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Wedding Dress Shopping Overview

Within the bridal industry we have shop bought off the peg, made to order with varying degrees of skill & of course hiring.

Off the peg:

these are branded factory made dresses in standard sizes in low, mid & high ranges that shops 'alter to fit'. Sometimes, manufacturers will cut & splice two different designs together, that are made to standard size & then altered to fit by the shop where they are bought. Indeed the high ranges are sometimes referred to as 'couture'. If a shop uses the term 'couture' when referring to a range or service, ask them what they mean by this? If it is couture fittings are part of a couture service & should not cost extra, unless it is the bride's fault (last minute weight loss, after a final fit for instance). Off the peg dresses normally come with additional costs: alterations, storage & hiring or buying of underskirts & may also require purchasing the right underwear.

*In this day & age, it is hard to discern from company advertising & browsing websites, who the real Couturiers are from the manufacturers with their factory made dresses & misleading 'Couture' labels; used to infer their product is premium but rarely does it meet the couture definition & these misuses are damaging the real meaning & understanding of 'couture'.


Made to order:

is anything that is made to order & to your measurements. From a dressmaker that can do basic dress making & work from a pattern to dress makers & costumiers with varying degrees of proficiency, all the way up to Couture Designers like Chantal; with design training, years of experience & haute couture dressmaking skills. 

Dressmaker's skills do vary enormously & really, the only way to know, is to ask to see examples of their work. Going with this option for your own or bridesmaids dresses will probably involve sticking to simple designs & paying retail for materials, which you may have to supply. A trained costumier will have better dressmaking skills & their prices will reflect this.

Couture Designers often specialise in certain styles & are at the top end of the bridalwear scale. You will find these couturiers creating their gowns in studios with a showroom or boutique or two, working either individually or as small teams. And surprisingly, the price you pay, depending on which designer, couturier or brand you chose can differ little between 'off the peg' & 'couture', so it is well worth your consideration if you have a budget in excess of £1500.


The best bridalwear couturiers in the world, & Chantal is naturally among them, are in the same league as haute couture fashion houses like Chanel & Dior. They have access to the same materials & possess equal design skills, an eye for fit & couture sewing skills & equisite hand finishing to those of the teams in these famous fashion houses. The only difference is that most bridal couturiers do not have the same level of brand awareness or the backing of a multinational luxury goods conglomerates that fashion houses like Dior have.

Haute Couture:

Haute Couture & Couture are essentially the same in terms of standard. In France the term 'Haute Couture' is protected legally and is defined by the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Paris, based in Paris, France. You have to meet their criteria & be awarded the honour & they only have a handful of members inc. Valentino, Chanel & Dior.

Taken from wikipedia:

The criteria for haute couture were established in 1945 and updated in 1992. To earn the right to call itself a couture house and to use the term haute couture in its advertising and any other way, members of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture must follow these rules:

Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time.
Must have twenty, full-time technical people in at least one workshop (atelier).
Every season, present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public, both day and evening garments, in January and July of each year.

Hiring, Once Worn & off the internet:

Hiring: There are companies that do hire out bridal gowns & even high end designers like Vera Wang. Hire costs are less than to buy, but you sacrifice fit, if you are not a standard size & choice.

Once Worn: Is another option & there will be gowns out there to buy at all price points. Tip: Check the dress hasn't been altered if you are looking for a specific size that you know should fit.

Off the internet: There are many horror stories. I've certainly seen designer's images attached to Ebay auctions for £12 dresses that you know can not possibly look like the photo of the designer item. With these it's buyer beware & there is no recourse. A case of it it looks to good to be true, it probably is.

If budget is an issue, look at hiring or once worn, or look at evening wear ranges, especially for bridesmaids. I always suggest Christmas & the sales that follow are a great time to pick up bridesmaids gowns from party ranges & evening shoes with lots of sparkle that make great wedding shoes.