Wedding Dress Shopping as a Plus Size Woman

Wedding Dress Shopping as a Plus Size Woman

by Melissa Chataigne

What This Personal Stylist Learned from Shopping for a Wedding Dress at a Size 16

Wedding dress shopping should be a joyous occasion for any bride-to-be. From sifting through Pinterest boards to flipping the pages of bridal magazines and eventually combing the racks of gowns culminating with a champagne toast to say “yes!” to the dress.

And while the great dress search and deciding which style to select may be a difficult task for anyone, the stakes are much higher for the plus size bride.

When I got engaged back in 2015, I imagined wedding dress shopping would be easier as a stylist, but instead it tested my own body confidence. At the time, I was a size 14/16 and was surprised to discover that the bridal industry did not embrace inclusivity in a way I had assumed it would.

Wedding Dress Shopping as a Plus Size Woman

To start the process, I arranged a fitting at wedding chain David’s Bridal, a store I remembered from my childhood in Chicago. With a girlfriend in tow for support, we playfully searched for the best they had to offer. However, despite their kind efforts, I was mortified to learn that a.) wedding dress sizing is about 4 sizes larger than your regular size and b.) every gown in my size was a princess ball gown or mermaid silhouette - both styles came in super poofy versions with lots of layers. I was starting to feel apprehensive about my hunt and couldn’t stop thinking that the bridal industry might not consider that women over size 12 may want dresses more along the lines of minimalist couture.

Boutique after boutique had in-store advertisements only portraying skinny blondes or brunettes. The industry seemed to be pushing the message that if you're Caucasian and sample size, then you're promised you’re happily ever after. Even couture designers will usually carry a gown up to a size 12, but charge higher fees ($800-1000) for "custom sizing". The average regular dress size in America is a size 16, yet most women have to pay a curvy tax for their dream gown. Wedding dress shopping is supposed to be a magical time, so why are most women made to feel less than the fairytale at every turn?

My most uncomfortable fitting was courtesy of a bridal consultant in a high-end boutique in Santa Monica. After several attempts to find a dress that fit, he impatiently clipped me in awkward places, which revealed my Spanx to a crowd of fellow brides-to-be. Frustrated he said, “You are just too big. We have nothing for you here.” As a body-confident, size-inclusive stylist often surrounded by sample size Hollywood elites, this gentleman cracked my confidence. I felt like I was the problem. There was nothing magical about my dress shopping experience and I felt ashamed.

Wedding Dress Shopping as a Plus Size Woman

After 6 bridal appointments with far too many cupcake gowns pushed on me, I finally said “Yes” to a strapless, French tulle over organza gown with a sweetheart neckline from Casablanca Bridal styled with decadent Jimmy Choo sandals. To encapsulate our boho glam theme, I had to have my tailor reduce the volume and accent my waist. Did I love my dress? I told myself I did, but I made a decision to start helping others navigate this process, so that it’s every bit positive. Here are some styling tips to help you on your dress shopping journey.

• Show off your favorite assets. This is the day when all eyes will be on you, so flaunt your favorite feature. If you’re showing off your décolletage, pick a gown with a sweetheart neckline or that sits off the shoulder. If you love your legs, opt for a gown with a slit or switch into a reception gown that shows off your legs.

• Know your body type. This one will help sort through unnecessary struggle if you know what looks great on you from the start. If you’re trying to hide a midsection, don’t let the bridal consultant bring out sheath gowns. Get familiar with the bridal vocabulary: mermaid, trumpet, etc.

• Pack shapewear. The end look to every outfit begins with foundations. Although, some salons may provide it, pack your own Spanx and strapless bra to ensure a confident fitting.

• Pre-shop designers. Create a list of designers that work within your style and budget. By creating a short list and a Pinterest board you can save a lot of time.

• Keep it small. You don’t need an entourage for dress shopping. If you follow the tips above and trust your gut you’ll know what works. It’s true, you’ll feel excited when you’ve found “the dress” and won’t want to take it off. Bring 1-2 trusted friends and focus on you!

Wedding Dress Shopping as a Plus Size Woman

Here are few a few designers that cater to "plus" (regular!) size and do so beautifully: Watters WToo, Hayley Page, Madison James, Maggie Sottero and Mori Lee are all worth checking out on your search.

Though I didn't have the best time searching for my dress, the process ultimately strengthened my confidence and inspired me to add bridal services to my styling repertoire, empowering all women to feel like a goddess as they say, "Yes".

Melissa Chataigne is a Los Angeles based stylist. Follow her on IG & Twitter @chataignestyle


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