In 1992, Jane Daly was looking for a self-empowering project to take on. At the same time, she was also planning her wedding.
She found a way to do both by designing and sewing her wedding dress. “No one was making their own dress back then, but I wanted to prove to myself I could do this,” said Ms. Daly, a 58-year-old patient care coordinator at Professional Physical Therapy in River Edge, N.J., who married William Daly, also 58, on May 9, 1992 at St. Peter Apostle Church, also in River Edge.
For four months she worked nights at her parents’ dining room table crafting a gown from scratch using four different sewing patterns. The result was a silk taffeta fitted dress with hand-stitched pearl and lace sequence.
“Blood, sweat and tears went into creating this,” Ms. Daly said. “I wanted it to be special. It was. I’m still proud I did it. I still have the dress.”
Making your own wedding attire is more of an accepted alternative these days for many brides and grooms. Those who can’t find what they are specifically looking for, or perhaps are on a tight budget, are taking the scissors, fabrics and sewing machines into their amateur hands.
“Far more people are interested in making their wedding outfits now than 10 years ago,” said Jennifer Wiese, 38, who owns Workroom Social, a sewing studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. In January, she released the first of nine 20-30 minute videos on YouTube called “I Made My Wedding Outfit.”
“I interview people who share their experiences, and how making their wedding outfit changed the day for them,” Ms. Wiese said. Over the last two years she has helped more than 30 people design and construct their wedding outfits. (She made her own wedding dress in 2012.) “People want more ownership and control over the things they put on their body,” she said. “Making your own clothes gives you control of the process, and how you present yourself to the outside world. That isn’t always possible when you’re buying something ready made.”
Shopping during the pandemic has made the decision process particularly difficult. Even as retailers try to recover, low inventory from merchants and the inability to try on in-person remains challenging.
“Most stores have a limited selection of styles and sizing, and if you are limited, that could make you less excited,” Ms Wiese said. “The risk averse can always leave themselves time to buy something. But you’ll never have that emotional connection to what you’re wearing like you would if you had made it.”
The challenge — regardless of one’s sewing skills — is part of the appeal.
“Everyone told me I was insane to make my own dress,” said Sicily Bennett, 45, an integrative health and wellness coach who lives in New Canaan, Conn., with her husband, Jason Bennett, 48. “My husband thought it was a terrible idea. That made me want to do it even more.”
Hoping to prove her fiancé wrong, she hid the fabric and sewing machine in the back of her closet. Ms. Bennett worked on the dress in secret while he was at work.
The process of creating what was supposed to be a simple silk, backless design for their Sept. 24, 2016 wedding in Manhattan, though, was harder than she had anticipated, and so she ended up making her dress twice.
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“About a week before my wedding I carted my dress and sewing machine to a friend’s and sewed basically all night,” she said. “I was still sewing the gown right before the wedding, but I was determined. Wearing this huge accomplishment made the whole experience worth it.”
So was the look on her husband’s face when she shared the big reveal. “We were standing in the courtyard, and right before we got married I whispered in his ear that I had made the dress — he was floored,” she said.
Minimal options and resources have made others turn to the D.I.Y. model, especially men.
“I’m Latino and L.G.B.T.Q. I wanted a big statement option, but there weren’t any I could find,” said Kevin Milian, 28, an associate director of consumer research solutions at Dentsu, a Japanese media and advertising agency. “We are just redefining men’s wear. It’s frustrating to have a lack of options. I’ve been looking for two years and couldn’t find anything that made me feel creative and extravagant. Having something custom made was expensive and a lot of tailors weren’t interested in making what I wanted. We also didn’t want to be two gay men in matching suits.”
Mr. Milian, who lives with his fiancé, Nicholas Falba, 29, on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, decided to wear an ivory Hugo Boss suit as his base piece. Some of the highlights he created included a removable ivory chiffon cape, outlined with embroidery sourced from Italy, and a family crest broach that he designed and had created by a Russian woman he met through Etsy. The couple plan to wed Nov. 6, 2021, at the Lake Front Airport in New Orleans.
“I wanted my vision to come out and be just as celebratory with or without the support of vendors,” he said. “Cole Porter wore a jacket with a train and that was inspirational. It was very queer and straddled the line between male and female. That’s what I wanted. My guests will know this is statement and that it was my design.”
Others took the self-imposed challenge as a way to test their capabilities. Anne Zheng, 34, a merchandise planner for 7 For All Mankind, a premium denim company, purchased two gowns during a trip to China in 2019 that she initially loved. She was far less enamored when she returned to her home in Forest Hills, Queens. “I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought them,” she said. “I thought I could do better.”
At that point, Ms. Zheng’s sewing skills had consisted of making pillowcases.
“I never created something I could wear, so I went through YouTube and watched videos for hours and hours,” she said. “Some I watched almost 100 times to understand each step.”
Like many, Ms. Zheng started her project during Covid. “The pandemic gave me a lot of time to think about how I was going to do this,” she said. “I bought a mannequin and new boning, then I took the dresses apart and combined them.”
Straps from one dress were removed. A plunging V-neck became a sweetheart neckline. An existing train was recycled and used as the main body. A zipper replaced a corset in the back.
“It’s not finished, and my fiancé hasn’t seen it yet — I work on it in the bedroom — but I already have that ‘I created this’ feeling,” she said. Ms. Zheng and Ken Liu, 34, plan to wed Oct. 9, 2021, at Chateau Briand in Westbury, N.Y. “There’s the pride part, and bragging rights. Ken said he hopes the top stays up as I walk down the aisle. I do, too.”