"Meet Me at the Alter|ations" will be a series dedicated to bridal alterations commissions completed by Syreeta C.
Today's bride is Jontae!
Jontae and I originally crossed paths back in 2017 on the local creative scene. She is a hair artistry wiz and we both showcased our creativity at a fashion show hosted by 2 of my favorite local entities: FemmeFataleDC and Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center. As most art events go, it was a blur, but I was so touched when she reached out to entrust me with a very special set of alterations.
Although this was 2018 (I know lol), I remember very clearly her excitement surrounding this gown. She found it online and fell in love. It was created by designer in Italy who specialized in one-of-a-kind (re)made fashion. And "one-of-a-kind" it was: a strapless dress layered with hand-placed remnants and fabric swatches. An ode to sustainability, style, and special occasions. I could see why Jontae fell in love with it.
However, being a creative piece means also having a creative build. The garment was the only one that existed and was only created in one standard size that didn't allow complete closure of its back zipper. It also didn't feature much seam allowance for let-out and the uniquely placed fabric panels meant this would be a series of edits just as special as the piece and wearer itself.
And Jontae called on just the right person to help. Not only do I love unique pieces, but I love a challenge as well.
When she reached out, Jontae was ready to support the work to be done. She didn't have a hard wedding date as it was more a matter of her and her partner preparing for the union that they knew would come. Jontae had seen the gown and fell in love, just as she had with her future husband, and thus the concept of time wasn't taking the lead... the connections and the appropriate investment in them were.
By the time she got to me, she had already purchased, acquired, and tried on her gown. I believe she also chatted with the original designer regarding possible fit troubleshoots. (She even sent me a try-on video, dress screenshots and edit brainstorms sketched out by the original designer. Talk about prepared!) One of the first ideas (from my own brain included) involved taking more remnants and building out gussets (or panels) to fill in those areas and blend with the rest of the dress.
Spoiler alert: we didn't do that.
I always have clients schedule a fitting appointment, even for alterations, because edits can be unpredictable. What needs to be fitted and how much always varies, along with the plan of attack. Seeing things in person is important. Lucky for me, Jontae's gown had its own party! She had a dress reveal (I truly love her and her creative energy) and invited me out to do the fitting during it.
Spoiler alert again: this may have ended up being an extra blessing, as her official wedding ceremony didn't take place until the pandemic. Those memories created at the 'Fit n Sip' when groups could share space more intimately must be extra special in hindsight.
In the end, I realized that her gown would need a significant amount of space covered in the bodice (top). A gusset or "pizza slice" as I often refer to them, would do the job, but maybe not be as cohesive as the rest of the gown.
That's when a light bulb went off.
How about a lace-up?
A lacing or corset in place of the back zip would offer a troubleshoot and a design detail -- one that I thought would suit Jontae's style without disturbing the overall look. And she loved the idea!
That's when a second lightbulb went off.
How about TWO lace-ups? (Shout out to Jontae. I'm always open to idea shares. I'll think it through and let you know feasibility so an empowered decision can be made.)
Instead of ripping out the back zipper and lacing over such a large area (maybe 6ish inches), that amount could be split in half and take place in the side seams. In the end, this would also help retain the balance of the dress* instead of having all the bodice pulling to the front with a large back opening.
*This is why garments that need to be taken in or let out are generally addressed in the side seam. Seamstresses sometimes avoid the center back for more reasons than zippers.
Because lacings take a lot of stress from pulling and tie tension, it's important to reinforce. The seams themselves received boning to keep them straight and ripple-free. This was also to make sure the strapless gown stayed up not that negative space was being created. It was integral that the bodice still supported the weight of the dress. Adding boning to a finished garment with topstitched material, but we got it in there!
Tie choice is also important as it needs to withstand similar stress and tension. The ties should be strong. My heart said to slide a contrast trim on in there and Jontae and I both loved the funky look! Because the gown had some coated and leather-look pieces, I suggested leather cording over fabric ties. Go hard or go home -- we settled on a gold metallic option.
This whole story is a testament to following your heart. The results are authentic and one-of-a-kind.
Thank you to Jontae for being so open, trusting, and all-around magical. The final look truly reflected the energy it was created with.