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Would you do your job free or for a discount?

Have you ever been asked to work for no/less money? How did you respond and how did you feel afterwards?

The Un-Wedding posted this on Instagram today, and it chimed with some recent conversations with fellow designer-dressmakers who have been asked for discounts, or even to work free in exchange for “exposure”.

I’m either not famous enough or too scary looking to have ever been asked to work for nothing by an influencer or celebrity, and the vast majority of people do recognise the value of what I do. (Actually, one influencer didn’t even tell me about her YouTube channel until after she’d booked me).

Who even does that?

However, on the odd occasion I’ve been asked for a discount, it’s been for wedding dress alterations. This tends to be the last thing to be paid for when planning a wedding, because alterations typically happen as close to the big day as possible so your body is the size and shape it will be on the day.

I’ve become a lot stricter – nay, assertive – about discounts, because every single time I’ve agreed, I’ve resented the customer, hated the work, and gnashed my teeth with every stitch. I’m not out to rip anyone off or obsessed with making as much money as possible; I’d have stayed in corporate PR if I were.

I’ve become more assertive about discounts. Sorry, not sorry.

I usually do put in a lot more work than agreed for the sheer fun of it, and on the odd occasion I’ve even waived my fee entirely just because I wanted to.

Top ‘reasons’ people have expected a discount

Below are the reasons I’ve been given for why I should agree to a discount and my response to each:

1. “We’ve overspent on everything else and run out of money.” (Three instances of this)

Think back to before you booked a single thing. Would you have called me – a stranger –  and asked me to buy, say, your cake, or pay for the extra flower arches? Because that’s effectively what you’re asking me to do now. 

2. “The alterations are costing more than half what I paid for the dress!”

Your dress was an absolute steal but is three sizes too big for you, eight inches too long and will need to have most of the lace removed, replaced and re-beaded by hand.

3. “If I pay that much, I will cry.” (Actually the same person as 2, above)

The work you need will take me around three days in my busiest month of the year when im already starting work at 5.30am and finishing around midnight, and if two of those days are unpaid, I will show you bloody crying.

4. Calling me after the fitting: “Can we round it down to £xxx if I give you cash?”

Err, oh. OK. I was caught off, in a flap and acquiesced. But why should cash necessitate a discount? It actually creates work for me because I have to make a trip to a real-life bank to pay it in. Plus I’m far too socialist to not declare any income on my tax return.

This particular person had also given me an unwashed dress to take in that she had worn clubbing and needed for her hen do (lots of fiddly work to the underarm section) and was condescending to her lovely sister in every appointment.

She also spent one fitting on the phone boasting about how much money she’d got another supplier to come down by. I agreed to the discount but hers was the only name I’ve ever made a mental note of to never work for again.

Same same but different

There are some inquiries that might sound or feel like asking for a discount but aren’t, so please don’t feel afraid to ask (and vendors, please don’t feel offended of you encounter them). Asking for a starting price or rough estimate isn’t rude and neither is surprise when finding out the cost.

Not many people have ever bought anything wedding-related before they plan their own so it’s not reasonable to expect anyone to know what things cost.

Manners for makers

A discount means a compromise on fabrics,  my time or both, and you can’t do that with couture. Moreover, I’m not willing to do any of those and still put my name to the result.

Even MORE-over, asking for a discount is rude. Either you value my work or you don’t.

Aah, that was cathartic. Therapy I didn’t know I needed.

Not actually me, but how I’m feeling now
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My brides and dresses are all so different. Do I even have a typical customer?

What do a pink glittery ballgown, a satin ivory shift mini-dress, and a two-piece embroidered lehenga have in common? Or a backless, barely-there lace dress with a long-sleeved, high-necked, satin-twill number?

Some of my 2021 brides in their bespoke gowns on their wedding days. L-R: Emma, Steffi, Gemma, Isobel and Immi

I mean aside from the obvious, that they are all wedding dresses. And made by me.

The answer is in why I made them. Or rather why I had to.

