Shopping For A +Size Wedding Dress Taught Me This

by Mariah Carrillo

When my partner surprised me by proposing, the first thing I thought after stammering out a very shocked, "Yes!" was, "Oh no, now I have to run the gauntlet that is shopping for a plus size wedding dress." While I've never been wedding obsessed, per se, I'm interested enough in style to have already done a few preliminary internet searches for plus bridal designs, just in case the day was ever to come. Overall, I remained less than impressed. I am not a taffeta-and-ruffles kind of girl. My favorite outfits are generally minimal, sporty basics in all-black, so the idea of fending off waves of tulle and poorly executed beading was enough to give me a few stress dreams.

I also felt like a lot of the plus size wedding dresses I saw looked lazily conceived and poorly made. While I'm not a diehard romantic, I am an ever-so-slightly high maintenance fashionista, so I didn't want to get stuck with a less-than-stellar design. Luckily, thanks to the undeserved blessings of whichever deity watches over style-obsessed fat girls, the process of finding and purchasing my dress went off without a hitch. I was actually shocked at how pleasant it was, and I picked up a few valuable bits of information during the process that just might help you if you have your own nuptials in the works. Read on to find out what I learned about finding a gorgeous plus size dress, without the drama.

1. Call Ahead

If you're looking for bridal salons that carry plus sizes, make sure to call boutiques and shops in your area ahead of time to inquire about the sample sizes they have available. Also, set up an appointment so that you get the time and attention you need. There are few things more disappointing than getting to a store only to find that they don't have anything you can actually try on, or realizing that staff are too busy to help you.

When I went in to look at dresses at David's Bridal, I made sure to call around and find the location in my area with the most plus size samples on the showroom floor, even checking with staff about the availability of specific dresses that I had seen on the company website. This preliminary work paid off big time, because I went into my experience with very specific knowledge about what I could expect.

2. People Can Be Nicer Than You Expect

Honestly, one of my biggest fears about shopping for wedding dresses was the potential for being treated poorly by industry professionals. As a size 22 bride with very little interest in achieving the "perfect" body, I was anxious that I might be deemed undeserving or inconvenient by sales staff.

That being said, I had an amazing experience with just about every person I met during my dress search. When I tried on the dress I ended up buying, the other women in the main dressing room area who were there to support their own friends even gave me a standing ovation. My attendant cried. It was almost surreal how kind, happy, and celebratory the whole thing was.

While I have definitely had my fair share of run-ins with body-shaming individuals during my life, I was amazed by the truly thoughtful behavior of the bridal professionals and even random strangers who were involved in this process.

3. Don't Automatically Discount Big Box Stores

I decided to try on dresses at David's Bridal with absolutely no expectations of finding anything I wanted. I thought that a major chain was bound to be chock-full of the boring and unoriginal plus size pieces that I'd seen way too many times already, and I considered my visit to be more of an experiment than an actual shopping excursion.

I was happy to be proven wrong. Although I definitely did run into a few puffy polyester dresses that made me wince a little, I was also quite impressed by all the designs that felt really luxurious and on-trend.

It was also really nice to be able to try on almost any design I saw in my size — something that might not have happened at a smaller boutique. I didn't have to worry about falling in love with a dress on a hanger, only to learn that it wasn't available to me.

4. Try On Dresses/Outfits That Are Outside Your Comfort Zone

While you can see from my expression here that the whole lace/fluff/veil combo was 100 percent not my thing, I'm still really glad I took the time to try on a range of different dresses. I went into my appointment not expecting to want the whole enormous-gown-of-doom look from the get-go, but giving a few ballgowns a try helped me feel confident in my choice to take my look in a different direction.

I had originally wanted a sleeveless look, but after trying on an absolutely amazing gown with long lace sleeves, I changed my mind. Since most of us don't get a chance to wear over-the-top formal clothing very often, it can be hard to accurately guess how you'll feel in various styles, and it pays to just try things on and see what you think.

5. Go With Your Gut

Although I had a lot of fun trying on different styles and silhouettes, I eventually realized that the full-skirted ball gowns being brought to me weren't quite right. I've always loved more fitted designs for my clothing choices, and eventually, despite a little talk about how "flattering" the waist-cinching Cinderella-esque dresses were on me, I got my attendant to bring out more column and mermaid options, one of which I ended up picking.

Even though I knew the advice I was getting was well meaning, I also knew that I was perfectly OK with rocking a VBO on my wedding day, and that the whole Disney princess look just wasn't for me. Looking back at the pictures now, I'm super glad I stuck to my guns and insisted on a sleeker, less billowy look. Just remember, as long as you feel good in what you're wearing, no other opinions really matter.

6. There Are Actually Some Great Options Out There

Despite my earlier skepticism, I was glad to find that there were some really nice designs available for plus size brides. The dress I ended up choosing (not pictured here) is gorgeous beyond any of my expectations — luxe beading, lace-covered buttons, taupe liner, fitted shape — and it was everything I didn't even know I wanted.

I had fully expected to just try on a few gowns so that I got the wedding dress experience, then pay one of my talented friends to sew something for me that met my standards. It was a pleasant surprise to find a well-made, sophisticated, stylish dress right away, and it made me realize that wedding retailers are (finally!) beginning to improve their plus size bridal lines.

7. Take Your Time

What I had thought would be a quick, in-and-out type of event slowly morphed into a several-hours-long extravaganza of changing, posing, and picture taking. While it would have been much quicker and more efficient to order something online and be done with it, I'm happy that I had this time to slow down and enjoy the moment.

I took my mom and sister to the showroom as well, and having them there to celebrate a big moment in my life felt really special. Additionally, after years of having retail clerks and dressing room attendants make me feel like my fat body was unwieldy, undeserving, or inconvenient, experiencing the exact opposite treatment felt incredibly healing.

8. Great Strapless Support Is Totally Possible For DD+ Boobs

I have very large breasts, and I was concerned that, depending on the style of dress I picked out, it might be hard to find or wear truly supportive lingerie. I needn't have worried.

Upon arrival, I was immediately and efficiently helped into a series of undergarments that, when paired with the structured nature of a strapless gown, kept me well-supported and secure. I didn't end up going with a strapless dress, but if you love this look and are worried it might not work with a larger chest, don't be.

Between tailored bodices, special underwear, and custom fitting, these garments can work for a lot of different bodies.

9. Prepare For All The Feels

Given my earlier skepticism about the whole wedding dress shopping experience, I was shocked at how much fun —and how many feelings — I had about the whole thing. I'm not the most sentimental of people, but having some of the humans who love me most present to help me prepare for and celebrate a major event in my life was very moving.

And, on a more frivolous note, I just felt so pretty. As a fat girl, I'm not necessarily used to having good experiences at brick-and-mortar shops, so having so many options and being treated like a valuable and respected individual was an (unfortunately) refreshing experience.

While, sadly, I can't ensure that every plus size bride has as good a time shopping for dresses as I had, I do want to tell you that it is possible to find retailers and sales people who value your business and treat your body with respect.

With more and more companies creating amazing plus size wedding dresses, suits, and other festive garments (like the recent and crazy-good collaboration between ELOQUII and Stone Fox Bridal), it's totally possible to find something that will make you feel wonderful on your special day.

Want more body positivity? Check out the podcast below, and be sure to subscribe to The BodCast for more radical self-love inspo!

Images: Mariah Carrillo