The Plus Size Wedding Dresses Challenge

By designer Mori Lee. Julietta collection.

Style has no size.  Yet quality stylish plus size wedding dresses are not easy to find. Why? Because the retail market place is focused on catering for the ‘average’ women with regular sizes: US 0-14 or XS-XL.  Sizes greater than 14 and XL fall in the ‘plus size’ category.  

The underdeveloped plus size retail market especially in the limited ready-made plus size wedding dress selection, is a sad but true reality. Plus size brides face unnecessary frustration, irritation, humiliation and stress in hunting down the perfect wedding dress. Though the process of finding the perfect wedding dress is not easy for average size brides either, plus size brides have a much bigger challenge to overcome in finding plus size wedding dresses. 

They have no choice but to compromise the fashionable designer wedding dress styles they had dreamed of or seen in the magazines for the very few 'less fashionable and glamorous' plus size wedding dress styles available in their size in stores. Nevertheless, I believe that all brides of all sizes deserve to experience a fun wedding dress journey and be happy!

Though in many bridal stores ordering up to plus size wedding dresses of size 28 is a possibility and in specialized plus size stores up to size 36 or 38, the average sample size wedding dress is a US size 10. In normal clothing, street size, this average sample size is equivalent to a US size 6-8. This fact is the leading cause of frustration for plus size brides looking for plus size wedding dresses.  Like all brides, the plus size bride has the desire to try on the wedding dresses and have the true wedding dress experience with friends and family escorting and supporting them with the expected joyful journey.  

By designer Carolina Herrera. 2009

As if it’s not enough to not have the expected luxury to try on the style of choice, the plus size brides are humiliated when sales people think holding up a size 10 sample in front of you to imagine yourself in, or might I say under, is satisfactory and will do the job. Some of the more ‘creative sales’ people even take more embarrassing steps to create the illusion of fitting the very small sample dress by attaching a huge piece of elastic to hold the dress up to the brides’ bodies. It is no surprise that with such insensitive treatments, as a direct consequences of the big gap and unawareness of the existing large plus size wedding dress market, that the plus size brides’ hopes for a fulfilling bridal experience is instantly crushed.

In this article I’d like to empower you, beautiful plus size brides, with some useful tips to block away shortcomings in the market and fight back with confidence to get a well deserved special bridal experience and the perfect wedding dress for your fabulous voluptuous bodies!

Tip 1. Prioritize and make a plan of action or your wedding dress strategy.  To some brides the dress is not important.  If it's not, find a site online, order cheaply, and have it altered.  Slap your hands together and move on to your other plans.  If it is super important, then you will need a plan of action if you plan. If you want the whole bridal experience (trying on the dress, family friends, etc), you may need to invest time to research and travel to find the perfect dress.  Do you research to see if there are any plus size bridal boutiques close to you or nearby larger metropolitan cities.  Get your Google on and don't be afraid to go past the 1st page.

Tip 2. You need to order your dress about 10 - 12 months in advance.  This allows time for the dress to be made and shipped.  Take into account that you may have an international designer and possible additional alterations to fit the dress to all your curves just as you want it to be.

Tip 3. Find specialized plus size stores to save money. There are whole ranges of stunning wedding gowns especially designed with plus size brides in mind. Regular bridal designers may charge extra to cover the extra fabric and detailed measuring that is required. However designers who offer special plus size collections will not charge this extra fee.

Tip 4. Figure out who's got plus size sample sizes when calling bridal stores to make an initial appointment. If they cannot accommodate your needs, it is their problem, not yours.  There is nothing more disappointing than going to try on dresses and they have nothing for you.  

Tip 5. Forget worrying about size and focus on understanding your female body shape. Finding out what body shape you have is essential to find the right dress for you. For example slim A-line dresses with a light volume skirt are flattering to the pear shape figure. This silhouette has the power to direct attention to the top of your body and your face. For more detailed information of female body shapes please read the female body shape article to find out exactly what body shape you have and which wedding dress dress styles are most suitable per shape. Avoid full ball gown skirts as they can create an unwanted round look and tea-length gowns, as they tend to make women look shorter and ankle heavy.

Tip 6. Choose lighter fabrics such as silk organza and silk taffeta can easily create a silhouette and form a softer flow along the body. Sheer fabrics such as netting and tulle can also create the fantasy princess bride look. Heavy fabrics such as duchess satin can sometimes make the bride appear bigger. Of course the choice of fabric of your dress must fit with the season, style and setting of your wedding. If you have a more informal wedding style on the beach for example, don’t be afraid of choosing silk chiffon, because it allows your body to flow and breath more easily.

Tip 7. Flaunt your curvaceous and voluptuous assets in style

Love your shoulders and décolletage and are looking for a neckline to flaunt it? A sweetheart top, whether strapless or with cap sleeves, will beautifully show off what you’ve got. And if you’d like to show some skin without being too revealing, consider an illusion back, sleeve or neckline. 

Two figure-friendly details are: ruching and corset backs. “Ruching can really be a bride’s friend in any size or shape as it helps minimize attention to less flattering areas,” says Terry Hall. It is a great way to cover fuller midsections or hips while still flattering your shape. Terry also leans toward corset backs, which are flattering on almost any plus-size shape. A corset back “really brings in the waist and makes for a cleanly fitting bodice.”

