At my in laws recently, my SIL tried on her wedding dress so we could play with accessories and veils. We had talked earlier about what she would do about alterations, and I was passing on everything I had learned in my alterations ordeal, as well as that of my sister's - it's going to be expensive, it will be worth it, but go to somebody you trust and like.
I think the most important thing to know is: you do not have to use the seamstress at the bridal shop you get your dress from. The second most important thing to know is: you do not have to use the first seamstress you go to. Especially if you are up front about "finding out what the alterations will cost" or "coming in for a consultation."
As she was trying on her dress, which is a sample dress that she got at the end of the summer, there were a few bits where the beading is coming lose as well. My MIL was saying that she could take care of x or y on the dress, and I was shaking my head. I realized later that I acted exactly the way that other people acted when I talked about hemming my dress myself or taking care of the broken buttons on the back myself. I also recognize now that I'm on the other side that there is a reason for that.
I think there is a lot to be said for consistency, and a lot to be said for hiring a professional for certain things. I'm a darn good seamstress when it comes to the usher's ties or baby bibs or halloween costumes. And while I could have attempted to alter my wedding dress myself, I know now that I would never ever in a million years done the job my seamstress did on it.
Alterations are expensive, no doubt about it. I paid $50 just to get a regular dress hemmed recently, and I could not have imagined that it would cost that much. The advice I can give you to lower the cost of your alterations is this: buy a cheaper dress.
That's it. I'm sorry. Even my sister, whose wedding dress fit her almost perfectly, wound up paying over $300 for the hem and a few alterations to the strap/bust of the dress. (If you are in that position though, look for a seamstress who caps the cost of their alterations. Usually around $250 or $300.) I paid more than the cost of my dress to get it to fit perfectly.
I knew I would be paying a lot in alterations, so I looked for a dress without beading, because beading is one of the things that can make alterations more expensive and more complicated. Another trick is to find a used dress that has already been altered to something near your height, so you can just wear taller or shorter shoes. You can also sometimes order a dress in a particular length, so that you don't have to get it altered (but might find that after ordering the dress in that length, it's still too long and you have to get it hemmed anyway.) If you are buying a dress off-the-rack as a sample, etc. in the store, talk to the seamstress there and demand a price quote from her. If you are thinking about buying the dress that day, there is NO reason why the seamstress cannot actually tell you what she would charge for the alterations - it's not a matter of waiting until the dress comes in, etc. That is your dress.
Also, don't immediately write off the cost of getting a dress custom made. This is actually something I wish I had explored more - if I'd gotten a dress custom made, it probably would have cost close to what mine did in original costs + alterations.
Anyone have tips on what to look for in a dress that would cut down the cost of alterations? Any ideas for ways to save money when getting the dress altered?