The Enthusiasts Guide from “Yes” to “I Do”

Host Leah Longbrake is pulling back the veil to bring you honest advice and creative ideas from those in the wedding industry. From the Engagement to the Honeymoon, get all the details you need from wedding and event experts on how to make it your best day ever!

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The Importance of Good Tailoring- Alterations Advice with Sara Rothan

The Importance of Good Tailoring- Alterations Advice with Sara Rothan

Garment Engineer Sara Rothan has constructed dresses for brides and celebrities over the past 15 years, and is sharing her alterations secrets! We discuss what you should look for when searching for a good tailor, the variety of ways you can customize your gown, and why fit is so important. Sara also shares what it was like working for legendary designer Carolina Herrera, and with Laura Dern on her feathery Oscar de la Renta Oscar gown this year!

Follow Sara Rothan on Instagram!




This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thank you to Executive Producers David Moss, Gerardo Orlando, Production Director Brigid Coyne and Audio Engineer Eric Koltnow.

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Leah Longbrake:

Sarah, I am so excited to have you on the show today. I've been dying to pick your brain about everything having to do with alterations and tailoring and I love that your title is garment engineer.

Sara Rothan:

Thank you so much. I am very excited to be on the show.

Leah Longbrake:

So give us a little bit of a background about yourself. Did you know that you always wanted to have a role in fashion?

Sara Rothan:

It was a surprise to me when I decided that fashion design is going to be my major. I went to art school, but I felt like I was seriously considering advertising as well. So it wasn't a surprise to other people in my life, which is interesting to me, but it felt like I

had no idea it was coming.

Leah Longbrake:

I had read that you had you got your start in Columbus, Ohio, is that correct?

Sara Rothan:

Yes. I went to Columbus College of Art and Design, which is a big art school in Ohio.

Leah Longbrake:

Then what was the transition from there? Because you now work with celebrity clients and so many beautiful brides.

Sara Rothan:

Yeah, I interned for a custom bridal salon based in Columbus and just really fell in love with the process. It wasn't even so much alterations, it was more like redesigns. The owner at the time would give me a dress that was maybe a little bit outdated and then let me design and redesign it into something that was a bit more modern that would be wearable in the times. I fell in love with that. So I moved around a lot, I wasn't even doing fashion for many of the years. But when I moved to LA, it all just clicked into place. I figured between the clothing industry and the film industry, I was bound to get some work in my field and I did.

Leah Longbrake:

And in one of that, you have the honor of working with the legendary Carolina Herrera. What was the experience like, and are you still working with her?

Sara Rothan:

So, yes, I was the alterations manager at the LA store for a couple years. It was such an honor because she was one of those designers that I had always loved. Even before I was necessarily paying attention to who was wearing what on the red carpet, I would see a dress and I'd be like, "I love this dress." And then I'd look down and see, "Oh, of course. It's Herrera. Of course I love this dress." So getting to work with those dresses was... I really hadn't even ever imagined how that would be a possibility so it was a pleasant surprise.

Leah Longbrake:

Has that influenced your career? Having worked with her and her company?

Sara Rothan:

I mean, of course. That's where I made a lot of the initial connections because that was one of the first jobs that I had had when I moved to LA. So the connections that were made with stylists and of course the first time working with celebrities was for people who were going to be wearing her things on the red carpet. Definitely shaped what happened afterwards and the connections that I made.

Leah Longbrake:

Yeah. I love seeing the photos on your website of the different celebrities you've worked with. Tell us about some of these experiences because you've done work for all these actresses on red carpets for golden Globes and SAG. I saw the cast of Crazy Rich Asians on the cover of entertainment weekly, that's huge.

Sara Rothan:

Yeah, no, it's been an adventure. I love it. It's definitely high pressure, things tend to be last minute but that's part of what keeps it so exciting and you get to meet a lot of people that I certainly wouldn't have met any other way. So I do love it. I just did Laura Dern's alterations for the Oscars. She was in Oscar de la Renta. So that's so fresh that I still have little feathers floating around my apartment.

Leah Longbrake:

I loved her look.

Sara Rothan:

I know that some people loved it, some people didn't like it so much, but what I loved about it was that it was not boring. It wasn't a, "Oh, I've seen this dress before." It was a statement and the way the feathers moved, that was beautiful.

Leah Longbrake:

Like she was floating.

Sara Rothan:

Yes, exactly. It was one of my favorite parts.

Leah Longbrake:

So you talk about being high pressure and things can be last minute. That tends to happen in weddings, especially with wedding dresses, let's get into the importance of tailoring and alterations for wedding gowns and how the process should work for brides out there that are obviously new to this.

