Off the Rack or Made to Measure Wedding Dress?

You’re likely reading this because you are just beginning your wedding dress journey (Congratulations!) and you’re unsure whether to go for an off the rack or a made to measure wedding dress. In fact, you’re not even 100% sure what the difference is. 

There is a range of terminology within the fashion industry, and many of those terms are interchangeable/different for each individual designer. It can be so overwhelming trying to keep up with your bridal consultant when too many different terms are being bounced around. So, to make things a little easier we have broken down some of these terms, exploring what they mean and which are used interchangeably; to help you feel informed when making the best decision for you. Please note – this blog is about how we at Calèche use the terms and the use of these may differ from designer to designer.

Rack of bridal gowns in Calèche boutique

Off the Rack

The first and arguably the easiest/simplest option when it comes to finding your dress is buying off the rack. The gowns that we sell off the rack are called our sample gowns. These are the gowns that you will try on during your consultation.

I say “arguably” the easiest because there are both pros and cons to buying off the rack. If you find yourself in a position where there are more pros than cons then congratulations, your wedding dress process can’t really get much more simple! The benefits of an off the rack gown can include the cost (it is significantly cheaper to buy an existing off the rack gown than to have something made for you), and being able to see exactly what you are getting from the beginning (no ‘visualization’ required yay!).

However, the constraints that come with buying off the rack can be extremely frustrating for some. The main constraint is that when buying off the rack you are limited to what is available to you. There are a couple different factors that may go into this:

1. The range of wedding dress shops with buying off the rack options available to you (made even harder with COVID travel restrictions).
2. The range of sizes and styles these shops have.

There is a huge gap in the fashion industry when it comes to inclusive sizing and the bridal industry is no exception. This is something to take into consideration when you are choosing where to shop. If buying off the rack is your only option due to cost or time constraints, it’s beneficial to enquire about the the range of sizes and styles available off the rack before making your appointment.

This leads into our next term – alterations.


If you are buying off the rack, more often than not you are likely to need some sort of alteration, even if its minimal. When we offer alterations we are referring only to the altering of an existing gown. You’d be amazed at what we can do to a sample gown in order to perfect the fit to your body. However, there are limits to alterations. Particularly if you require LOTS of alterations, whether they be changes to the style or the fit, the cost can build up quickly. If this is the case, you might be better off with a made to order gown in standard sizing, or a made to measure gown.

Made to Order

We don’t do too many standard size made to order gowns anymore. Simply because, human bodies are so vastly different and fitting perfectly into a standard size is not really that common. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. After all rare birds exist, we’re just less likely to come across them. If you do fit perfectly into one of our standard sizes – but we don’t have that size available off the rack – this is where you have the option to order a new gown made for you, in that standard size. Ordering in a standard size is more budget friendly than made to measure so some even choose to order in a standard size and then have alterations. Again, this would only be worth it if the alterations were minimal.

Calèche workroom

Made to Measure

The term made to measure refers to the construction of a brand new gown, made to your measurements. Made to measure with Calèche will begin with us taking your measurements and then you will have 3-4 fittings along the way so we can perfect the fit on your body. There are a couple of different things to consider when it comes to made to measure, the two most commong being – budget and timeline. For a made to measure gown you will need at least 8 months for the process, but we do recommend a year.

For a more budget friendly option you could have an existing Calèche style made to your measurements. Otherwise, you can have a custom/bespoke design made to measure. A made to measure gown doesn’t automatically mean a customised design, however a custom design will typically always be made to measure.


The term bespoke means custom made. The benefits of a custom gown are pretty clear – its made for you! As all our gowns are made here in our SA workroom, we can customise any existing style or even work with you to design a gown from all the different images in your camera roll and ideas in your head. Customised gowns are typically more expensive than off the rack, however this also depends on the style of the gown.

Georgia in the Sinfonia gown leaning against a brick wall

Couture/Haute Couture

The term couture simply means sewing in French. So couture is used a lot within the fashion industry and its meaning can vary from designer to designer. Typically, you will find that it is used to refer to high-end custom designs, emphasizing exclusivity. In the past we have created mini collections that are priced at a higher point than our main collections, and we referred to these as our couture gowns. These gowns are priced higher because they have more detail and use higher quality and thus more expensive fabrics.

Also worth a mention is the term Haute Couture because lets be honest, it sounds really nice. Whilst couture emphasizes exclusivity, Haute Couture IS exclusive. Haute means high, so haute couture = high couture. However, it isn’t just about the extra word. To be considered Haute Couture, a label must meet a list of set standards, such as – be manufactured in Paris. Although what we do is actually very similar to haute couture labels, we cannot officially call ourselves haute couture.

Now that you have all that in your head, hopefully you can feel better informed about the dress journey you decide to take. If you’re ready to start shopping visit our contact us page to make your appointment.

Still have an unanswered question? Email us at and we’ll do our best to help you out.

Thanks for reading!
Calèche x



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