“Will You Be My Bridesmaid?”

 Frocks, Style, Weddings  Comments Off on “Will You Be My Bridesmaid?”
Oct 122014

Also known as “Fifteen years of friendship down the drain…”

The bridesmaid thing.  Is it a blessing or a curse?  An opportunity to have a wonderful, friendship-sealing rite of passage with your closest friends/nearest and dearest or The Sweetest Revenge Opportunity Ever?

I get a lot of enquiries about bridesmaids’ dresses.  A lot.  Oh yes.  Most come from the bride to be and/or her mother.  Mostly they are nice and want something pretty but slightly unusual and ‘vintage-style’.  Something that isn’t prom/evening wear or in satin/chiffon/organza.   Mostly I am able to oblige them with exactly what they are wanting, even if they haven’t been able to quite put it into words.  Sometimes there is no way on this earth I am going to be able to work with either the bride or the mother and nothing I can do will actually make them happy.  That’s when my order book becomes over-full and fabric unavailable…   But usually I can help.

The thing with bridesmaids is that they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and outlooks.  It is an absolute minefield for the kind and caring bride to try to negotiate the terrain and keep each and every one of her attendants happy in a frock that will fit, suit, match the theme/colour scheme and not scare the vicar.  Enough to put you off getting married anywhere other than in secret with a couple of witnesses grabbed off the street.  (Regular readers will know that I had the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as attendants at my wedding.  Much easier and more fun.  And no, not a euphemism for various family members I detest, either!)

Of course, the majority of wedding consultations start out in a less than happy mood.  When there is more than one bridesmaid, they are invariably all worried about what is going to happen, what the others may want or not want and what they are likely to end up with.  They don’t want to upset the other bridesmaids and they certainly don’t want to upset the bride.  If I had a pound for every time I heard, “I’m just going to turn up and wear whatever you want me to wear,” uttered with a sigh, then I’d be smiling all the way to the bank.  Unfortunately, nobody ever coughs up that pound, nor does that sentence fill me – or the bride – with joy.  On the contrary, it’s when the feeling of Impending Doom deepens, blackens and threatens the swallow up the room and everyone in it.  Weddings should be joyful occasions and nobody wants a bridesmaid who is really unhappy with her frock or is there on sufferance.  Every female member of that wedding party should be wearing something that makes her want to dance.  Which is where I come in…

Happily, most of the people who come to see me about bridal stuff want “something different”; it’s quite rare for me to be confronted with “everything is to be traditional and done by the book”, which is probably my worst nightmare.  Weddings should be fun.  Have I said that already?  I’ll repeat it anyway.  Weddings should be fun.  And the participants should be comfortable.  To that end, I have a few styles that I know work very well for bridesmaid dresses.  The Leah and Diana styles (halter neck or cap sleeved, princess seamed, straight or sweetheart neckline) are the most obvious choices and very popular, especially as the bodices are shirred at the back, delivering excellent fit and the potential for devouring an extra slice of wedding cake in comfort.  Not everybody wants a halter neck, so the Diana gives a little more shoulder coverage.

Halterneck retro 50s style full skirted frock in yellow fabric with printed cherry pattern

Leah halter neck style, in yellow cherry print fabric.


Retro 50s style frock with cap sleeves in black fabric with bright pink roses

Diana full skirted style, with straight neckline (can also be done with sweetheart) and cap sleeves.

But then, there are always ladies who worry – probably more than they should – about their arms.  And tummies.  Hips.  Shoulders.  Oh, every bit of them.  At this point, I usually recommend a burkha.  When they’re over the shock of that and realise I’m joking, I point them in the direction of Verity, my pseudo-1940s style with the slight empire line and the full circle skirt.

Yesterday’s clients were a hoot.  Lovely ladies but not at all happy about the prospect of finding the perfect style to suit them all.  The dress they all – allegedly – wanted wasn’t going to work, as another dressmaker had already told them.  They said they “liked the style” of Diana but their faces clearly said, “Not that much…”  Sleeves were mentioned.   I waved to Verity and they all assumed an expression of horror.  Now, I know that poor Verity wasn’t on the best mannequin (Gladys, my lingerie model, who is difficult at the best of times, and is the mannequin on the right hand side in the following picture) and wasn’t sporting a petticoat, so probably didn’t look her most enticing.  But the reaction was hysterical.  “Oh, I don’t like that at all!” came from the bride.  Quickly followed by, “It makes me think of 1940s…”  Yes!  It’s supposed to!  “… Those things that cleaners wore.  Crossed over at the front.  Hideous.  Sorry.  I really don’t like it.”  Cracking description, albeit not how I see the frock.  Chief Bridesmaid was more succinct.  “Looks like a preg tent.”

Retro style frock in navy spot fabric with sleeves and crossover bodice

Verity in navy pin spot fabric.