Sara Rothan:

Absolutely. I'm biased, of course, but I think that alterations is one of the most important things when it comes to a bride and how she feels and looks. Of course you can find your dream dress and you're just completely in love with it but the number of times that I've had brides say, "Wow, I loved it before, but now that it fits me, I didn't think I could love it more, but I do." So I think it's hugely important. The process can of course vary a bit. There's no one solution to the process, but I typically do three fittings and I start about six to eight weeks before the wedding date with the goal of the last fitting being roughly 10 days to two weeks before the actual wedding date or in the case of a wedding where there'll be traveling somewhere else, before that date.

Leah Longbrake:

No, that's a great tip. That's great to know, and that's not just because pandemic times. This is the standard and what people should be considering when it comes to their alterations.

Sara Rothan:

No, the pandemic has definitely turned everything on its edge a little bit. It's definitely different in that people should be probably trying to book sooner rather than later, because there seems to be now a rush of all of the weddings that haven't been able to happen. So I would say for now, definitely try and book your tailor sooner rather than later, just so that you're on the books so that they are making time for you and considering you, because a lot of things are ending up being last minute.

Leah Longbrake:

You make custom gowns.

Sara Rothan:

Yes.

Leah Longbrake:

I want to talk about that, but right before we get deeper into that brides that already have their dresses, but maybe feel like something's missing, what do you say that to them about adding straps or removing straps or adding things to their dress, making it more custom for themselves?

Sara Rothan:

I think that that is a fantastic solution. There's so many things that you can satisfy in trying to do that. You are wearing a strapless dress, it's beautiful, perfection, walking down the aisle and then when you are going to get dancing, I will say a well-tailored dress doesn't need to be fussed with and it will stay up.

Leah Longbrake:

Yeah, you shouldn't be having to pull it up all night.

Sara Rothan:

However, if you feel more comfortable, which is a huge part of alterations is how you feel, then putting a strap that can be taken off for the ceremony, but put on for the reception when you want to get down and just not even a tiny bit think about it is such a great solution. It really makes it a lot more versatile. I love even brides doing different accessories for the reception. If you're going to mix it up.

Leah Longbrake:

Yeah.

Sara Rothan:

Or have a Bolero or some sort of coverup for the ceremony and then take it off. It's like you get two looks in one dress, which, who doesn't love that?

Leah Longbrake:

Absolutely. In some cultures, it's mandatory to have sleeves or some kind of cover up. I think certain Catholic churches and different just ethnic backgrounds, you're required to aren't you?

Sara Rothan:

Absolutely. I know the Jewish faith sometimes depending on what is necessary, need to be covered up as well. So having that as a design element, and like I said, it really creates two looks in one dress.

Leah Longbrake:

So let's get into your custom gowns and I believe you even did a one for yourself.

Sara Rothan:

I did, one of my dresses was custom and I got asked a lot if I ever got married, would I make my own dress? I was like, "Absolutely." They're like, "What would it look like?" I'm like, "I have no idea." I've seen so many dresses. I have no idea what it would look like. So even I was surprised when it came together and I was like, "Yep, this is it and I love it." I couldn't have possibly known in advance what it was going to look like.

Leah Longbrake:

How did you even start to come up with ideas? Because I'm sure there's brides out there that are looking to have their own custom piece, but where would you begin?

Sara Rothan:

I always tell my brides, even if you feel very certain that you're going to do a custom dress, I first of all, don't want them to miss out on the experience that is trying on wedding dresses. Because for a lot of people that's fun and you should have fun. I would hate for that to be not a part of the process. But additionally, the number of times I've heard a bride say, "I never thought I would wear this style ever. In fact, I didn't like it at all and then I tried it on because the sales associate insisted that I try it on and I fell in love with it and now that's the style that I'm wearing." I hear that so frequently and in fact, I experienced the same thing for myself. I tried on dresses, I've tried on a lot of wedding dresses just because I can and I love to.

Leah Longbrake:

Why not?

Sara Rothan:

Yeah, oh my gosh. It's like your six year old princess dreams come true.

Leah Longbrake:

Right.

Sara Rothan:

So I ended up choosing a neck line that I never in a million years thought I would have chosen. So it's fun that as many times, as I've told brides you could love something that you never thought you would. I got to experience it and that was actually really crazy.

Leah Longbrake:

Can you describe for us what your dress ended up looking like?

Sara Rothan:

Yes, so I am a very covered up person, but I tried on a dress that had one of those plunging V's, not all the way plunging, but pretty plunging. I was obsessed. I was like, "I've never, ever worn something like this. How crazy is it that I'm going to wear something I've never worn before?" Because I often suggest to brides, "Be you, be your glamorous, elevated, most perfect version of you. But wear something that feels like you." And yet here I am knowing for a fact that sometimes you end up choosing something that isn't you and yet it somehow is. It becomes you.

Leah Longbrake:

Just your Oscar moment.