Watch out for pleat details. While they can add to a gown's sturctural form and flow, pleats can be unflattering especially “if it hits you in areas of your body that you are trying to minimize, i.e. the waist.” according to Terry. 

Tip 8. Straps can provide the support you need to hold your assets in shape. Although the majority of the limited bridal gowns for plus size bride in the market are strapless, most plus size brides prefer to have strap support to structure and frame the bust with a flattering open neckline. Both cap sleeves and wide straps offer a sexy touch and design without hiding the feminine shoulders and neckline. Only if you wish to cover your arms try on long sleeves or a small accessory jacket or a shawl. Remember if you love your body as is and want to show it off don’t hide yourself under unnecessary, uncomfortable or unflattering fabrics.  

This hand-beaded, ivory silk tulle dress worn by Octavia Spencer, 2012's best supporting actress Oscar winner, was designed by Tadashi Shoji.

Tip 9. Choose a complementary and soft color to your wedding dress style and your skin color. The right choice of color can be a powerful design statement.

In 2010, Emily Deschanel married David Hornsby in a beautiful wide shoulder taupe colored wedding dress. This dress is feminine and sexy. The light fabric that flows down from her waist in the shape of an A line skirt, mimics the crossing and wrapping below her chest.  

Tip 10. Find and wear a super supportive and shaping bra.
Ignore adverts such as: “Most of our wedding gowns have “The Magic Corset”, our own invention for shaping the wedding gown to give you the shape you’ve dreamed of while creating the illusion of loosing at least 2 dress sizes, and camouflaging flaws and accentuating assets.”

You need to find and arm yourself with the most perfect plus size bra before your first fitting and to wear on your big day. A shopping trip starts off best when you’re prepared with the correct undergarments. While many bridal salons have strapless undergarments available to borrow during your appointment, it is “much easier and faster when wearing undergarments that you are comfortable in,” says Terry Hall, Kleinfeld Fashion Director. 

Take the time and invest in the right bra that can give you a smaller and more defined bust line when you have the front lifted up and held in the right position. You will need the shoulder straps to achieve superior bust shaping and support, so you have another reason to ignore strapless dresses. If you cannot find them in your local store, be resourceful and adventure online. Make sure you have the correct measurements in cm or inches. Double check the sizing chart online or speak directly with customer service for size recommendations. The online stores should have good return policies, in case it does not fit.

Tip 11. Don’t settle until you find the perfect dress and get what you want. This is your wedding and your perfect dress. Also this will probably be the most expensive dress you will ever buy.  Don't just take something, because you don't think you'll find anything else.  The sales people might try to talk you into a less flattering dress because they have it in stock in your size or they think a certain style can only be flattering for the plus size brides. Be confident with your preferences and demands. It never hurts to try on more dresses and wait for the perfect one that wows you. Bring a couple of friends to give you their honest opinion and emotional support.

Tip 12. Don't let your weight loss plans interfere with ordering your dress.   A lot of brides  plan to diet for their big day and put off ordering a dress because of anticipating being smaller.  Only if you are going from a size 28 to a size 0 this is plausible. However plus size women tend to take a longer time to drop sizes dramatically. If your goal is to drop 70 pounds and go down 3-4 sizes, it is still fine to order your dress and alter it later.  

Tip 13. Order a size too big rather than a size too small.  Don't order for an anticipated ‘wish size’. Order the size that you are today.  If you can get smaller going smaller is an easier and less expensive alteration.  Taking the dress out can cost more and could still end up in an ill-fitting dress.  I've actually seen someone make this mistake.  Avoid the fears of exploding in your dress on your big wedding day and having bad memory (and photos) of a small fitting dress.  

Tip 14. Consider custom-made wedding dresses to get the exact design, quality and glamour you’ve dreamed of for your wedding dress. If you are not 100% satisfied with the selection in the wedding dress market, this might be the best option for you to consider.  If you find a talented seamstress you trust, you can also make a deal upfront to pay only for the total number of hours required to sew and fit the dress to your unique body shape by supplying them your own selection of fabric and design.  Experienced seamstresses can advise you roughly on how many meters of each fabric you would need to buy to bring your ‘one of a kind’ and unique wedding dress design to life. This solution can save you time, money and the unwanted stress.

Plus size brides can have a pleasurable and successful wedding dress experience if they inform themselves with the reality of the biased wedding dress market and prepare wisely with reference to the tips mentioned above.

Having a fuller figure is no reason to hide. Pick what you consider your best assets to be and look for wedding dress styles that will show them off. As Terry Hall says, “I am a firm believer that a bride should wear whatever silhouette she has always wanted and makes her feel fabulous. If she feels fabulous she will look fabulous.”

I strongly recommend to all brides and especially to you plus size brides to try on wedding dresses you like before ordering or buying them from an online store. I am more than confident that you will find the perfect dress that you will not want to take off! 

I will post another article listing specialized plus size wedding dress stores for plus size brides to consider and visit in person.  Until then please note that Kleinfeld's store in New York has plus size wedding dress samples sizes between 18-22.  That translates generally to a street size 14-18.  Kleinfeld's also has some plus size wedding dress samples from an exclusive designer, Dina Davos, that are true to size and are designed to flatter a plus size woman specifically.

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