At this point I did my best not to double up on the floor laughing.  I have never heard the expression “preg tent” before but I am certainly storing that one up for future usage.  Oh yes.

I’m not sure how Chief Bridesmaid was persuaded to don said “preg tent” but she was.  Petticoat was slipped over her head (she wasn’t going through the rigmarole of getting her kit off to try a cleaner’s overall!) and Verity followed.  Zipped up the back.  Expression changed.  She looked in the mirror and realised she looked fabulous.  She twirled.  She smiled.  Twirled a bit more and beamed. Everybody else beamed.  The bride was gobsmacked and changed her mind completely about the style.  All of a sudden, it ticked all the boxes.   The other bridesmaids did their best to try it on (wrong size, not their fault) and pronounced themselves equally enamoured.  And they all smiled.

Now all I have to do is source the perfect fabrics, because they’re all having the same design but different colours.  Very precise different colours.  Did they come armed with knowledge of the exact Pantones?  No.  Of course not.  (And, frankly, the day a bridal party does that is the day I run away screaming!)  But they are off to B&Q to arm themselves with those paint colour cards.  Easy.

Me?  I’m off fabric shopping, which I enjoy.  I’ll be looking for specifics when I rock up at the London Textile Fair in January, not just inspiration.  Excellent.

Meanwhile, the bridal party have the fun of deciding what colour petticoats (I’m recommending a pop of something vivid underneath their pastel frocks) and finding The Perfect Shoes.  The right style, colour and ones they can walk and dance in.  All day and night.

Now that we’ve settled on the style, I think I have the easier task…


May 252014
Leah wedding dress

The BBC website informed me this morning that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West married yesterday “at a fortress” in Florence.  At a fortress?  There’s romantic.  Lovely.  Mind you, I wouldn’t recognise either of them if they introduced themselves.  I’d have been mildly interested in pictures of frocks because, well, pictures of frocks interest me.  Especially if they are either incredibly beautiful or just jaw-droppingly over the top.  (BFGW, anyone?  Loved it.)  Alas, the BBC was not forthcoming in this respect, probably because there is a huge media deal with someone I’ve never heard of.  Ah well.

I do love weddings.  I go all gooey at the first mention of a wedding and hit with the urge to help in any way I possibly can.  Maybe I missed my vocation and should have become a wedding planner instead.  But then again, judging by my attitude to a lot of the ‘stuff’ that seems to be involved, maybe not.  I am constantly horrified at the amount of money people throw at a day – one day – which shouldn’t really be about money at all.  At one stage,  I was developing a theory around the fact that the more people spend on the wedding, the shorter the length of the marriage.  Sixteen thousand and four months was the case for one couple of my acquaintance.  That’s a grand for every week of their apparently not particularly happy married life.  Surely that can’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered good value?  Mr March and I managed the whole thing on less than a thousand.  That included my frock, his new jeans and shirt (2 pairs of jeans as they were on offer at the farmers’ merchants!), license, register office and reception at the local pub.  Oh, and wedding favour candles, which I made myself.  The cake was a present and we were driven – together – to the ceremony by some friends in their nice Mercedes, as they were going too.  With the Best Dog in the back.  The whole day was extremely informal and people were told that they were to wear whatever the heck they liked and felt comfortable wearing.  “My new girlfriend’s a goth and she’s a bit worried…”  Tell her to be herself and not to worry.  She’ll fit in perfectly.  She did.  And to this day (we’ve been married nearly 10 years) people are still wittering on about how much they enjoyed our wedding precisely because it was so completely unstuffy and relaxed.   And a little, er, “different”.  Apparently a “Best Dog” is unusual, and the Register Office had never witnessed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as bridal attendants before.  I think the staff enjoyed it as much as we did.

So why does everything to do with the “W” word seem to be so pricey?  I frequently hear people say, “Oh, it’s all a racket.”  Well, yes, I’m pretty certain some of it is.  But then it is imperative to factor in The Stress Factor.  For it’s almost always there.  I’ve yet to have somebody bounce into my shop or studio with a big smile and say, “I’m going to a wedding/getting married/the mother of the bride(groom)/being a bridesmaid!”  They either stomp or slink in and always with a visible cloud hanging over their countenance and eventually announce the fact, accompanied by a heavy sigh.

This is not the way it should be.  Weddings should be joyful occasions for all concerned.

