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How to Get Your Dream Dress on a Budget: Tips and Tricks from a Dressmaker

I don't know of you've noticed, but our economy is not doing too great.

...just kidding I know you have. I think we are all feeling the effects of the economy. I also know that custom made dresses are a total luxury at a time like this. Not everybody has the luxury of thousands of rands for a custom Matric dance, wedding or bridesmaid dress.

It breaks my heart when potential clients come to us with their dream dress and a budget (which would've been reasonable 3 years ago), and we have to turn them away. But the truth of the matter is that everything has gotten more expensive...and I'm not just talking about our labour costs, but things like fabric and trimmings prices also.

We try our very best to work within your budgets, but sometimes it's just not possible. I know a lot of people think the price consists of the fabric price plus a little extra for the labour, and that is very basically true, but there is a lot more that goes into the labour part than most think. That's why I thought I would like to show you how our pricing structure works and then I'll share a few tips on how you can make your idea fit into your budget.

Let's use a Matric dance dress as an example

  1. First we start with a base price. We have 9 different categories for this, which all depend on the style and event the dress is for. This base price is what the labour, of a very simple A-line dress without any details, like a slit or trail, will be. This base price is worked out according to the amount of hours the pattern construction will take, how long it will take to go buy the fabric and to cut the fabric, how many hours of garment construction is necessary plus a little extra time for alterations. It also includes the overheads to run the business so that we can give you the best service possible ;)

  2. Secondly we look at the extra details needed to create your unique dress. What looks simple to you, usually has a bit more work than you'd think. Things like the gathers of the skirt above, the silver beading that is hand sewn onto the bodice, the double strap that goes into a lace-up at the back. All of this adds extra hours of labour, and so we charge extra for every additional detail. It ranges from R18 to R300 per detail. The average is R40 for a detail, and the most expensive and rarest is R300; that is for hand sewn details like lace or beads, which can take up to 7 hours of extra work.

  3. After that we work out an approximate price for the fabric which would be needed for the dress

  4. Lastly we add a percentage for our profit. Our profit margins aren't large, but we are a business after all and the aim of a business is to make a profit so that we can grow.

Now that you know how our pricing structure works, here are a few tips for changing a few details on the dress you have in mind to suit your budget:

1. Draping

Draping is expensive. It is more labour intensive than a more structured dress and it needs more fabric to create that volume. If your dress has a lot of draping, maybe scale it down a bit. Have only one or two sections that are draped, or if you have draping together with other details (like this dress that has the draping, a slit and an asymmetric design) maybe consider keeping only the draping detail.

2. Fabric

Photo by Maria Tyutina:

Your choice of fabric can greatly affect the price of your dress. Here I would advise you to listen to your designer and the alternatives they offer. Fabrics like lace, sequins and organza tend to be more expensive, so if you are on a very limited budget stay away from those, or opt for a simpler design and let the fabric be the hero of the dress.

The actual price of the fabric is not the only thing that will affect the price of your dress, but also how difficult it is to work with. Organza for example is both expensive and difficult to work with, which means more hours of labour, which result in a higher price. Chiffon is the same; it's not easy to work with. I often suggest to use mesh instead of chiffon, especially for bridesmaids, because it has the same texture and flow as chiffon, except it's easier to work with and generally less expensive to buy.

3. Hand Appliquéd Lace Detailing/Beading

Photo by Liza Grace Photography

This detail is the most expensive, because it is the most time consuming and labour intensive. There is really no alternative we can give if you really want lace, except to go for a full lace bodice (using the lace as it is) and leave the rest of the scattered lace. Rather opt for a nice little belt to round it off properly.

4. Use Less Fabric

As I've established earlier, fabric makes up a big part of the price of your dress. This dress may look like it used a lot of fabric, but it doesn't. Sure, it uses more than a basic A-line or even a flared A-line, but pleats like the ones used for this skirt help to create a little volume without needing to use meters and meters of fabric. There are different ways to scale down on the fabric that is needed. The key is just to listen to your designer and keep and open mind.

5. Corsets

Corsets are beautiful and very much on trend this year, but they are more expensive tom make. There is a lot more construction, extra elements like boning, and fittings involved in making one. If you want a corseted dress make that the focus of your design. Keep the rest of the dress simple.


One of the greatest things of having a dress custom made is that it's...customisable. You can change it to suit your needs. All you have to do is listen to your designer and keep an open mind. If the quote given to you is above your budget. Don't give up. Go for the consultation and discuss your budget with them, and let them know which details you are willing to budge on and which ones you're not. Together you will come up with a design that is perfect for you and your budget.

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