Creating my Bespoke Wedding Gown with Charmed by Rae

Come to think of it I’m a pretty unconventional bride. Well, more like one part of an unconventional couple.

  • Engagement ring and wedding bands: No need for fancy, expensive bling. Diamond simulants? 22k old fashioned gold bands? #YAAASS
  • The Proposal: No big public proposal. Just being at home with a box of chicken nuggets is my jam.
  • Wedding Venue: Said no to expensive hotel venues and classy restaurants. Said yes to a cosy restaurant-bar that a friend of mine manages.

I’ve decided to keep things close to heart and simple. No big fanfare or taking the budget a bit too far. What matters to me is that I celebrate the day in comfort.

Related: Read about the ingenious chicken nugget proposal and The F Man’s Made-to-Measure Suit

Off-the-rack Wedding Gown Rental?

Maybe not.

It was no different when it came to finding my wedding gown, even though I went through the usual drill.

I visited a couple of bridal studios, tried some gowns recommended by the sales person, checked out packages… rinse and repeat. However, what I preferred was so different from the majority of Singaporean brides, that I couldn’t find anything off-the-rack that I liked or flattered my body. Plus, I was just looking for a long gown for the solemnisation, but most of the time the packages offered included short dresses instead. There were some gown rental boutiques that were more in line with my preferences like The Proposal and Truly Enamoured, but the average rental rates were way above what I was willing to spend.

My taste leans toward a classic, simple look and that is by far, the hardest combination to find in bridal studios in Singapore. I’m not the standard Singaporean woman blogshop size, and I’m always too big and curvy. Even at UK Size 12, because of my proportions, it’s hard to find something that fits me, isn’t too over-the-top and doesn’t draw attention to my problem areas. I walked out of each appointment feeling super uncomfortable and dreaded the visits. I struggled with an eating disorder in my teens, and while everything’s under control now, I found the multitudes of portfolio photos, all featuring extremely slim brides, triggering. I knew if I continued with the bridal studio route, I’d end up stressed out about how I’d be squeezed into cookie cutter standard designs that do nothing for my body type. So I dropped that and decided to sit on my wedding gown search.

Going for Bespoke

If I can’t fit the gowns, I’d make a gown that fit me.

Shortly after I decided to stop looking for a gown in bridal studios, a mutual friend, Clarissa, reached out to me and offered her services. I hadn’t even shared about my struggle finding a gown publicly, only to a few close friends, so it came as a surprise when she approached me.

Clarissa had quite recently embarked on an entrepreneurial journey. She was working hard on her make-up academy with a few partners, Fifty Shades Makeup Academy, and her own online bridal shop, Charmed by Rae. Charmed by Rae focuses on a curated selection of Australian wedding gown labels, any made-to-measure work for those gowns, and bespoke wedding gowns.

Check out more photos from the Charmed by Rae Instagram account

I was hesitant at first. I wasn’t sure if we could create a bespoke gown I’d love within such a short time frame. We had less than three months at that point and I didn’t know what to expect. But after speaking with her, we really hit off. It felt like we had been friends for years. She also assured me that three months was good time. (At least two months is needed for her to work on a bespoke gown, but that depends on the complexity of the design as well.) I took a leap of faith and I’m pretty darn glad I did. It was probably meant to be.

Wedding Gown Inspiration

Articulating my style preferences

I put my experience of working with designers and creative vendors into practice by gathering my thoughts and finding useful references for Clarissa to get a good idea of what I liked. I’ve learned through the years that the better I can articulate my style preferences to my designers, the better they are able to produce something that I’d be satisfied and really happy with. It’s a two-way conversation.

Here are the useful steps I took to get Clarissa and I aligned in the right direction.

Step 1: Pinterest away!

I searched “wedding gowns” and basically pinned anything that I fancied. There was no over-thinking at this point. (By the way, check out my Pinterest account for other curated boards.)

Step 2: Find common qualities I like

I would take note of what I liked about the gown. (I did a bit of research on different cuts and gown “jargon”.) I’d think about whether I liked the silhouette, lace, material, movement of the sleeves, colour, neckline, back details, illusion or any other unique qualities of the gown. It’s super helpful for designers when you get down to the details instead of just a general comment like “I like this”.

After noting down all the qualities of the gowns I liked, I’d figure out if there were similarities and delete the rest that after evaluating didn’t like quite as much. For me, these were the qualities I found recurred through my pinned photos.

  • Fluttery sleeves
  • Scalloped neckline
  • Eyelash lace details
  • Nude base (as opposed to a full white gown)

A collage highlighting my favourite features from the wedding gown references I saved

Step 3: Figuring out what works

As I sent the photos over to Clarissa, I also made an effort to think about my existing wardrobe and what sort of outfits I typically look good and feel confident in. This is so important since I’m actually really curvy and my arms are bulkier. It’s the first place that bloats or puts on weight other than my lower tummy.

