First we looked at the simple Jim Hjelm dresser. It fits Heather well, and it only needs moderate alterations.
Lynn explains how to budget for alterations, "Minor alterations like taking a dress in slightly, altering the hem, or adjusting straps can cost $200-$300. But you would probably also have to do that with a dress you bought new. It's a part of the process."
Lynn suggests a subtle alteration for the Hjelm, a drop-waist dress.
"You can add embellishments to personalize this: add rosettes, ribbons, sequins. Sewing something on to make the dress feel like you," she said.
Two other dresses don't fit heather well, but the Lazaro is a classic princess dress, with a jewel- edged neckline.
Lynn advises, "If you are buying a dress with lots of bead work look closely to see if there are any major areas where the embellishments have fallen off. It can be tough to match them exactly."
Heather tries on the rest of the dresses: some are nice, others don't fit right and unfortunately my $20 dress is way too small.
Dress for Less
But when Heather tries on the Vera Wang, I can tell from the minute she walks out that she loves it.
"This is just my style," she says, "This is classic."
The cut on the Vera Wang is exquisite. Lynn Estimates the dress costs $3,000-$5,000 new — it still has the hem guard attached that prevents the dress from getting dirty when brides-to-be are trying it on in a bridal salon. And for $375 the dress, which I found at the Junior League thrift store; was more than a 90 percent off.
The Vera Wang is two to three sizes too small for Heather, but Lynn, our seamstress is not deterred.
"It's easy to take a dress in a few sizes, but making it bigger can also be done," she said.
Lynn shows Heather some matching fabric and says the alteration costs would be serious; giving us a rough estimate of up to $1,000 for a possible 40 hours of sewing.
But when Heather compares her original budget of $5,000 to the finished cost of the remade Vera Wang $375 plus $1,000, she's thrilled to come in so far under budget.
"Why pay thousands of dollars when you can get it at a fraction of the price?" Heather said.