How to spot a Cowboy…

Pretty much every profession has them. Most people at some point in their lives will even come across one.

Cowboy Max-8

Of course I’m not talking about men riding around on horses wearing checked shirts… I’m talking about a kind of cowboy that’s much harder to spot than that.


It makes me really sad every time someone comes to me after an experience with a cowboy dressmaker. When you’re let down like that it’s really hard to have faith in anyone, let alone another dressmaker.

One of the occasions that really sticks with me is the lady who came to me with a beautiful Dolce and Gabanna cape that had sadly been butchered by a dressmaker she had found in hercape illustration local newspaper.

All she wanted was for the arm openings to be raised slightly. When it had been returned to her, the two openings had been raised but not to the same height as each other, seams on the inside had been left undone and the only way to describe the finish was “sloppy”. She was completely disheartened about it when I met her, and she didn’t know what to do about it. She had informed the dressmaker of her concerns about the completed works but sadly the dressmaker couldn’t see a problem. This is a situation I think a lot of people get stuck in, where you end up paying for work you’re not happy with because you feel like “well, what other option do I have?”

You’ll be pleased to hear that I did manage to repair her cape though. It wasn’t perfect, because the previous dressmaker had cut the fabric rather crookedly (and I sadly can’t undo cutting) but the improvement was markedly and the client was delighted to have one of her favorite items back in a wearable state.

This is unfortunately not a one-off though.

I visited a client recently to do the fitting on her bridesmaid dress and whilst I was pinning up the hem she started telling me about an experience her sister had with a dressmaker when she had been a bridesmaid. The story alone sounded horrendous, but when they showed me the dress I couldn’t believe my eyes.

bridesmaid dress

Apart from the really poor workmanship, the one aspect I just can’t find an argument for is the use of bright white thread on a green dress. I often find that an exact colour match isn’t possible because thread doesn’t come in as many colours as fabric does, but I always get as close as possible to ensure a finish that doesn’t look like anything has been altered.

The really sad thing is that the bride who’s wedding the dresses were for ended up having to buy all new dresses because what had been done to the hem was irreparable. No hem had been turned, they had just been cut and then had the raw edge bound (in white!). There are some fabrics where this is an acceptable technique but chiffon is most definitely not one! Because they had been cut to exactly the right length, to be re-hemmed they would have ended up too short.


The problem is, how do you spot these dressmakers before any damage is done?

Here is a few tips to try to help…

1. Test them out

Don’t start out with the most expensive/precious thing you have in your wardrobe, let alone your wedding dress. Test them out first, I am sure there is something in your wardrobe that is a little too big, or a little too long.. Take that to them first so you can make sure you are happy with how they work before you let them loose on some thing you wouldn’t want to lose.

2. Take a recommendation if you can

Whether you realise it or not, someone you know has probably used a dressmaker before and there is no better way to locate a good dressmaker because your friends/family will give you an honest review of them.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

I am commonly asked about my qualifications and experience, you just have to ask. But something to bear in mind is, just because they’re qualified or have been dressmaking for 50 years doesn’t always guarantee that they’ll be good at what they do but it’s always a good start.

4. Voice if you’re not happy

You’d be surprised how many people don’t do this, and not just with dressmakers. How can someone fix something if they don’t know there is something wrong with it? One of the most important things to me is making sure my clients feel comfortable and happy to tell me when they have a concern. One of the things I do that I think helps with this is that I take payment on completion, not upfront. It’s always much easier to refuse payment till something is fixed than it is to ask for a refund.

5. Leave a review

If you’ve had a good experience, let everyone know. If the dressmaker you have used is on you can leave a review. Give the dressmaker a chance to fix something before leaving a negative review but if they are refusing to rectify something with you this is always a good option to at least help future customers be aware of your experience with them.