A Fashion Essay: How and Why I made my own wedding dress


We got engaged in April and our October wedding was coming together smoothly. That is, until I decided to design my own wedding dress one month before the big day.

The original wedding plan did not include me making my own dress. In fact, the original plan did not even include me buying a wedding dress. From day one, I was set on wearing the dress my now-husband’s mother wore on her wedding day, which her grandmother knit by hand.

At my bridal shower, wearing my husband’s great grandmother’s wedding dress she hand knit.

But then the questions came in: “You’re making your own wedding dress, right?” And outright commands: “You have to make your own wedding dress.” I could see where they were coming from. As an independent fashion designer and seamstress who is trying to turn my passion into a career, I realized I had a big opportunity. I could step outside my collection of couture fitted dresses and create the gown of my dreams for one of the most important days of my life. Making my own dress would also embrace the DIY spirit that my husband and I share in our day-to-day lives­, as well as invoked in the planning of our wedding. Okay, I’ll do it, I thought. I had one month.

I sketched and scribbled on every receipt, envelope and scrap of paper I could find. In my head, I saw the dress exactly how I wanted it—couture pleating at the waist, lace straps on the back, a subtle slit in front. Thinking about the details kept me up at night with excitement. It was going to be perfect.

I set out to Hart’s Fabric in Santa Cruz and found a 1920s-style ivory lace trim I adored. To complement the trim, I picked out a silk chiffon material for the dress with a sueded silk lining. About $200 later, I had my materials and was motivated to get started.

The ivory lace trim at the bottom of the dress.

About a week later, I hit rock bottom. I was Pinteresting during work days and obsessively sewing every night when I got home. But it wasn’t working. The delicate silk chiffon fabric showed everything—holes from where I had taken out a seam, and finger smudges from tailor’s chalk. The top wasn’t pleating the way I’d intended. I would scrap one top and start on another new style and new design. At this rate, it was never going to be how I pictured it. How could I ever achieve the perfection you see on wedding blogs, magazines, Pinterest posts, and at friends’ weddings? My thoughts revolved around the dress as I compared it to other dresses, examined details, and created tutorials in my head for how I could fix it. I began hating the dress, and worse, I was almost out of fabric. Then one evening, I was.

With limited time and an unwillingness to spend more money and hours at the fabric store, I began a search through my discarded pile of tops. The fourth one I picked up seemed to have a sliver of life left in it. It was one of the first designs I had discarded. It had the original deep-V neckline design I favored, a style I’d come to abandon in later versions when I couldn’t get the pleats to match equally on both sides. I looked at my slightly asymmetric top and wondered, “Why did I abandon you?” Oh right, your deep-V was a little too, ahem, deep. Suddenly, I remembered some glam-meets-tribal trim with gold, black, and brown detailing that I had purchased in San Francisco a few months before. I could use that to line the V, thus adding more material. In the end, it wasn’t easy, and it didn’t come out perfect, but as I sewed the finished top to the bottom, I felt relief that I had pulled it off. My dress was done, I was mentally exhausted, and I didn’t want to look at it for a long time.

My tribal-glam neckline.

The wedding came like a hurricane in reverse: every day we dealt with the "joys" of a DIY wedding—countless Costco trips, constant email and phone coordination of supplies, and many late nights. 

Finally, the big day arrived. With hair and makeup done, and Advil consumed, I slipped on my dress, only to realize I had never gotten around to steaming or ironing it. At this point, all I could do was go with it.

Who says a wedding dress needs to be ironed?

In the end, the dress did just fine. The lace trim picked up sticks and moss everywhere I went and the bottom half became a filthy mess, but I didn’t care. The sueded silk lining felt dreamy as it swished around my legs and the sparkly neckline added a dash of character. Much like the dress, our wedding was full of imperfections and things we should have planned better or done differently, but it didn’t matter. The night itself was perfect: full of tearful toasts and group sing-a-longs (“When a maaaaaaan loves a woooooooman”), family and friends from various phases of life, and the best weather a Santa Cruz October day could offer. With the help of those close to us, we managed to pull off the best night of my life, all while wearing a dress made especially for that day. No one knew the dress didn’t turn out looking exactly like the original design I had imagined, and I realized that’s OK. It had evolved into a better dress, one that was perfectly me, flaws and all.

With our ring bearer.

Guests clad in Sally Esposito Designs.

See a slideshow of photos from the wedding here:

Photos by Mama-T. Makeup by Anna Wu. Hair by Missy Schnaps