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Home Our Journal Off the Rack, Bespoke, & Couture Wedding Dresses: Which is for you?
Off the Rack, Bespoke, & Couture Wedding Dresses: Which is for you?

Off the Rack, Bespoke, & Couture Wedding Dresses: Which is for you?

Bride wears Wild Hearts made to order lace off the shoulder Vivienne gown by Karen Willis Holmes

Difference between Off the Rack, Bespoke, and Couture Wedding Dresses

Wedding dress shopping is like learning a whole new language. There are terms and expressions you might be hearing for the first time; bustle, blusher, alterations, bias-cut, fit-and-flare…the list goes on and on. Some of these unique terms you might be hearing refer to how designer wedding dresses are made and/or sold; off-the-rack, bespoke and couture.

 

You might have a general idea of what these all mean, but have you found yourself wondering what specifically each distinct category is referring to for a wedding gown? Will your wedding dress be one of a kind? Or if things like custom made and couture, made-to-order and made-to-measure, off-the-rack and ready-to-wear are interchangeable? Not to worry! The KAREN WILLIS HOLMES team is here to help and walk you through step by step.

 

What are made-to-order wedding dresses?

What are ready-to-wear wedding dresses?

What are off-the-rack wedding dresses?

What is a bespoke wedding dress?

What are made-to-measure wedding dresses?

What are couture wedding dresses?

Bride wears Wild Hearts made to order lace off the shoulder Vivienne gown by Karen Willis Holmes

What are made-to-order wedding dresses?


Made-to-order wedding dresses are the most common type of wedding gown when you’re shopping in bridal boutiques. With made-to-order gowns, you would try on a sample size in-store and then have your measurements taken. Your bridal stylist would then have a made-to-order gown ordered for you in your size. This is similar to the ready-to-wear process, but with made-to-order gowns, a new gown will be constructed for you, instead of the gown already being pre-made.

 

As with our WILD HEARTS collection, you would come to our boutique and browse our made-to-order samples and pick out gowns that speak to you. After trying the samples on and once you find the dress of your dreams, a brand new made-to-order gown would be constructed for you in your proper size, but to look exactly like the sample you tried. Mostly all wedding gowns are made-to-order dresses.  Gowns of this nature offer brides a balance between something made just for her, while still being able to be budget-friendly.

 

Made-to-order wedding dresses will nearly always need to be altered; as they are ordered to your closest standard size, the gown will need to be tweaked in order to fit your unique body shape and, likely, the hem length will need to be adjusted as well.

 

(Recap/TLDR: The made-to-order dress process begins with you trying a sample and then a new gown that is identical to the sample, but made in your closest size, is constructed for you.  The benefit of a made-to-order dress is that you’ll be able to try exactly what you’re purchasing, but for brides looking for something a bit more custom it might be harder to tailor the gown to your unique taste.)

Bride wears Wild Hearts made to order lace off the shoulder Vivienne gown by Karen Willis Holmes dancing with husband at elegant reception
Bride weds husband in long sleeve Luxe beaded off the rack wedding dress by Karen Willis Holmes

What are ready-to-wear wedding dresses?

Differing from made-to-order gowns are ready-to-wear dresses. Sometimes the terms off-the-rack and ready-to-wear are used interchangeably. They are somewhat similar, but ready-to-wear wedding gowns, though already pre-made and ready to be sold, still have to be ordered the majority of the time.

 

With a collection of ready to wear gowns you would try on a gown in your nearest size in-store and either take that gown home same day or your chosen dress would be ordered in your correct standard dress size according to your measurements – this is how beaded gowns from our LUXE collection works.

 

Again, brides with a shorter timeline would benefit from a ready-to-wear gown, but you won’t necessarily be leaving with it the same day as you would with an off-the-rack gown, unless the designer already has your size in stock in their boutique.

