How to Choose the Best Wedding Dress for YOU

This is the PowerPoint presentation I used for the workshop I gave at the February 22, 2014 Tie-the-Knot wedding show at Ottawa’s Museum of Nature. It was a great show. If you missed my workshop, here are the key points to consider when choosing the best dress for you. It was a great show with many great vendors. Coffee With Friends served brides and grooms up yummy lattes, Edible Sins provided delicious goodies… Ashton Station Bridal and Stephanie Davis Designs gowns circulated through the lovely Museum of Nature venue in roaming fashion shows. There were gorgeous things to look at all around!


Finding your Dream Wedding Gown

Today was the wonderful Ottawa Bridal Party Show. It was quite the event! Brides walked in and walked past the sweet-voiced singer/pianist performing in the entrance only to arrive at the bar where they could partake of a glass of wine. This, after being given a swag bag full of goodies. The show had a wonderful intimate atmosphere lacking from the big wedding shows I’ve participated in in the past. I had the opportunity to be part of a panel on wedding day fashion, alongside Luigi from Ashton Station Bridal and Dana from With Love Bridal Boutique. Here are my two cents on choosing the most fabulous item of clothing you may ever wear…

 Who should I bring with me when trying on gowns?

One or two people is ideal. Your mom and maid of honour would be a good choice. This also depends on where you’re shopping. When you meet with a custom designer like me, you can’t really huddle a whole group of people around a sketchbook throwing out all their ideas. Have them come in installments to various fittings. If you’re getting your dress custom-made, you’ll have several opportunities to bring Grandma or Aunt Sue.

  1. Can I make changes to the style of a dress?

Since I create custom gowns, the changes happen throughout the process. I start by making a muslin mock-up of the style we’ve agreed upon together and sketched. The bride tries on the muslin and we adjust both fit and style. We may go through this process with several muslins depending on how we feel about that first mock-up. I can make any number of changes throughout the mock-up phase, but if the bride changes her mind entirely forcing me to make a whole new pattern, that will incur additional costs. Once the dress is cut in the real fabric, some changes can still happen, but you’re more limited. That’s when custom becomes a little more like buying a dress from a boutique.

  1. What are my options other than strapless?

There are so many other options!! Everyone jumps to strapless these days. People have it in their heads that strapless = wedding. I disagree. If you suit a strapless, great. They can be lovely, but for many brides, there is a more flattering style out there. V-neck, sweetheart, crewneck, asymmetrical… The fun thing with custom design is that we can start with a square neck and end up cutting the muslin in a fitting to become a sweetheart neckline.

  1. How far in advance do I need to order my dress?

When you’re having a dress custom-made, there is a bit more play than when you’re ordering from a boutique. It all depends on how busy I am at the time. If I don’t have too many jobs going, I can produce a gown within a short period of time. However, if your wedding is during typical wedding season (summer/early fall) it’s best to get started with me six to nine months in advance. If you don’t tend to fluctuate too dramatically in size, come up to a year before the big day. It’s always a good idea to start early and have the dress checked off your list!

  1. Should I decide on my dress budget before shopping for my dress?

YES!! Please decide on a budget. With custom design, if you give me an amount to work with, there’s lots I can do within even a minimal budget. I’ve scared off many brides who come in not wanting to give me a budget. They show me a picture of a really elaborate dress, I give them a somewhat elaborate estimate and they say thanks, but no thanks. The thing is, if they tell me I have X amount to work with, I can rework the design and suggest ways to lower the cost while maintaining the look that the bride loves.

  1. Should I do some homework on each store before shopping there or just try them all?

Definitely. Word-of-mouth is always good to listen to. I’d say that 75% of my business comes from referrals.

  1. Is there a universally flattering style of gown?

V neck and A-line are the most flattering to the largest number of women. Despite the popularity of strapless gowns, this style DOES NOT suit everyone. If you have very broad shoulders, don’t go strapless unless you are very proud of your shoulders and want to show them off. If you are very large-breasted, don’t go strapless. If you REALLY want to, please ask that extra fabric be made into a wide strap that can be snapped in when your dress starts to expand a little from the heat/sweat/excitement. There are many gorgeous styles of straps to choose from. Adding a strap doesn’t mean ruining your dress. Particularly if the alternative is looking like you’re about to topple out of it!

  1. Should you opt for a “wild” style of gown (i.e. outrageous in either colour, style, size etc.?

Is your personality a little wild? Do you enjoy standing out? If so, this could be the look for you! Just remember your body type and vision for the wedding as a whole. If you are petite, you may not want an enormous dress that swallows you up. Don’t go for a red gown if red isn’t really your colour. Many dresses are available or can be made in a variety of different colours. Choose one that flatters you. Please, don’t choose to stand out in every area. Pick one! Do you want a more streamlined gown in a flashy colour or maybe a huge elaborate gown in a classic ivory? Don’t go for pouf, excessive detail AND a bright colour. Nobody will look at you, just your dress! Wild gowns were made for a custom designer. I’m only limited by my imagination and that of my bride when designing the gown.

