Wedding dress shopping is an odd thing. It serves a practical purpose, yes, but it's also often an event in and of itself. You're expected to bring an entourage, drink champagne, and burst into tears when you find "the one." But if you're a plus size bride looking for a wedding dress, the spectacle of it all can be anything but fun. First, there's the issue of wedding dress sizing to consider. For a lot of bridal dresses, a size 20 is more like a street size 16, and so on. This sizing discrepancy is, unsurprisingly, not prominently advertised by most bridal stores, meaning that even if a store has samples in your usual size, there's a good change they won't actually fit. But even if a store does have options that fit (there are more stores than ever that do, though still not enough of them), that doesn't necessarily guarantee that the experience will be comfortable.
Some consultants can inadvertently body shame you while trying to find the best dress. Others will struggle to make too-tight samples fit with uncomfortable clips and fabric. And then, on top of all of that, there's the fact that if you're the only plus size person in your bridal party or family, there may not be many people who understand what you're going through even a little bit. The process of finding a dress can still be an event, sure, but that doesn't mean it's fun.
A major part of the problem with plus size wedding dress shopping, though has to do with the fact that there simply aren't as many wedding planning resources for plus size brides as there are for straight size brides. But as isolating as the experience of dress shopping as a plus size person can feel, every bride should know that they are not the only person who has been through the process. And there are ways to make it positive, even if it doesn't feel like it at first. Below, 15 people who've survived the experience of plus size wedding dress shopping share their tips for feeling confident, staying body positive, and of course, finding the dress.
Caralyn, Size 14
"My best advice is to go into dress shopping with an open mind with low-to-no expectations. Invite a small group of your closest friends and make a day of it — grab brunch and enjoy the time together! To be honest, focusing more on quality time with my friends than the actual task at hand reduced the pressure of 'finding the one.' In regards to sizing: I am plus size model. I am very familiar with sample sizing, things not fitting, clothing needing to be altered, etc. However, I found it extremely difficult to want to buy a dress that I could not get over my head. As a size 14, I represent the average size woman in America. It was a tad disheartening to walk into a salon and have dresses unable to zip/ close. I once had a bridal specialist hang a dress (while still on the hanger) over my head because she said it wasn't even worth trying. That was SO not OK. Although it didn't bother me all that much, thinking of other women coming in and feeling inadequate upset me more."
Jane, Size 16
"I would say my biggest advice is to be kind to yourself and definitely only take people with you who you trust completely. There's also no shame in calling up dress shops before going and making sure that they can accommodate you. A friend of mine, who identifies as a 'superfat' (meaning she's above a US size 30), called ahead to her bridal shops and made sure that not only would they have dresses available for her to try on, but that the furniture, dressing rooms, etc. would comfortably accommodate her. She had a really positive experience as a result of that extra legwork. That's something that I, in a position of privilege as a smaller fat, never would have thought to do. It's also OK if you don't find 'the dress' or ever really fall in love with your wedding dress at all. We market wedding dresses as this ultra-important, transformative garment, but at the end of the day, it's just a dress. As long as you feel good when you're marrying the person you love, that's all that matters. Plus, even after I had a very negative boutique dress try-on experience, I found the dress for under $100 at ASOS and I loved it all the same (if not maybe even a little more since I love a bargain almost as much as a pretty dress)."
Arielle, Size 18
"My advice is to pull in a personal touch and make your dress meaningful to you. Know that you don’t have to spend a fortune (or even pay the “fat tax”) just to have a dream wedding outfit. I was able to add in my touches of golden yellow (to honor my battle with endometriosis) and purchase my gown all for about $550. If your personal touch is sewing a small piece of your grandfather’s favorite shirt into the lining of your dress, do it! Want to embroider your wedding date on the cuff of your tuxedo? Do it! Make your wedding day ensemble, one of a kind."
Tori, Size 16
"My advice would be to research the sample sizes that the store carries. The first store I went to the samples didn’t really fit me and I got overwhelmed. Also, figure out exactly what details you want. The salespeople will be better able to help you find the perfect dress. This will help you to not make the mistake I did of purchasing the first sample that fit me and not feeling comfortable in it at all!"
Brittany, Size 18
"My advice on plus size wedding dress shopping would be keep an open mind because the wedding dress shopping is stressful enough [and] keeping to a rigid list is not going to help you manage things. Also, don't be afraid to try online retailers. Even though I am in NYC, finding dresses in my size in real life was still very difficult. I used brands like Floravere and Lace & Liberty to try on wedding dresses that I couldn't find in store and ultimately bought my wedding dress from ASOS because I knew my sizing with them and understood what dress shape I was looking for after trying on a few."
Olivia, Size 14/16
"If I did anything right when I went dress shopping, it was this: I called every shop beforehand, let them know my street size, and made sure they had samples for me to try on. I also had very, very low expectations and prepared myself for things not totally fitting. But most importantly: Before I ever brought anyone with me, I went completely on my own to multiple appointments. It made the whole process much less stressful, and I would recommend it to anyone regardless of what size dress they're shopping for."