 

Much like made-to-order gowns, a ready-to-wear wedding dress will need alterations in order to achieve that perfect one of a kind fit for your specific body. Sometimes the term ready-to-wear is confused with off-the-rack dresses, read on to see how these two categories of wedding dresses differ.

 

(Recap/TLDR: The ready-to-wear dress process begins with you trying a sample and then a new gown that is identical to the sample, but in your closest size, is ordered for you. The benefit of a ready-to-wear dress is that you’ll be able to get a gown with a quicker turnaround time as the gown will already be pre-made and ready to order, but for brides looking for something a bit more custom it might be harder to tailor the gown to your unique taste.)

Lola sequin v neck ready to wear dress by Karen Willis Holmes
Lola sequin v neck ready to wear dress by Karen Willis Holmes
Lola sequin v neck ready to wear dress by Karen Willis Holmes
Bride weds husband in long sleeve Luxe beaded off the rack wedding dress by Karen Willis Holmes

What are off-the-rack wedding dresses?

Wondering what “off-the-rack wedding dress” means, and if it’s the same as ready-to-wear? Off-the-rack dresses are bought exactly how they sound; purchased right off-the-rack. In a bridal boutique that sells wedding gowns off-the-rack you’ll be trying on exactly what you’ll be buying. For some boutiques, off-the-rack means you could be buying a sample (potentially at a discounted price) and for other shops off-the-rack just means they already have the gowns pre-made and are right there ready to purchase.

 

Think of buying an item of clothing in a store, this is a similar experience to how an off-the-rack wedding dress purchase works. For brides who are short on time or who want a stress-free shopping experience, off-the-rack dresses for your wedding could be a great choice!

 

Sometimes, if you’re buying something off-the-rack you will have limited options for sizing. Because of this, more alterations may be required to make an off-the-rack wedding dress fit your unique body shape.

 

(Recap/TLDR: An off-the-rack dress is a gown you purchase in a boutique, after trying it on and leave with the same day. The benefit of an off-the-rack dress is that you’ll be able to get a gown even if you’re down to the wire for your dress timeline, but for brides looking for something a bit more custom it might be harder to tailor the gown to your unique taste.)

Close up of bride admiring flowers in made to order bespoke wedding dress Taryn Camille by Karen Willis Holmes

What is a bespoke wedding dress?

Bespoke wedding dresses are sometimes used to describe gowns interchangeably with couture wedding dresses, and for some designers, this is the case—bespoke means the same thing. However, depending on the brand bespoke can sometimes be a bit different.

 

For example; the KAREN WILLIS HOLMES BESPOKE collection allows brides to customise their wedding dresses (a button closure or lace-up closure, additional train length, split-sizing, adding a sleeve or other element, and choosing fabric for your gown) but you are still working with a base pattern from an original dress you have tried on.

 

The KAREN WILLIS HOLMES collection of BESPOKE gowns is not a couture collection since there are sample gowns to choose from as a starting point. So for example, a bespoke lace wedding dress can become a gown with a satin finish instead. A bespoke wedding dress designer will allow you to decide on a multitude of unique options to suit your one of a kind taste, but the gown itself is there for you as a starting point.

 

If you’d find it hard to come up with an idea completely from scratch and need a little help getting started, a bespoke wedding dress might be a wonderful option for you. If you’re wondering how much a bespoke wedding dress costs, dresses of this nature are most often less expensive than a couture gown.

 

Depending on the bridal boutique you are working with, you will most likely still need alterations for your bespoke gown; as bespoke dresses are sometimes still made to standard size measurements.

 

(Recap/TLDR: A bespoke wedding dress can sometimes be interchangeable with custom wedding dresses, but most times you’re ordering a gown similar to a sample you try, and then you can make minor tweaks to the pattern. The benefit of a bespoke dress is that you can have something that feels one of a kind without breaking your budget and splurging on an entirely custom gown, but for brides with a shorter timeline or who are looking for something very inexpensive, you might want to stick with something identical to the sample you try as custom changes can become pricier.)

