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How to Add Sleeves to a Wedding Dress

by Staff

On your journey to the aisle, finding the perfect wedding dress is such a precious and personal milestone. You may have envisioned this cherished moment throughout your childhood, perhaps even sketching out your ideal dress before getting engaged. But once it comes time to actually say “yes to the dress,” what if the “perfect” gown you find is missing one element—that being, the addition of sleeves?

Wedding dress sleeves possess a distinct ability to alter any bridal ensemble, whether you’re searching for an elegant and graceful look or a playful and whimsical aesthetic. Sleeves also provide the ability for brides to add a bit more coverage to their overall look, making way for a more comfortable fit for those who prefer a modest frock. Best of all, there are a myriad of sleeve styles that can be added to any wedding dress style and silhouette, from mermaid to trumpet and princess ball gowns.

With all this in mind, if you’re interested in learning about what goes into adding sleeves to a wedding dress, we spoke with Jenny Kim, a professional seamstress at Smart Dressmaking & Alterations, to help break down everything you need to know. Keep reading to discover our expert tips, including the best sleeve styles for each bridal gown silhouette.

How to Add Sleeves to a Wedding Dress

Kim shares that the best way to add sleeves to any type of bridal gown is to work with a professional seamstress to achieve your desired look (this can be someone who works with your dress designer, or an independent seamstress you’ve worked with in the past). That’s because this process involves proper fittings with intricate measurements and delicate materials, all of which a seamstress is well-equipped to diligently manage and execute with ease. Once you’ve found a pro, everything else lies in the details, as highlighted below.

Put together a list of styles you love.

When deciding to add sleeves to a wedding dress, it’s important to get an understanding of what sleeve style you’d like to embrace. This can be done by putting together a list, visual aid, or moodboard of gowns with sleeves you love, in order to get a basic understanding of the different silhouettes available to choose from.

According to Kim, the most common types of sleeves you’ll find are cap sleeves, puff sleeves, off-the-shoulder sleeves, long sleeves, illusion sleeves, ruffle sleeves, detachable sleeves, and bell sleeves. As far as fabrics, tulle, organza, and lace are amongst the most popular materials used for wedding dress sleeves. Aside from specific styles, however, you should also consider what will make you feel most comfortable and have the most mobility when wearing your gown on your big day.

Understand the best sleeve styles for each wedding dress silhouette.

Once you have a basic understanding of the sleeves that you’d like to consider, your next step is to determine whether or not that specific style works for your actual dress. To help you with this specific portion of the alterations process, we provided a few common silhouette and sleeve pairings to know.

  • A-Line: Given that this silhouette is extremely versatile, A-line dresses can easily pair well with almost any type of sleeve. Consider wearing cap sleeves, short sleeves, detachable sleeves, or long lace sleeves for a romantic and elegant look.
  • Ball gown: Ball gowns with a full skirt often pair beautifully with off-the-shoulder or illusion sleeves, adding elegance and balance to the full silhouette. If you are feeling extra bold, opt for detachable sleeves which will allow for more versatility and can transform any look from the wedding to the reception.
  • Sheath: Sheath dresses with a sleek and modern design can be enhanced with long, fitted sleeves or delicate lace sleeves, especially if you’re hoping to accentuate your body. 
  • Mermaid: Mermaid dresses can be enhanced with long, fitted sleeves that accentuate the dress’s silhouette while adding a touch of theatrical flair. 
  • Boho or vintage: Boho or vintage-inspired dresses often pair well with bell or ruffle sleeves, creating a whimsical or old-school look.

Schedule a consultation and fitting with your seamstress.

With your style preferences locked in, the next course of action is to schedule several alteration sessions in order to get your desired style right. Kim notes that brides should schedule their initial consultation at least seven to 12 weeks ahead of the big day, and have at least three to four fitting before walking down the aisle. However, if you are on a time crunch, Kim does share that sleeves can be added within three weeks, depending on the seamstress or designer you select. 

Another tip? During your consultation, be sure your seamstress has the correct fabric to match your wedding dress. If you haven’t had any alterations done to your gown, the great news is that a tailor can often use excess fabric from the front or back of the dress for sleeves. If this is not an option for you, though, no worries! Most wedding dress seamstresses have tulle, chiffon, lace, and even satin in-house that can blend seamlessly into your ensemble (just ask to see the material beforehand to ensure it’s a match).

At the end of the day, your wedding day is a momentous occasion, and your bridal attire should be nothing less than extraordinary. Whether you choose to add sleeves to your gown or not, the most important factor is that you feel comfortable and confident in whatever you decide to wear.

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