7 Tips From a Local Tailor: Decades of wisdom for wedding parties

Lauren Fisher

Jean Barlow of Eau Claire Alterations, 995 Peterson Ave., has removed the telltale puffed sleeves of the 1980s from many a dress over the years, transforming mothers’ gowns into the dresses of their daughters’ dreams. She recalls seeing mothers burst into tears of joy upon seeing the finished products, their legacies passed down to the girls they raised with renewed beauty. “That to me is my reward,” Barlow said. “My goal is to make it look like it hasn’t been altered; like it was made for them.” She’s been sewing since her childhood, when she made Barbie doll clothes on a treadle machine, and for the past 18 years she has operated an alteration shop out of her own home in Eau Claire. She works with a few other tailors, but saves the “fussy stuff,” as she calls it, for herself. New construction isn’t her game, but she hems, brings in, lets out, and alters bridesmaid dresses, suits, collars, shirts, pants, and gowns. Bridesmaid dresses are her favorite projects, with so many colors and styles coming through her shop. With a lifetime of experience, Barlow is full of advice for brides who need to stop for alterations on their way to the altar ...

1. Don’t worry about the number.

Barlow recommends getting fitted at a reputable dress shop, and trusting the salesperson to choose the right size. She points out that because most dresses are manufactured overseas, they run smaller than American sizes, and it’s completely normal to end up in a higher size than usual.

2. Choose the dress you love.

“Get what you want,” Barlow said. “Don’t let them put you into something that you’re not going to be happy with.”

3. Buy up, not down.

“It’s easier to take something in than it is to let something out,” she cautions. She has spent countless hours searching fabric stores, thrift shops, and more finding fabric to match a wedding gown that needed to be taken out.

4. Plan ahead!

While some alteration shops can take rush orders, giving tailors time to do a good job is kind to them and will put you at ease. Barlow takes most of her orders several months ahead of the dates they are needed.

5. Find the right tailor.

“Check out reviews, and make sure you’re comfortable with where you are and that the person knows what they’re doing,” Barlow said. She has repaired many botched jobs by other tailors, and while they can be salvaged, it’s better to get it right the first time.

6. Bring your undergarments and shoes to the fitting.

Corsets, bras, shapewear, hoop skirts, and crinolines all change the shape of a dress, and the hem will need to be adjusted to suit a bride or bridesmaid’s shoes.

7. Know what you want.

When you come in with your gown, suit, or bridesmaid dress, know what you want done. “It helps for them to know what they want, because it isn’t my vision, it’s their vision,” Barlow said of wedding dresses in particular.

Barlow says that after so many decades of stitching, she can look at a piece and reconstruct it in her head. Sometimes she problem-solves on difficult cases in her sleep, waking up with ideas to improve a garment. “You don’t get much sleep that way, but you solve the problem!” she said.

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