UK brides are spoiled for choice whatever their budget with independent bridal boutiques, concessions in Harrods and Selfridges, chain stores like Wed2b and David’s Bridal, second-hand dresses and hell, even Asos is getting in on the bridal scene. If, and that’s a big if, they want a traditional ivory dress.

Not all brides do. Some don’t want ivory. Some don’t want a dress.

The very variety of styles I’ve made in the last year might suggest I don’t have a typical customer. But I have found that my brides tend to have some common traits:

1. All of my brides have a strong personal style. They know what works for them, what looks dynamite, and what doesn’t;

2. They know exactly what they’re looking for. Some had mood boards, others had lists of elements such as neckline, silhouette, embroidery details, etc, some had even produced sketches.

3. They couldn’t find what they were looking for ready-made in any shop. It didn’t exist.

That’s when they looked into going bespoke and found me.

So, do I have a typical customer? Yes and no. Do the traits above sound familiar to you?

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Is the make-up-free Miss GB contestant empowering women and girls? What about brides?

One of the top ten most read BBC News stories this morning concerns Elle Seline, a contestant in Miss GB, who plans to appear without make-up at this year’s competition. Ms Seline, who was bullied about her appearance in her teens (as I was), says she is doing this to challenge patriarchal standards of beauty and to empower other women and girls.

But does it? And why does it have anything to do with me, or weddings?

What I find more interesting than the story itself is that a woman choosing not to wear make-up on a particular day is such big news. I often don’t wear make up; when I’m working, I usually end up inside wedding dresses between layers and don’t want to leave marks. Sometimes I just don’t want to wear it. Hardly hold-the-front-page stuff though, right?

The difference is of course the context, i.e. an event at which a woman would be expected to wear make-up. Weddings, specifically being The Bride, are another example. So here’s the relevance to us.

Some brides (like me, a natural extrovert) relish the attention on their wedding days while they, as tradition dictates, look their best. But this pressure to look “your best”, what your best self actually looks like, AND being the centre of attention makes many – maybe most, in my experience – feel very vulnerable. Judged. Absolutely bloody terrified.

So I believe Ms Seline’s message for brides is empowering: (with apologies to my make-up artist friends), you can go without make-up when you’re expected to wear it and still be beautiful. Your best self. Stick THAT to the patriarchy.

However, let’s not get carried too far away from the feminist track. Ms Seline is taking control of her own narrative to stick one to her former bullies, yes. However, entering a competition that judges and ranks women on their appearance, whatever standard employed, is a massive self own in this narrative. It says: how women look is still the best way to judge us.

You don’t defeat bullies who think you’re ugly by changing their minds into thinking you’re beautiful; you slay them by demonstrably not giving a shit what they think of your appearance. And that can’t include entering a competition to be judged on just that. So her message is NOT empowering for women and girls generally.

For brides, wear the make-up, don’t wear the make-up. Just know you are giving your best self to the person you love the most, whatever that looks like.

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Weddings can resume but wedding dress fittings can’t 🤦‍♀️

Weddings in the UK are officially back ON, from 8 March with maximum six people. Hurrah for my bride planning to elope with her intended!

Unfortunately, I can’t reopen for in-person appointments – including fittings – until 12 April. So how’s she supposed to get her dress altered.

She even suggested doing her fitting outdoors, hoping we’d be within the rules when two people can meet outdoors for food or drinks. Sadly not the case and besides, my two children will be back at school and exposed to 180 people daily by then so I’m not as isolated as I could be. It’s just not worth the risk.

But we’ve struck upon a solution. We’ll do her fitting via videocall, with me guiding her mum (whom she lives with) on where to stick the pins and which bits to measure. Then we can exchange the dress contact-free and I’ll alter it for her.

Adapt, adapt, adapt.

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The Troll Didn’t Like What She Asked For

And she’s back. (If you missed the first two blog posts on my first troll experience, I have deeply upset a bride to be by charging more than $100 for my veils.) Below is her return volley to my explanation of how I arrive at the prices for my work.

