There are many terms bandied about in the wedding industry designed to both ease the pain and add to the excitement as we part with our cash. ‘Bespoke’, ‘Couture made’ and ‘Designer dress’ are three of the most common.
Most of us probably have a fairly good idea as to what they mean, but taking a look at what they do not mean will help us to arrive at a more accurate definition.
There are not many bridal shops that do not use the term ‘designer’ somewhere in the description of the dress they are presenting to us. All things we use in this life have a designer. Even a paper coffee cup had to be designed by someone. Try convincing the average buyer that the paper cup is a ‘designer’ cup worth ten times more than an ordinary paper cup and you might have some problems.
Yet effectively that is exactly what is happening in the case of many of the ‘designer’ labels we see in our high streets as well as the designer wedding dresses we first spoke about. Mass-produced dresses made (and often designed) in the Far East are being presented to us in this way. I don’t know about you, but this to me, seems to weaken the whole ‘designer dress’ ethos. Why pay more if it’s nothing but a mass-produced clone?
So what makes for a true ‘designer dress’?
Firstly, there has to be an exclusive element to the design. Admittedly high prices are in themselves a way of making a dress more exclusive, but there has to be more to it than that.
What about the dresses that grace the Hollywood red carpets and the latest catwalk shows? What makes them a designer dress?
The answer to that is individuality. Most of these dresses have been drawn by a designer and then made by a small, elite team of seamstresses, who are working the movie star or model’s actual measurements.
This is often a ‘bespoke’ dress in the true meaning of the word i.e. a ‘one off’ garment made for the individual.
The word ‘couture’ has in recent years come to mean a garment that is made to an accepted high standard by a skilled designer and sewing team. Originally the term could only be used in certain regions of France. Even today the term ‘Haute Couture’ can only be used when referring to ten current fashion houses based in Paris and three other correspondent fashion houses.
Is it possible to buy true bespoke, couture made designer wedding dresses in the UK? Yes of course, but you have to look for them. Many designers have to a certain extent ‘sold out’ to the enormous wedding dress factories based in China, and who can blame them?
In the wedding trade it is quite usual for a wedding dress ‘designer’ to walk in to a Chinese design room, choose from a range of fabrics, bodice patterns, embroidery styles, sizes required and then effectively leave them to it. The factory under-write the fabric required for a reasonable run of dresses and label them for the ‘designer’.
In fairness to the Chinese manufacturers, the quality is often excellent, but in the fullest meaning of the term ‘couture’ they do not qualify and you will normally have a dress ordered roughly in your dress size that will then be altered to fit you. They certainly are not ‘bespoke’ dresses.
To be sure that you are truly purchasing a couture made, bespoke wedding dress, even by a respected designer, it is best to ask whether it will be made in the designer’s own premises.
You should expect to visit the shop or design studio on more than one occasion, as it is customary to be measured for a toile (calico mock-up) of the dress to ensure a perfect fit. At least another two or three visits will be necessary.
Generally (though not always) if a dress is ready-made when you arrive for your very first fitting, it is not, repeat not a bespoke dress.
If you choose an existing style and ask for it in your size, it may be a couture-made, made to measure dress, but it is not a bespoke dress.
In conclusion, probably the simplest way to express the type of wedding dresses that are available to the UK bride is to sum up the three basic groups: Ready to wear wedding dresses (off the peg), made to measure wedding dresses (often altered to your size from an existing style), and bespoke wedding dresses (these are unique dresses made to fit you perfectly).
When all is said and done, the most important thing is that you are happy with the dress you choose, just be aware that some bridal shops are claiming their dresses to be something that they are not.