From experience, I came up with a list of do’s and don’ts. I ignore all magazines at this point and make the list based on how I look and feel when I try similar looks. You can go to any store, it doesn’t have to be a bridal studio, and try on different dresses to get an idea.

Do’s

  • Show off my shoulders
  • Sleeves that cover the widest part of my arm
  • Mermaid or sheath gown to show off curves
  • Comfortable fit without being too figure fitting to avoid unsightly bulges

Don’ts

  • Sweetheart necklines with tight bustier fit
  • Sleeveless gowns
  • Super high necklines that would make me look bundled up
  • A-line, empire or ball gowns
  • Overly complicated embellishments that draw attention to “problem areas” like my arms

Step 4: Face-to-face consultation

I met with Clarissa and explained about my challenges I faced finding a gown I liked. I explained in detail why I had certain preferences (e.g. I wasn’t confident about my arms because they look bloated, I didn’t like too low-cut designs or overly flashy designs). Clarissa had worked in bridal studios before and she knows the typical advice given to curvier brides. She makes it a point to take into account my likes, dislikes and preferences instead of just “template” answers of what styles would suit standard body shapes. At the end of the day, a confident bride is a beautiful and happy bride.

Meeting face-to-face gave us an opportunity for to get to know each other better. This initial consultation also includes an explanation of what the next steps would be and deciding on the budget we’d work within. Prices for a bespoke gown start at $1,500. This was close to – and in some cases, less than – what rental or made-to-measure costs would be for some gowns I’d seen.

Proposal of Gown Designs

Choosing a gown design

Clarissa came back with two proposed gown sketches within a week or two. While I was pretty set on the sheath or mermaid cut, I had more varied preferences when it came to the neckline and sleeves. As such, Clarissa came back with a proposal of two different looks that would elicit different a slightly different feel/mood.

Discussing the sketches of gown designs Clarissa did for me and highlighting what I like

I ended up choosing the design she pointed to in the photo above.

I opted for that particular design as I really liked the dainty scalloped details, illusion neckline and back. The winner was the fluttery lace sleeves which will help hide my arms. I have no intentions to aggressively diet or exercise like a crazy person to look good in my gown, so I’d rather work with what I have and flatter my body with this bespoke piece. After all, am I getting married or is my gown getting married? 

My decision here was extremely swift – just ask Clarissa. I think it helped that I never had a “dream wedding dress” in mind and I was looking more for aspects of a gown that would work for me. There was a really logical process for choosing details of the dress and that’s why I was able to be so decisive.

I had my measurements taken after choosing the design I liked and that concluded the second consultation. The budget we’re looking at for my chosen design is between $2,200 – $2,500 depending on materials chosen and whether any embellishments are added.

Selection of Materials and Lace

Time for lace shopping

I was given two options depending on my schedule:

  1. Free up a weekday afternoon and shop for lace together with Clarissa
  2. Clarissa would WhatsApp me the lace samples for approval

I thought it would be fun to hunt for the lace and material for my gown, so I took some time off work one afternoon to go lace shopping.

Looking through the different lace options to find one we liked

There were really too many different varieties of lace samples to look at and Clarissa and I spent quite a bit of time touching and admiring the different lace and fabric. Figuring out if I liked one lace type over another.

Figuring out if the lace would go well with the look and feel we were hoping to achieve

The price points for the lace are all different, so we also had discussions on whether I would be okay with a corded or non-corded lace and if I wanted the more expensive 3D lace patterns.

Getting side tracked by lovely lace patterns

Plus, there were also a few really modern looking lace patterns that were lovely, but might not come together with the look and feel I was going for. We would discuss this together and come to a decision before moving on.

Instead of an all-white approach, I agreed that lace over a nude base was something I preferred

One thing I was sure about was that I’d love for my gown to have a nude base and, of course, the eyelash lace detailing was a must for me. Those were easy decisions to make. Absolutely love how the lace and nude base looks here! Can’t wait to see the gown when it’s put together.

Experience with Charmed by Rae

A quick review so far

With the “loot” and now the work begins!

It was real fun (and such a huge relief to be) working with easy-going Clarissa.

People whom I’ve worked with before know very well my style of working. I’m a straight shooting, no-nonsense person. I’m very direct with what I want and don’t want and while I’m polite, I cut to the chase very often once it comes to making decisions. I hate dilly-dallying or reviewing draft after draft and I really appreciate it that Clarissa “gets me” enough that we didn’t have to go through this!

A quick selfie with Clarissa at the end of lace shopping

Through my chats with Clarissa, I found out that her personal preferences for her own wedding gown (she got married three years ago) are actually quite different from my own. However, what really impressed me was her ability to understand what I wanted and how she helped me visualise “the dress” and proposed something that I really loved.

Curious to see what the gown will be like? I’ll be sharing about the final product after the wedding in June together with my thoughts on the entire experience!

In partnership with Charmed by Rae. All opinions are my own.

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