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Nov 5, 2013
10:17 AM
Window Shopping

Lovely Wedding Gift Idea: A Custom Bridal Illustration


In this day and age of Pinterest, wedding blogs and even custom Twitter handles for a couple’s big day, weddings have never been a bigger deal—and it’s never been easier (or more difficult?) to make nuptials unique and special.

Enter Illustrate the Dress, a wonderful service that captures a bride’s dress in illustrated form. Owner and illustrator Jen Thompson started her business three years ago here in Madison when she realized that her hobby could be quite lucrative. Thompson moved to San Francisco about a year ago to be a buyer for K-Mart apparel, but still actively operates her dress illustration business for customers around the U.S.

I was married on August 25th, 2012, and I was lucky enough to have Thompson do an illustration for me of my wedding dress this fall. Even though Jen was long-distance, we had a delightful phone conversation and I sent her photos of my dress from my wedding and the process couldn’t have been simpler. I got the illustration in the mail one day at work and I was truly giddy to open the package to discover how Thompson had captured my special ensemble. Her illustration of my dress is above, and a photo of my (very handsome!) husband and I is below to show how accurately Thompson drew my dress! I couldn’t thank Thompson enough for how special I felt once I saw her illustration. It’s a custom keepsake that will make me smile for years to come. I asked Thompson a bit more about her business and how she got her start.

Why did you decide to start Illustrate the Dress?
I was in my mid twenties and … I had eight weddings in one summer. I was also newly in the fashion industry and I didn’t have a ton of money, and weddings cost a lot! So when I was trying to determine what to give the bride for the wedding day, I wanted to give [her] something more personal. I had just started teaching fashion illustration at the UW, and I wondered if I could do a cool custom illustration for the bride.

I did one and I gave it to [a friend] at her bridal shower and when she opened it, I’ll never forget that feeling. Then I started getting phone calls to do [more illustrations]. It really started to hit me as I started getting more calls that OK, I need to start a business. It’s definitely my side business and my hobby, but at the same time I’m glad I can do it and love what I do.

How did you get into illustrating?
I majored in textile and apparel design and minored in general business. The UW has an amazing program. After that I worked at Burberry in London and in New York. Then I came back to the area to work at Lands’ End, where I designed swimwear and sweaters for two years. I ended up leaving because I had an old professor contact me to teach fashion illustration at the UW. I taught that there for three and a half years.

I would imagine that you’re not the only one out there doing this. How is your take on a bride’s ensemble different?
What’s interesting is that back before wedding gowns were mass-produced, usually someone would create this great sketch for you and you’d have your dress made. And you’d go through that process with someone and you’ve have that illustration as a keepsake. So I started looking into other people that were doing this as business and there are only two or three others that do this, but they do more of a caricature or an actual illustration of the bride, her features and her body type. And it’s interesting, because brides all have an interpretation of what they look like. And when someone else tries to illustrate that, it’s hard to interpret how the bride sees herself.

I wanted [a bride] to be look at my illustration and think of the dress. Also, people feel a little more comfortable with a piece of art putting it up if it’s not literally of themselves. I wanted [my take] to be traditional, beautiful and elegant.

Take me through the process of how you execute these gorgeous illustrations.
Well if it’s a friend or relative giving a gift before the wedding, they’ll sometimes have attended a dress fitting and that person will know what the dress looks like and what colors the bride is doing, or what flowers she loves. So I’ll put those touches in there. If I work with a person post-wedding, seventy-five percent of the time it’s for a gift, so I just talk on the phone with that person (or the bride) on what photos I need of the dress. The process takes about three weeks to do after we speak. The illustration is 11” x 14” and it’s matted (though not framed) and it comes in a nice box tied with a ribbon.

Any fun stories of a bride’s reaction when she saw her illustration?
I had this older gentleman contact me and say it was his and his wife’s fiftieth wedding anniversary and his wife loved her dress and he asked if I could do an illustration of the dress. But he didn’t have a picture of it. Without having to do an illustration of the bride though, I was able to get enough detail from him about the dress. He ended up writing me a letter and said that when his wife opened it, she started crying and it was amazing experience for him.

I think [my illustrations] open up more doors for gifting opportunities for people—it could always be a birthday gift [post-wedding] or for a wedding anniversary one year, and it will bring back a memory of that day.

Learn more about Illustrate the Dress at or Thompson also welcomes inquiries at

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About This Blog

As Madison Magazine's style editor, Shayna Mace writes the monthly "Window Shopping" column about Madison's coolest store owners, products and shops. She also reports on Madison's most stylish people, chic items she loves, store events and sales, and additional dish in her weekly blog. Her favorite places to check out around town are local boutiques, consignment and vintage shops for one-of-a-kind treasures, new restaurants and bars, and anywhere that affords her the opportunity to meet and talk to Madison's most inspirational (and many times, fashionable!) people.

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