Indeed, I hope I never forget this one. 😉

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The Troll Asked For It

Literally. My post yesterday saw the final missive from my troll asking me to justify my prices but doubting I would be so transparent.

Challenge accepted. Here’s how I responded and she can’t say she didn’t ask for it.


You ask a very good question, because it’s almost impossible to say precisely what each item costs to make – the “cost of sale” in accountancy terms. There are a lot of costs that have to be averaged out between all the things I make in, say, a year, and this number changes all the time (especially at the moment). What I can say for sure is that the cost of sale is more than just the cost of the fabric, thread and a comb. Below is a, I think, hypothetical illustration which I first saw as being about a builder being asked to quote for a project but I’ve adapted it to make it more relevant to us:

Next time someone asks me why I charge what I do 
A customer asked me to create my This Is Not A Phase veil.
I gave them a quote of $280.
The customer responded: “That’s seems really high.”
I asked: “What do you think is a reasonable price for this veil?”
The customer answered: “$100 maximum.”
I responded: “OK, then I invite you to do it yourself.”
The customer answered: “I don’t know how to.”
I responded: “All right then, for $100 I’ll teach you how to. In addition to saving some money, you’ll learn valuable skills that will benefit you in the future.”
The customer answered: “Sounds good! Let’s do it!”
I responded: “Great! To get started, you are going to need some tools. You will need at least one embroidery machine ($1,300; annual maintenance $100, although the one I REEEEAAALLY want is $11k), an overlocker ($300, annual maintenance $50), embroidery software ($900), a large cutting mat (mine is 97″ x 50″, $350), a rotary cutter ($30), a tape measure, scissors, pins, needles, an iron and ironing board.”
The customer answered: “But I don’t have any of those tools and I can’t justify buying all of these for one veil.”
I responded: “OK. Well, for an additional $20 I can rent my tools to you to use for this project.”
The customer answered: “OK. That’s fair.”
I responded: “Great! We will start teaching you on Monday after we buy the $30’s worth of fabric, thread and water-soluble stabiliser.”
The customer answered: “I work Monday through Friday. I’m only available on the weekends.”
I responded: “If you want to learn from me, it will have to be during my working hours. I spend my weekends working on commissions, paperwork, admin, marketing and exhibiting at wedding fairs (when we’re not in  a pandemic of course) in between looking after my two children. I work seven days a week.”
I continued: “To create this veil from start to finish will take about two days, so you will need to take two days off work.”
The customer answered: “That means I’m going to have to sacrifice my pay for two days or use my vacation time!”
I responded: “That’s true. Remember, when you do a job yourself you need to account for all factors. It isn’t just fabric and thread.”
The customer answered: “What do you mean by that?”
I responded: “Making a veil or wedding dress completely from start to finish includes time spent to plan the design, source fabrics, threads and embellishments, travel time, electricity, time for cutting, pattern making, sewing, embroidering, soaking (to dissolve the stabiliser), embellishing, edging, packaging, storage space for rolls of fabric, clean up and waste disposal amongst other things. So, we will start learning how to use the embroidery machine on Monday at 8am.”
The customer answered: “But that is so soon, surely that won’t take more than an hour or two.”
I responded: “It took me a year of practising to learn how to make them and several hours in paid classes. I estimate it will a full day to to embroider the seven moons on your veil – once you have the knack. Then we’ll add the comb and embellishments. They are going to cost you approx. $20. In addition to this you will have to get a public liability insurance ($400) and professional indemnity insurance ($400) and pay the Information Commissioner’s office $20 to stay registered, which is a legal requirement.”
The customer answered: “You know, I’m realising that a lot more goes in to a veil than what a customer sees in the finished product. Your quote of $280 is very reasonable. I would like to book you to create my veil.