  1. How do you decide what style of gown to recommend to a bride?

When you google “how to choose the perfect wedding dress (I just did) you get a whole lot about body types. Strapless gowns tend to work well on smaller frames and those with nice shoulders. V-necks are great for slimming broad frames and enabling you to wear a supportive bra if you’re busty. A-lines are good for pretty much everyone. Basically, you want to highlight your best features.

Your body type is definitely important, but of almost equal importance is your personal style and the style of your wedding. You should look like yourself on your wedding day; just your best ever self! I’ve seen too many brides walk down the aisle and I look around wondering where that girl I know is. You can look shockingly better than you do on a normal day, but don’t choose something wild and crazy if you’re actually very shy and unassuming. Try a stunningly elegant sheath or A-line. You want to be noticed as the bride, but don’t try to be someone you’re not. You’ll just feel uncomfortable and that will do nothing but diminish your beauty. The goal is to choose something you won’t want to take off. If a bride wishes she could wear her dress around the house doing laundry, I know I’ve done my job well!

Your Wedding Day – Theatre for the Non-Performer (and how I became a wedding gown designer)

After talking with fellow members of Ottawa’s wedding industry last night at Mill St Brewery, I finally realized exactly what I love so much about being involved in a couple’s big day. Back in 1997, when looking through the McGill course list, I read the words: ENGL 365 Costuming for the Theatre. I had always loved fashion and sewing so I thought it sounded like fun. I went for my admittance interview with the wonderful Catherine Bradley, who taught the course and that was it. I instantly fell in love with all things costume and theatre. I’ve done a fair bit of work in costume over the years, but then fell, somewhat unexpectedly, into weddings. After having made a few dresses for friends, then myself and creating all sorts of creative touches for my own wedding and others, I decided to make a business of it.

Working in theatre, you get a thrill creating gorgeous costumes for the actors and when it’s show time, you stand on the sidelines and watch as the crowd appreciates the amazing spectacle you helped to create. Unless you’re an actor, a wedding is your only opportunity to get dressed up in an elaborate costume, have everyone oooh and ahh over how amazing you look and have your stage set perfectly to showcase you and your co-star. The rush I get from being a part of a client’s vision for their special day is just amazing… and very like the feeling I’ve always gotten working in theatre.

Having fun with bride during final fitting

I still follow a bit of the “theatre” (some would say “non-fashion industry”) way of working. I use safety pins in fittings (straight pins just fall out and drive me crazy – how much was I supposed to take that in by again??) I have multiple fittings if necessary, doing mock-ups out of muslin until I get it right and before I go near the real fabric. The main difference is that in theatre, the costume designer calls the shots design-wise. If you’re the bride, you’re my co-designer. We look at pictures together to decide what you like, I make suggestions if I think certain cuts would flatter you and then design your dream dress. If I can use my creativity and experience to create more special touches throughout a wedding, I’m that much more thrilled. Using a funky retro-inspired fabric to tie the ring-bearer pillow in with the groom’s pocket square feels like the wedding version of having characters in a play wear bits of the same fabric or colour. Incorporating little touches like a treasured family locket or the fabric from a beloved grandfather’s necktie into a wedding is not unlike what’s done in theatre as well. There is often a deeper meaning behind a prop that an actor carries in a play.

Pocket squareRing-bearer's pillow

I had been thinking that I really strayed from my costume roots, but I’m happy to realize that I really haven’t. The production might not be Shakespeare, but if I’ve done my job right, it’ll be remembered by everyone in the audience.

Belated Happy New Year…

Well, as with everything I do these days, I am exceedingly slow at kicking the new year of with a blog post! Ah, well. There has been lots of change in my life recently. Our move to a new city and province (Ottawa, Ontario) has basically taken over. It’s amazing how much there is to do when you move, particularly when you have school-age children. I think I’m nearing the end of the bureaucratic hoops I’ve had to jump through in order to get new insurance, health cards, licenses, plates and registration, to name a few. This means that I am running a little low on excuses… so, back to work!

My new workshop is, shall we say… more compact than my last one. The good news is that it has forced me to get rid of a whole lot of unnecessary clutter. It’s truly astonishing how much you can accumulate throughout the years! Even with all the tossing and recycling I’ve done though, I really need to get to work creating. I have many many sample wedding gowns to ‘upcycle’ as well as a huge pile of reclaimed fabric to turn into my La Gaillarde spring collection.

This school year will be the last of my years with small children under foot as I try to get work done. I find it amazing to see all these little four-year-olds getting on buses for pre-kindergarten, something that is new to me, since there are very few full-day pre-k’s in Quebec. Next September, W will be on-board one of those buses! I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that, but I am definitely ready to have my days free of distractions from my work. I look forward to increasing production and searching out new clients. Plus, who knows if I might manage more regular blog posting! In any case, 2012 is a year of new adventures and change in my life and the life of Stephanie Davis Designs. I have a new city of potential clients to design for, while still making frequent trips to meet my Montreal clients and make deliveries. Happy 2012 (a month late) to all of you. My business resolution is to post more often and finally update my portfolio, so stay tuned!