The main problem I will address is the 'strapless' style. This is by far the most common style in commercially produced wedding dresses at this time, but it need not hinder you from purchasing a gown you have your heart set on. There are a couple of options for how to deal with the strapless challenge.
To begin with, try on your dress to determine if the neckline is too low or if you only need something covering your shoulders. If the neckline is fine, congratulations! There are numerous ways to cover your shoulders in a very elegant manner. Perhaps the easiest solution is to purchase or make a bolero jacket or shrug that will cover the shoulders, back, and arms, but will not detract from the detailing of your gown's front.
If you do not wish to wear a bolero jacket. you can use the following formula for adding wide cap sleeve straps to your dress if you feel up to the sewing challenge. While wearing your dress, measure from the top of your front neckline over your shoulder to the back neckline. Add about two inches to this measurement to determine the cap sleeve length. Next, measure from a few inches in on your shoulder to where you want the sleeve to end on your arm. Add one and one quarter inches to this measurement to find what the sleeve width will be. Now that you have these two numbers, you can cut your cap sleeves out of fabric of your choice (the pattern piece will look like a rectangle, and may be a size such as twelve by nine inches).
Cut two sleeves out of your fashion fabric, and two sleeves out of a lightweight lining fabric. Now put a lining sleeve and a fashion fabric sleeve with right sides together, and sew each of the longer sides with a five-eighths inch seam allowance. Repeat with remaining sleeve pieces. You should now have your two sleeves consisting of two pieces each. Press the seams, turn them right side out and iron flat. The hardest part is over! Simply gather up the two short ends of each of the sleeve edges and stitch using machine stitches over the gathering stitches to keep them in place. Finish the raw edges with a zigzag or overlock stitch. Pin the sleeves to the inside of your dress with about a one inch underlap, and stitch them in place by hand. You're done!
These are only two of numerous ways to change today's formal fashions, and with a little creativity you too can change your formal gown into a beautiful, modest creation!
Katrina Casey is the owner of Edelweiss Patterns, a company specializing in Sound of Music costumes, solutions for making store-bought clothing modest, as well as wedding veils and accessories. An avid seamstress, Katrina has studied historical costume in England and has had her work featured by PBS show host Martha Pullen. She resides in Oregon where she sews, creates patterns, and spends time with her family. Visit her website at http://www.edelweisspatterns.com for Sound of Music costumes and modesty tips.