Close up of bride wearing Karen Willis Holmes Blake Prea wedding dress with detailed veil

What are made-to-measure wedding dresses?

Made-to-measure wedding dresses are another version of a custom made wedding gown. However, unlike with couture or bespoke gowns, it’s not the entire dress that is either being made from scratch or being decided upon; made-to-measure dresses are custom in size rather than in design.

 

If you’re after something that feels like your own and as if it was made for you but you’re looking for something more budget-friendly than a complete couture gown, a made-to-measure wedding dress might be the perfect solution for you. You will select a gown and try on samples, when you find the one, a made-to-measure gown will be completely made from start to finish just for you to your exact measurements. In this way, made-to-measure wedding dresses are still a version of custom wedding gowns, and as with all custom wedding dresses, they can be a bit pricier than something off-the-rack.

 

Since a made-to-measure wedding dress is being sized specifically for your one of a kind shape, you will not need alterations to make the gown fit you. However, you may still want to have your made-to-measure gown altered for something more custom, such as adjusting a neckline or having extra beading added.

 

(Recap/TLDR: A made-to-measure wedding dress is custom only in the measuring; your gown will look like the sample you try but will be measured and constructed to fit you exactly. The benefit of a made-to-measure dress is that you will not need tailoring, but for brides with a shorter timeline or are looking for something very inexpensive, you might want to stick with something made in standard sizing and then have your gown tailored to you.)

Bride admires herself in Bespoke Melanie wedding skirt by Karen Willis Holmes with veil over the face
Bride wears Aisha Bespoke wedding dress by Karen Willis Holmes down aisle with husband

What are couture wedding dresses?

Perhaps one of the most common luxury terms repeated in the wedding dress world is couture— but maybe you’ve also heard the word bespoke or the term made-to-measure and are wondering if they are all the same thing. In some cases they are but every designer has their own way of using these terms. In general, custom couture wedding dresses are made completely from scratch for an individual bride.

 

Couture wedding designers will work with the bride to create an entirely new pattern and a one of a kind gown made just for her. Luxury couture wedding dresses are typically pricier than most other gowns, but you will have a dress that is completely your own.

 

If you’re lusting after designer couture wedding gowns, it’s important to research the designer you’re planning on working with and a personal recommendation is always a great way to know you’ll be getting a phenomenal result.

 

The beauty of couture collection wedding dresses is that you’ll get a fit that is unique and custom to your specific body and not need to alter anything about your gown.

 

(Recap/TLDR: A couture wedding dress is custom made from scratch specifically for you. The benefit of a couture dress is that you will be the only bride in the world to wear your designed gown, but for brides with a shorter timeline or are looking for something more inexpensive, you might want to stick with something made in standard sizing and then have your gown tailored to you.)

Bride wears Bespoke bustier wedding dress Blake Camille by Karen Willis Holmes, getting ready with veil

Now that you have your head around bridal lingo…Are you excited to come in and try on some KWH collections at our boutiques? Book an appointment at your closest KWH boutique here.

Looking for more helpful inspiration from our stylists? Read our best tips, tricks, and insider knowledge about dress shopping here!

Close up of brides Bespoke bustier wedding dress Blake Camille by Karen Willis Holmes against elegant painting
Close up of brides Bespoke bustier wedding dress Blake Camille by Karen Willis Holmes against elegant painting
Close up of brides Bespoke bustier wedding dress Blake Camille by Karen Willis Holmes against elegant painting

Suppliers:

Lidia & Dane – Bulb Creative  /  Megan & Todd – Janneke Storm  /  Tasha & Josh – Hollow & Co  /  Anna & Julian – Jimmy Raper  /  Kate & Alex – Samantha Heather  /  Kate & Sam – Captured by Keryn  /  Laryssa & Adrian – I Got You Babe Weddings  /  Zoe & Harry – Youn Known  / Sarah – Annie Heffache  /  Breanna & Trent – Danny Millio

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