Sara Rothan:

Yes. That's your ta-da. I love that.

Leah Longbrake:

Right.

Sara Rothan:

Yes.

Leah Longbrake:

What about the importance of fabrics, choosing fabrics for your wedding dress? Especially when it comes to tailoring.

Sara Rothan:

I don't know that I think that fabric choice should be too much of a consideration beyond if you're going to be sitting between the time that you put on your dress and you show up, you're going to be walking down the aisle. Some fabrics of course will wrinkle across the front of the lap. So that may be a consideration. Tulle, of course, well rip when stepped on or even looked at funny. That is part of what happens with it. I say, "That's the dress that you love. That's the dress that you should get and just know that, and don't worry about it if it does happen because, enjoy your night. That's really the most important thing." One of the goals that I have in my alterations is making sure that the bride is as thoughtless about the dress. That sounds crazy.

Leah Longbrake:

Like it's just second nature on your body and you're not having to think twice about it.

Sara Rothan:

Right, exactly. You're not fussing with it or tripping over it or feeling like you have to tweak something or shift. You should really be just in the moment as much as possible because it passes by so quickly and anything I can do to facilitate that is one of my goals.

Leah Longbrake:

What's your take or advice on brides that purchase a dress and insist that they're going to lose X amount of weight to where it would be three dress sizes, shorter, more tied it in, more fitted. What's the realistic take on alterations and tailoring when it comes to letting in and letting out the fabric and the dress?

Sara Rothan:

So taking it in is always going to be better than letting it out. Which is why a lot of sales associates will insist you air on the side of what you are now. That is the safest bet. I have literally taken a dress from a 12 to a four before. Now that's not ideal certainly, but it is possible and I just hate the idea of a bride maybe not quite matching the goal that she had in her head and then having to release and hoping that there's room to release and that a mark isn't left behind from where the original seem was. It's just always better to take in so that's definitely a key element in ordering dresses

Leah Longbrake:

So order the size that you're told because you can always take in. Don't be aggressive and try to order small.

Sara Rothan:

Yes, exactly.

Leah Longbrake:

So what are some other do's and don'ts when it comes to wedding alterations, formal dresses and tailoring?

Sara Rothan:

Boy, there's so many. I am overwhelmed. Let's see. Well, I think one of the really important ones is finding a tailor that you can communicate with. I get asked a lot, "How do you find a tailor? How do you know that they're good?" Looking at photos is one of the ways, but it doesn't really necessarily communicate if they're going to be a good match for you. I think that's really important because feeling like you can communicate with someone easily and ask questions and have them answered. I hear a lot of horror stories of other tailors that some of my brides have worked with and they're sometimes told like, "Oh, don't worry about it. I've been doing this for 20 years. It'll be fine." If that's the kind of response that you're getting, it's not really going to be a

satisfying experience and you might not get the results because you might feel like, "Well, I don't know."

Sara Rothan:

All the time I'm asked by brides, "Is it easy to take some of the petticoat out?" They're concerned, they're nervous about asking, they don't want to come off as a bridezilla. They don't know if it's possible. They don't know if it's going to be too much work. I'm like, "Ask all of the questions, and they should be answered reasonably and so that you understand what's going on." Because first of all, I would always say, "It does not matter if it's easier or not. That is not your concern." If that's what needs to be done, that's what needs to be done. So just finding somebody that you communicate with is definitely one of my biggest tips.

Leah Longbrake:

When it comes to tailoring for suits, whether the couple wants to wear a suit instead of a dress or a jumpsuit, which are super popular right now.

Sara Rothan:

So cute.

Leah Longbrake:

Right. Are a lot of the same tailoring and alterations tips for dresses the same for that? Or are there some other tips that you have when it comes to variations in your attire?

Sara Rothan:

I think that that's very situational. I would hate to make a broad statement, but there's just going to be different considerations and timelines and that would just be something to call around if you're looking at different tailors to see what they have to say. Because I sometimes see things that other people have tailored and they've done it differently than I would do it and it's still satisfying the goals of making a beautiful fit and the same is true of how different tailors work. So reaching out to whomever you think you might be working with is going to be key to get their input on what might be necessary. I'm often sent photos when I get an inquiry bride in the her outfit, so that I can get a sense of what we're talking about and address that situation specifically.

Leah Longbrake:

That is such a great idea to communicate, especially from the start.

Sara Rothan:

Yeah. It really helps. It gives me an immediate idea of what we're talking about.