When you pay for a job, especially a custom job, (whether it’s a physical project or digital project) you pay not only for the material and the work to be completed. You also pay for:
✔️Custom skills
✔️Time to plan
✔️Time to prepare
✔️Work ethic
Please don’t disrespect a service provider by trying to get them to lower their prices.
If their proposal exceeds your budget, there’s nothing wrong with getting other proposals.
Just remember, you get what you pay for.

SERVICE PROVIDERS: Know your worth and be confident in it.
CONSUMERS: Recognize their worth and be respectful of it.
Sharing this to support all my friends, family and clients who are entrepreneurs, business owners and radesman.

… and I’m back. I appreciate that was rather long. In addition to the extra costs in that example, Etsy takes 15% ($42 in this case) of every sale I make on its platform and PayPal takes a further cut (there are fees and hosting costs for sales through my own website too), I also include the packaging and international shipping in the price ($20). There’s also the cost of marketing: my regular magazine ads vary from $60-$350 per month, wedding fair exhibiting fees ($250-$4,500 per event) sponsored posts on social media (around $100 per month) plus the time and expertise that goes into creating the content (arranging styled shoots in collaboration with other wedding professionals – for no payment), writing blog posts and other social content (I spent nearly 20 years as a professional PR writer and consultant before starting my dressmaking business six years ago).

So. If you still insist on looking no further than the cost of the materials, I could send you three metres of ivory tulle, some lengths of thread (five kinds), a pack of embellishments and a comb. Then maybe you could tell me what you think my work is worth. 😊

Holly xx


Something she wouldn’t need, but still comes in rather handy for me in my business sometimes, is that I have learned to speak semi-fluent German and Japanese (most of the latter sadly now forgotten after a couple of fallow decades), functional French and a smattering of Spanish and Russian.

So yes, I absolutely and unapologetically will target my work to those who can afford it. If I don’t value myself, I can’t expect others to.

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I Get Tickled by a Troll

I have MADE IT. Two very exciting, seminal, touchstone moments happened yesterday, both sparked by my moon-phase veil (This Is Not A Phase, pictured):
1. I received my first order through my brand new online shop;
2. I encountered my first troll.

This Is Not A Phase moon veil by Holly Winter Couture in ivory and silver Chapel length
Trip-trap, trip trap, over the bridge 🐐

This veil has received a lot of love, for which I am very grateful. But one person’s love for it quickly descended into something else. This is the message I received, in full:

I KNOW you shouldn’t feed the trolls. But I had obviously made someone very angry so I compulsively sent her a little love:

Now I know WHY you shouldn’t feed the trolls; I received this:


And this:

Do not feed the trolls

Continuing in a new screengrab:


And another:


Thank you for making it this far. I admit that this subsequent essay rattled me. I have mentally drafted several responses and justifications for how I set my prices and they all involve fundamental economics, detailed accountancy, my latest tax return and a spreadsheet so I will spare you all of them. You’re welcome.

Instead, while anyone involved in planning a wedding (actually, anyone generally) is having a tough time riding out the pandemic, I will take a small measure of success wherever I find it. 👹💕

Edited to add, for the record, payment methods I accept are cash, credit/debit cards, bank transfer, PayPal and, if you really have to, cheque, but not severed limbs (they stain my lovely fabrics) and DEFINITELY not babies.

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Karma and Covid Collide

Oh, irony, you sweet, delicious bastard. 🍏

Someone I know who was stridently opposed to same-sex marriage is now engaged and trying to plan a wedding. And she is stridently complaining that it can’t currently happen because of Covid-19 laws (in our part of the UK, we’re in Tier 4, which essentially means we’re in lockdown and weddings can only take place in exceptional circumstances, usually to do with terminal illness).

Apparently, she doesn’t like being legally prevented from marrying the man she loves. Imagine that! Isn’t it outrageous?

My heart goes out to everyone trying to organise a wedding at the moment. I don’t wish the stress, hassle and expense of replanning a wedding on anyone. Even her. Seriously.

But. Still. Mwahahaha!

It is all I can do to resist replying with something about them apples.