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I struggled to find a wedding dress – here's why I went custom-made

Going custom-made is a great option for petite girls

custom made wedding dress andrea hawkes
Kate Thomas
Lifestyle Managing Editor
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Trying on wedding dresses is the pinnacle of every bride's journey to walking down the aisle... or so we're made to believe in Hollywood movies. In reality, I left every bridal shop feeling self-conscious, dumpy and with tears in my eyes after yet another fruitless session of trying on dresses that didn't fit or suit me.

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As a petite, 5 ft 2 girl who isn't stick thin and is a size bigger on top than on the bottom, finding the dream dress was a struggle – and one I wasn't prepared for. It soon transpired the styles that suit shorter girls are only made for size 10 and under figures; slinky, bodycon silks, and strappy lace numbers. All of which looked horrible on me. Enter P.S. Bridal, the genius service that helped me find the perfect bridal designer and boutique to suit both my tastes and requirements.

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First steps: finding a petite-friendly boutique

P.S. Bridal promises to match brides with retailers based on their style, budget, location and preferences. The service, which has been used by the likes of MIC's Binky Felstead and Lucy Watson, had glowing reviews and came into my life at the right time... Let's just say I felt desperate!

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The brand, founded and run by Ella Gaskell and Zoe Jervoise Graham, has a free wedding dress finder service that points brides in the right direction on the first step on their wedding dress journey. They also have Mother of the Bride Styling Services, Bridesmaids packages, a VIP experience should you want more hands-on help, plus a new service called THE LIST which makes booking into multiple recommended boutiques quick and easy.

The service operates via three simple steps:

  • an online questionnaire helps narrow down your dream dress
  • a bridal style pack is sent to you, containing a personal mood board and five recommendations (whether that be designers or boutiques)
  • your unique P.S. Bridal code which allows you to book appointments with waived fees, discounts and special offers

My personal stylist was the brand's Co-Founder & COO, Zoe Jervoise Graham, who busied herself coming up with a list of brands that might cater to my specific tastes. I had several non-negotiables: simple, loose-fitting on the stomach, V-neck and empire line. It wasn't long before a detailed edit was in my inbox. She was extremely receptive to feedback – for example when I stressed I would prefer sleeves, she immediately revised the selection.

wedding dress kate andrea hawkes

At 5 ft 2, I struggled to find a wedding dress that suited me © Voyteck Photography

P.S. Bridal took a lot of the stress out of the process, booking appointments for me and making sure I visited all my top recommended options. I tried visiting both boutiques – such as The Mews in Notting Hill, which specialises in classic French designers, and sustainable, second-hand shop Brides Do Good – and designer headquarters like Catherine Deane, but I still wasn't 100 per cent happy. Zoe then suggested I pay a visit to Andrea Hawkes. As soon as I saw the simple yet elegant designs on the designer's website, I knew it would be the one.

Designing the dream dress with Andrea Hawkes

The design process itself was simple. After trying on several dress styles at Andrea Hawkes' Islington boutique, I was still in the same predicament – my torso was just too short for most dresses. This wasn't an issue for the designer, however, who would make a custom version to ensure my worst feature (my stomach) was skimmed over, while accentuating my neckline and high waist to make me look taller.

wedding dress andrea hawkes

The finished result © Voyteck Photography

I opted for a tweaked version of their Starr dress – a V-neck design with a pretty tulle sleeve and lining on the back and neck. They brought the neckline up and added slightly more fabric to the flowing skirt (copied from a different dress) around the tummy/hip area, all crafted out of a sandwash marocain silk in ivory.

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The process took six fittings in total, with everyone at Andrea Hawkes ensuring I was completely satisfied before proceeding to the next step.

This involved an initial visit, measurements session, a toile fitting, first silk fitting and a final try-on – which I had to redo due to the hem not being perfectly straight. I appreciated the attention to detail (it wasn’t something I had even noticed myself!), especially when so much money was going into it.

I also wasn't allowed to take photos throughout the process – apparently, brides tend to second-guess their choices – and as an overthinker, this no doubt saved me a lot of sleepless nights.

kate thomas wedding birtsmorton

The design process took six fittings in total © Voyteck Photography

Instead, they first created a cotton prototype, crafted to perfectly complement my size and shape, before making any tweaks necessary to the final silk version.

The process was flexible to some degree; for example, I changed my mind halfway through about the back, deciding to go for a more covered-up version, and opted for slightly longer sleeves at the last minute.

Why I would recommend getting your wedding dress custom made

Of course, this isn't a viable option for everyone, and I recognise the privilege of having been able to go down the custom-made route. The overall experience was invaluable for my mental health and self-esteem, however.

kate thomas wedding dress birtsmorton

My custom-made Andrea Hawkes dress © Voyteck Photography

I went from feeling demoralised and frumpy to completely comfortable and confident in my choice, and have no regrets about my decision, despite the time and money involved. I also have some stunning photos to look back on, courtesy of the talented Voyteck Photography.

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In my opinion, the 'dream dress' moment is a myth. I never had that emotional, "This is The One!" eureka moment as my bridesmaids looked, holding back tears. Instead, when I finally saw the finished result, it just felt right. Simple, beautifully crafted and flattering, the dress ticked all my boxes, and felt very "me".

I received so many compliments about my understated dress and how much it suited me on my wedding day – and isn’t that what every bride wants?

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