Sometimes brides feel a pressure to know what needs to be done and so they'll list it out. I just imagine these girls being like, "I think I need this and this. How am I supposed to know what I need?" And my answer is you don't actually need to know what needs to be done. You just need to find a tailor that you can communicate with and who will tell you the considerations and what needs to be done. You really shouldn't have to worry about it. There's a line between having information so that you go into a situation prepared versus needing to know about specific fabrics or how something is done or exactly what undergarment you should bring or wear. I say, "Just bring your shoes and your dress and your bail if you want to just see how it all looks together, certainly." But all you really need for that first fitting is shoes and your dress. That's when the conversation will be had about particular undergarments that you might want to wear or your change of shoes or whatever else.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh yeah, because shoe height can make a total difference in the length of your dress.

Sara Rothan:

Absolutely. It is crucial to have your actual shoes because I often say, "Well, what if..." "They're probably going to be the same height," and I'm like, "That's great, but I want your dress to be as perfect as I can make it and so I'm going to need to do that from your actual shoes."

Leah Longbrake:

So I love seeing all the photos on your website of your work. There's so many beautiful dresses that you've been a part of. Do you have a favorite bridal moment or celebrity involvement that you want to share with us?

Sara Rothan:

Bridal moment. Gosh, there's so many different ideas that I have here, but let's see. Honestly the bride reaching out to me afterwards and sending me the photos and telling me how happy and how she moved freely. Or I even had a bride Wednesday like, "My tulle dress ripped, like you said it was, but I was prepared for it and I didn't let it bother me." And I'm like, "Yes, success." That's exactly what I want to do, just prepare so you don't have to worry about anything. I am doing quite a few videos that I'm trying to put out there. I really want women to be empowered and educated in the process and like I said, not so that they know how anything is done particularly, but just how they can talk about different topics about alterations a little bit more comfortably with some confidence and, and be more decisive about what's going to work for them.

Leah Longbrake:

That's amazing. I love that.

Sara Rothan:

Thank you. I do too.

Leah Longbrake:

So the fun question I wanted to ask you at the end, I love asking my guests different wedding related questions. So for you, what is your favorite celebrity wedding gown and your favorite Royal wedding gown?

Sara Rothan:

Oh my gosh. Let's see, my favorite Royal wedding gown. I mean, I have to say Kate Middleton's was everything. It was fit perfection and it was beautiful. I'm tied because I do actually love the simplicity personally of Megan's dress as well. I just wish it were, dare I say it, tailored a bit better. Is that awful to say?

Leah Longbrake:

No, I get what you're saying though. I could see where you're coming from with that. I felt like her second dress, the Stella McCartney that she left in, the halter was tailored better for her.

Sara Rothan:

Yes. I loved both of them really. I did love the simplicity of that first dress of hers though. With a beautiful veil, it's-

Leah Longbrake:

Classic and timeless.

Sara Rothan:

I love weddings. I love wedding dresses. I don't know my favorite celebrity wedding dresses, but my favorite... Sorry, you know what? I'm going to say Gwen Stefani.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh.

Sara Rothan:

I'm going to go for the splash.

Leah Longbrake:

The pink ombre.

Sara Rothan:

Yes.

Leah Longbrake:

I love that dress. That was Jean-Paul Gaultier, I think right?

Sara Rothan:

Yes.

Leah Longbrake:

Or Galliano, John Galliano.

Sara Rothan:

Exactly.

Leah Longbrake:

For Dior.

Sara Rothan:

It was just everything delightful and whimsical and also classic. I mean, aside from the ombre, the silhouette was just beautiful.

Leah Longbrake:

Yeah, and the slightly off the shoulder, like the one shoulder down with the pink ribbon to tighten.

Sara Rothan:

Yes. She always has such great style.

Leah Longbrake:

I'm curious to see what her dress is going to be with her wedding to Blake Shelton.

Sara Rothan:

Oh my gosh.

Leah Longbrake:

Her dress to Gavin. I totally agree with you. It's in my top 10 of all time, because it was so different and unique and it still took like 10 years before people started doing like blushes and playing with color with their dresses. But yeah, classic, but cool.

Sara Rothan:

Exactly. I love that. I love when a bride style is exemplified in their wedding dress. Really it's a personality, when your personality shows through a little bit, or there are details that are just really personal and maybe not everybody recognizes them, but the inner circle they know, and that makes it really personalized, that and a perfect fit.

Leah Longbrake:

Sara, how can we get more information on you and your company?

Sara Rothan:

I have a website, but really, like I said, what I'm really pushing is I'm doing IGTV videos, they're very short little videos under different topics and I'm just finishing up bustles right now, but it's everything you want to know in a minute and a half on one particular kind of bustle. Next will be alterations. So I just plan on putting this information out there in hopes of educating all of my beautiful brides to know what they can ask and, and just understand the process a bit better.

Leah Longbrake:

That's great and we'll have all this information in the show notes so everyone can click the link and learn more.

Sara Rothan:

Fantastic.

Leah Longbrake:

Sara, thank you so much for being here. It's been so fun chatting with you.

Sara Rothan:

Absolutely my pleasure. It was great talking with you too.

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