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Article by: Pat Giuliano

Shopping for your wedding gown should be an enjoyable and fun experience. But for many girls, it can be quite daunting. There are a myriad of designers and retail bridal shops to choose from, not to mention an endless range of wedding gown designs. Couture, the made to measure option, has alluring advantages, and yet for some, off-the-rack has its appeal also. There are quite significant differences between the two, though, and knowing these differences will help you to make an informed decision.

The first major difference between couture and off-the-rack is obvious – couture is made to measure, while off-the-rack is mass-produced. Many girls prefer the off-the-rack option, basically because you can try it on, and if all is well, you can buy it and walk out the door, end of story. So it certainly can be quite simple, once you have found the gown you love. Having your gown made to measure, though, means it will be made individually for you. This involves a great deal more than the off-the-rack option. The process of having a couture gown made begins with a consultation, followed by a series of fittings, and finally picking up the finished gown.

The next important difference between couture and off-the-rack is fit. An off-the-rack dress will simply not fit you the way a made to measure gown will. Off-the-rack dresses are made to standard sizes, and while they may fit reasonably well if you are within the standard size range, they can only offer an “average” fit. The couture gown, however, will be made exclusively to fit your curves and shape, thus ensuring the best possible fit. In fact, fit is an art in itself, and skilled couturiers (that is, designers) pride themselves in their ability to mould and sculpt a gown to a girl’s body, like a glove.

Another major difference is the number of design options available to you. With off-the-rack dresses, your selection is limited to the designs available for sale. Usually if you want to alter a gown by adding lace, beading, or changing the neckline, a retail bridal shop may not offer these options. It’s normally a case of “what you see is what you get.” Thus finding the wedding gown of your dreams off-the-rack can be limiting. On the other hand, having your gown made to measure opens up a world of design options to you. Once the design is established, you have a wide selection of fabrics, colours, and trims to choose from, which are simply not available with the off-the-rack option.

The quality of couture gowns compared to their off-the-rack counterparts is also quite significant. Most off-the-rack dresses are produced with the cheapest and most economical fabrics, which are usually synthetics. By contrast, couture gowns are usually made from the finest quality fabrics available, such as silks, which are natural fibres. The difference between fabrics is usually evident in the look and quality of the finished gown.

The next difference between couture and off-the-rack, perhaps the most important difference of them all, is that of workmanship. Couturiers invest vast amounts of time perfecting their skills in crafting superb gowns. The hallmark of a couture gown is in the finish – a perfectly made gown should be so well finished that it could be worn inside out. The seams should be smooth, and skim over the body perfectly; the hem should be hand-finished and invisible on the outside; and beads should be sewn on, one by one, and with meticulous care. This work obviously takes a great deal of time, and many people are simply unaware of how much time it actually takes to complete a couture gown. On average, a couture wedding gown can take around 40 – 50 hours to produce, depending on the amount of beading and detail involved. Off-the-rack dresses are in a completely different boat here, as they are mass-produced, and thus the quickest and most economical methods of construction are employed. For example, gluing on beads, instead of sewing them on; machine-sewing hems, rather than hand-sewing; and leaving out some internal items, such as boning or canvas, which are integral parts of the couture gown. Off-the-rack dresses can be produced in around ten hours.

Of course, this leads to the last main difference being price. On average, an off-the-rack dress will cost around $1500. By contrast, the couture gown can be around $2500 to $4000, or even more for some gowns. When you consider all the differences mentioned in workmanship alone, the higher price of the couture gown is more than justified.

Ultimately, the decision whether to buy your wedding gown off-the-rack, or have it made by a couturier, is one that only you can make. But the differences between the two are as night and day. Essentially, off-the-rack is ordinary; couture is extraordinary. Off-the-rack is standard; couture is superb. Off-the-rack is boring; couture is glamorous. The off-the-rack dress is a purchase; the couture gown is an experience.



Pat Giuliano Couture
Pat Giuliano is a Melbourne based designer - couturier specialising in exquisite bridal gowns, bridesmaids dresses, and evening wear.

Website: www.patgiuliano.com.au

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