride is so upset, and having medical problems(stress induced) and cant take time off work to take the dress all the way back to them for cleaning.

What do you think... Have you ever ran into this?

Thanks again...

No, I have had dirty gowns but the bride knew what she was buying and had the cleaning in the plans already. My first question is, Didn't she look at the dress before she took it from the store? If it was as filthy as you say she should have noticed something when she picked it up. And if the store had it wrapped for her "easy pick-up" she should have smelled something rotten going on. Sorry to say, but stores do do this kind of thing. It is also possible that your bride is not being totally honest to you. I find it odd that she drove 3 hours to pick up her special gown, paid for it, did not inspect it and drove home.

Bottom line is this is her problem, not yours. You do care for your customers in a professional way, but you can't let it get to you. Sure you want to be more than a robot sewing on their gowns, but you need to keep perspective too. Professionalism is often a fine line that is very hard to define. The gown has obviously been used. Whether the store let it be used and then sold it as new is probably never going to be admitted and they don't have to either. Your bride was either too trusting or just naive about bridal store policies. Unfortunately, they win. Since she paid cash she doesn't have the option of issuing a chargeback through her credit card company. She can report them to the Better Business Bureau, or sue them, but neither is going to help her get ready for her special day.

The only option I see for you is to wash the dress by hand. It's not easy because it's nerve racking, but if you can't find a cleaners who will take on the job there's not much else you can do. Simply put it in the bath tub and soak it in a mild cleaner like Orvis. Many Antique companies us this brand to clean vintage items that are very fragile. I am attaching a discussion I saved from my professional message board some time ago. It's about home cleaning products you can mix yourself. It may be of some help. You should be able to get most of the grime off this way. I would not rub the gown with any vigor. Maybe a little gentile swishing at the most stained areas, but not anything harder. The hardest part will be the drying. I would just hag it to drip dry for a day or 2.

It's hard to say any more without knowing the type of fabric and seeing the dress. I hope this helps.

added November 2002

I'm wondering if you'd be able to point me in the right direction. I have a bridesmaid's gown that I need to alter, let out about 2 inches, in the hip area. There is no let out room (fabric) on the side seams but there is a small detachable train that I could possibly snatch some fabric from. Where/what is the best way to attack this? Any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated.

Thank you LaTonya

My, what a job you have to tackle!
Well, first you need to determine how much fabric you need to make the pieces to put into the side seams. Than figure out where you can get that size piece out of the train. In your figures, remember that you have to include seam allowances, consider grain. You can't just cut any piece any which way. For one thing, a bias piece would not make a good working side panel. A piece of satin going the opposite way from the grain of the bodice will look like a totally different color.

There's not much more specific advice I can offer not knowing what the dress looks like or how it and the train are constructed. I generally do my best to seek other alternatives to this solution. Putting small pieces into side seams always ends up looking awkward in my opinion. If the piece is 4" or wider it tends to look more like it was meant to be there, but 2" just plain looks bad. The only way around it is if you can put some type of decoration over the piecing, like lace on a wedding gown. Since this is a bride's maid, I doubt you have that option.

Good luck with however you decide to tackle it.


Got any questions or comments?

Bridal Advice SSI
Bridal Index | Bridal Shopping Rules | More Shopping Rules | Bride's Maid Shopping Rules | Strapless Gown 101 | Store Policies | My Policies | Bridal Fittings | Alteration Cost | Bustles | Impossible? | Bride & Salon Advice | General Q & A | Bustle Q & A | Bridal Related Links | Bridal Business Studio

Bridal Advice SSI
Bridal Business Studio | Troublesome Gowns | Troublesome Brides | Troublesome Maids | Troublesome Moms and Other Family Members | Starting New Bridal Business | Rush Jobs | Amazing Stories | Pricing Bridal Alterations | Bridal Business Policies | Fitting Do's and Don't's | Instructional DVD's Beautiful Bustles | Advice to Brides and Salon Workers | Business Resources
Main SSI

Got any questions or comments?

Duct Tape Double The Sewing Studio The Bridal Studio

This site created and maintained by: Leanna Studios
Copyright 1994 by Leanna Studios. All Rights Reserved.