But the truth is that they’re not.  Because the minute the “W” word comes into play, so many normally perfectly nice and sensible women turn rogue.  Not all of them but most.  And a Bridezilla (or Mother of Bridezilla) is a ghastly thing, turning the most joyful occasion into one of stress, hassle, fear and misery.  Most keenly felt by the dress designer and the bridesmaids.  Followed closely by the harpist.  (As a wedding harpist, I had a scale of charges which depended on who did the booking.  Venue was the cheapest, followed by the groom.  If the bride booked it, the price went up and if it was her mother, then it went up even further.  Brides’ mothers fuss, fuss, fuss about the choice of music and in actual fact, on the day neither she nor the bride will register anything that is played.  And provided the harpist’s frock doesn’t overshadow the bride and or clash with the bridesmaids, they’re both happy.   I also learned the hard way and tripled my price for “friends” of myself or my husband when we hadn’t heard a peep out of them for years but all of a sudden their daughter was getting married and wanted a harpist at her wedding.  Frankly, three hours of plinking with a late start as the bride was late, no break (ouch!) and one glass of poxy flat liquid surreptitiously handed over by a kind waiter was not my idea of a good gig for £100.)  But I digress…

Wedding dresses.  Yes, they’re expensive.  Go to a bridal shop and have a look.  Why do they cost so much?  You can find them on the internet from China for little more than the price of the postage!  Yeah, good luck with that.  You’ll need more than luck.

I saw a programme on the tellybox where Alex Polizzi was attempting to turn around the fortunes of a bridal shop.  She told them in no uncertain terms that there was no profit in stocking dresses that retailed at less than £700.  And, sadly, she was right.  Yes, you can find them for less but when you factor in the hours of time taken in assisting a client choose her dress and the fun and games involved with altering it to fit her when it arrives (“ready to wear?  I think not, baby puppy…) the profit margin goes right out the window.  Hence the price of most of those frocks.  The staff at the bridal store earn every penny, trust me.

So why do I charge more for a wedding dress in exactly the same style, just in white or ivory?  Well, I don’t.  Not in theory.  But nobody has a wedding dress in a plain white cotton, er, sheeting, do they?  No, they want poncey fabrics like silk  or satin…  Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore silk.  Silk dupion is my favourite fabric.  Favouritest favourite.  Toppiest top.  Love it.  But it’s expensive.  Several times the price of the cotton poplin that I normally use for my frocks.  So you have to take that into account.  Yes, there are synthetic versions.  No, I don’t use them.  Not only are they so ghastly to work with that I just plain refuse, they are not particularly nice to wear.  If you want to feel hot and sweaty on your special day, then choose a nice acetate satin and watch those stains spread.  Nice.  Plus, if you choose white or ivory, there’s all the extra fuss about keeping it pristine while it is worked and manipulated from flat fabric into three-dimensional masterpiece.  Do not underestimate the ‘fun’ of that part.

No, the traditional bridal gown is not a fun thing to produce, especially when the bride goes ‘zilla and fusses and frets over every single aspect of it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  My first bridal client was just lovely.  She came into the shop with her mum and sister and asked about wedding dresses.  I said that in theory I did them but they weren’t traditional and would be retro-style.  All three ladies looked around the shop and left.  Then they made an appointment to come back and talk about dresses properly.  She sent me pictures.  They kept the appointment and I prepared myself to make a fifties-style halterneck in white.  When I asked about fabric, the lovely Leah pointed at the sample of emerald green silk dupion I’d shown her purely to show the fabric type as I didn’t have a sample in white and said, “That.”  Okay, what colour?  “That!”  Really?  Things were looking up.  “With an electric blue petticoat, edges bound in satin.”  Yesssss.

Leah wedding dress


So that’s what we did and she looked stunning.  She was also the easiest to work with, not batting an eyelid when I said the dress would be ready two days before the wedding.  (When a bride says she “might lose some weight”, alarm bells ring.  Once that frock is made and fitted, it’s not being altered again so it goes out at the last possible minute to prevent the need.)  Leah’s sister also had a dress made by me for the occasion and she was a delight to work with, too.  If only they were all that easy!  Actually, that’s not quite fair.  When someone picks me to make their frock and I agree to make it, we usually have a pretty good understanding of how the relationship will pan out.  We will choose a design, I will make it.  If we can’t agree on a design or I get an inkling that they are going to become a Bridezilla, then the price will rise to a level at which point they will make the good decision to go and bother someone else.  And if they still decide to stay with me, then at least I’ll be recompensed for the amount of hours and grey hair incurred.

Incidentally, the green fabric that attracted Leah wasn’t the one used for her wedding dress, as the original was shot with black and her petticoat was blue.  I found just the right shade of green shot with blue for her and was ecstatic over the effect for days.  In fact, I still have a small piece of the fabric somewhere and it makes me smile when I look at it.  The first length of silk languished in my Guilty Fabric Stash until a young lady came to me for a prom dress.  It’s currently a work in progress but this is what I do with silk dupion.  And dotted silk tulle.  If I must.  You’ll have to wait for a future blog to see the finished thing on the lady in question but I think I can guarantee it will be worth the wait.

Zoe prom dress wip


Wedding dresses in silk dupion start at £695.  Take that, Alex Polizzi…