MacKenzie, Size 18
"I was an avid watcher of Say Yes to the Dress, so I told my mom I wanted to go to Bridals by Lori in Atlanta. I was worried about my size, but everyone at Bridals was completely amazing! I described the type of dress I wanted, and the woman helping us found a dress similar to the fitting. I feel the actual experience of finding my dress was great. The key to it is surrounding yourself with company who will help make you feel amazing and support you in the dress of your choosing. Also, having someone who knows your style and how to help you was key."
Paige, Size 2/14
"I don't believe I would be considered plus sized, however I am an awkward size in clothing — I am short, have a tiny torso and tiny waist and size 14 hips/butt. My advice is to find a dress store where you know you can feel comfortable and supported while trying on dresses, and to press the staff to help you make your dreams a reality. If the shop is good, they will work with you and your concerns. Ask about options or recommendations if you're worried about something — they should be able to tell you what they can do to help [themselves] versus [finding] a seamstress for specific alterations. Communication is best when you're dealing with (usually pricy) dresses that are supposed to make you feel like the most beautiful person in the world. I went to some terrible shops where the staff was clueless and it really felt like a waste of time, so it helps to do research or ask people with experience for their word-of-mouth recommendations."
Alysse, Size 20
"My advice for plus size brides is not to settle for a dress you don’t love because it’s the only one available in your size. Seek out plus size specific bridal boutiques like Bombshell Bridal which specializes in wedding dresses for larger bodied babes. Plus size bridal boutiques will have lots of options, so try on a style that you wouldn’t normally wear — you may be surprised how much you love it. Focus on how you feel in the dress and not on the number on the tag. And most importantly remember that it’s your day and you’ll be a beautiful bride at any size."
Erin, Size 16
"I run typically a street size 16, so have always had issues when it comes to purchasing clothes, especially formal wear. I have wide beautiful hips, but am not fuller on the top...making straight sizes a tad too tight (or short, 5' 9" here) and wedding dress shopping was no exception... especially since I'm more into a light, fitted, boho dress. In general it was hard to even find the style I was after in store to try on, let alone getting the consultant to actually listen to me. In the end I ended up finding a wonderful bridal shop and they had exactly what I wanted. My tips for plus dress shopping would be to find a brand you're really interested in trying on, a designer who makes several dresses that catch your eye. Keep a list of dresses you love — this makes it easier to pull them up or track them down. I found that wedding dress shopping can turn into a rabbit hole of dresses (it's a lot), and sometimes when referring back to my dress list I wouldn't even like some of the dresses I had added!"
Alyssa, Size 18
"Go with an open mind, play in the pretty clothes and if anyone, either shop clerks or those you brought with you, make disparaging comments walk away from either the store or that person. You should feel gorgeous and loved, and the ones you bring with you should lift you up not tear you down. Also, stay hydrated, be patient, and wear undergarments you think you might wear on your big day. It’ll help."
Chelsea, Size 22
"While I’ve been on the hunt for my perfect wedding outfit, I’ve been diving into bridal separates. I find that when focusing on the fit and style of two different pieces, I’m able to end up with a final product that is more in line with my personal style and fits better with less tailoring than a traditional gown. I’ve even been looking towards pieces that aren’t necessarily 'bridal,' but still fit the vibe of what I’m looking for in my wedding outfit, and this has been helpful in keeping costs lower as well."
Jaclyn, Size 18
"When plus size dress shopping, plan ahead where you want to shop according to budget and size availability and be open-minded to trying on all sorts of styles. Surround yourself with people who allow you to be your genuine self as too many unnecessary opinions can skew the most important opinion in the room — yours. Find a dress that you feel beautiful in, and if that takes several boutique visits, that’s OK! Make it a fun process. I think at the end of the day, being labeled a plus size bride didn’t matter to me, but I found it frustrating how limited dress options were due to my size. Accepting myself as I am wasn’t the difficult part, it was realizing that despite all the body positivity efforts that have been made in society, plus size wedding dress shopping was and still is difficult when it feels like so few designers strive for inclusivity. Eventually I was able to find a dress online that I truly felt beautiful in, and I’m grateful for the designers who realize that beauty is not dictated by a number on the tag."
Katie, Size 18
"Call ahead! Make sure the stores you are planning to go to are going to be welcoming to a bride who isn't fitting their traditional sample size. Perhaps they already have sizes for you to try on (great!), or they can call some in (ok, cool!), but don't let them clamp a size 2 around your body and tell you to picture how good it will look when it's made in your size. Another thing, if a sales consultant mentions weight, tell her this is what you will look like walking down the aisle. Okurrrr?"
Lucy, Size 18/20
"My advice to plus size brides is not to settle. Be clear about what you want and don’t feel that you need to compromise on the sort of dress you want because of your size. If you’re financially able, getting a bespoke dress made is a brilliant experience because it fits perfectly to you. There’s no trying to fit into a specific size or awkward alterations. In fact there’s no sizing or labels at all, just something that it unique to you and your body. I also advise to ring ahead to boutiques to tell them what size you are and make sure they cater for you. It’s much better to know in advance if they’re going to be able to offer you exactly what you want than be disappointed on the day. It’s also important to feel comfortable at your appointments, so I recommend looking for reviews by other plus size brides and finding a boutique that’s body positive and a diet chat-free zone. Or just make it clear at your first appointment that you won’t entertain that kind of negative environment."