Hanging Wedding Dress

Brookelyn Photography

Couturier, dressmaker, off the peg - there's more to choosing your dress than meets the eye.

Aaah the wedding dress. For most brides choosing it is one of the most challenging but thrilling aspects of planning the big day. The question is: who is going to make it?

You see besides deciding whether you’re after something convention, something slinky, something embellished, to veil or not to veil and all of the other critical choices involved in creating your outfit, you’ll need to work out whether you’re buying couture, employing a dressmaker or purchasing off the rack.

To be honest it’s possible that all three could make a version of a very similar dress, but the similarities may be superficial – but there’s nothing wrong with planning to “fake it until you make it” either!

For many brides the choice will come down to budget, with couture designed (and handmade) dresses obviously attracting a significantly higher price point than the creation by a local dressmaker or a gown you may find in a bridal boutique stocking a range of labels.
The choice may also come down to how much you’re willing to pay for a dress. Just because you can afford an original couture gown doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily want to commit that amount to a dress you’ll only wear once. Having said that, for some brides there’s not such thing as a price too high for the dress of their dreams.

Hanging Wedding Dress

Bryon Loves Fawn

Some brides are lucky enough to find that dress of their dreams ready made in a boutique with only a few minor alterations necessary to ensure the perfect fit. If you fit into this category – enjoy it – you’ll look fabulous and probably have some extra in the kitty to spend on shoes!

And remember that a good dressmaker is a popular alternative if your budget doesn’t stretch to couture but you can’t find what you’re after on a hanger. 

To some extent the difference between dressmaking and couture is an issue of semantics since dressmaking refers to the more technical side of garment making while couture leans to the creative design.

To allay any confusion, here’s a brief outline of the key differences between couture, dressmaker and off-the-peg creations.


Couture' is the French word for 'sewing'. Essentially, with a couture gown the only limit to the look is your imagination (and your finances). Couture dresses often use the finite fabrics and feature extensive beading, embroidery, embellishment and other handcrafted techniques. 

Couture creations are one-of-a-kind and custom-fitted and typically involve many, many hours of detailed hand-finishing which means they should be so well-crafted they could be worn inside out! It’s a little bit of a case of “how long is a piece of string?” but couture gowns will generally take several weeks to several months of full-time work to produce – hence the price tag.

Couture wedding dresses

Marianne Taylor Photography


Dressmaking, put simply, is the craft of making dresses. It is a skilled trade which usually involves making a gown from a standard pattern which can be changed to a limited extend, but can of course be adjusted for size.

Some people believe nothing can reproduce the 'fits like a glove' quality of couture gowns, however, there are plenty of popular dressmakers out there who disagree, with many blissfully happy brides to back them up.  Fabric specialists like d'Italia offer dressmaking services and use only the finest of bridal fabrics.

Buying Off The Rack

Buying a dress “off the peg” is fairly self-explanatory. These are the dresses you’ll find in boutiques which usually stock a wide range of designs in standard sizes. Buying a dress off the rack has many advantages – you can try on a range of dresses, you’ll pay significantly less than a couture creation and if you’re a standard size you should achieve a great fit. Many “off the peg” dresses are beautifully embellished but unlike couture gowns, any adornments will have been mass-produced rather than handmade.

Sometimes you’ll find “made to measure” dresses which have been drafted to a standard design and are then adjusted to fit (within certain limits), achieving more of a custom fit for a fraction of the price of an original personalised design.

Couture designers such as Rhonda Hemmingway, Luci Dibella and Nicole Michelle Couture usually offer ranges of "Off the peg" wedding dresses from well known international designers, such as Elie Saab, Oscar De La Renta, Vera Wang and Pronovias.

The i-do wedding dress directory includes wedding boutiques, couturiers, dressmakers and wedding fabric specialists. Happy hunting!!

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