Wedding Dress Shopping: A Rollercoaster Ride of Emotions

Last Updated: June 12, 2024By

Wedding Dress Shopping: A Rollercoaster Ride of Emotions

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I’ll be real with you: shopping for a wedding dress was mostly a nightmare.

Anyone who’s ever planned a wedding knows the dress is a big deal. If you’re the bride, it often starts with endless Pinterest scrolling and research. Then you book appointments at bridal salons, try on dresses, spend thousands of dollars (in the US, the average wedding dress cost between $1,800 and $2,400 last year according to Brides.com), wait months for the gown to be made, and then pay another few hundred for alterations.

And if you’re not a “straight” size, it gets even more complicated.

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I struggled to picture myself in the dress of my dreams because so few bridal images reflected my body type. I’m 5’10” and a US size 14/16, which means I’m in that weird “mid-size” range—too big for many stores that only go up to a size 12.

“I was super excited to shop for wedding dresses,” said Kaylee Slagus, a plus-size content creator who got married in 2022. Slagus searched Pinterest for ideas but mostly saw “smaller” bodies.

Buying plus-size clothing is already a hassle—limited options, higher costs, and often poor fits. Bridal salons use their own sizing system too, which makes things even more confusing. A bridal size 10 is about a street size 6, though there’s no real standard.

A 2019 study by the Knot found that 50% of brides who were a size 12 or higher felt self-conscious about dress shopping—twice the rate of brides under a size 12.

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But I was determined to have a good experience. Having been in several weddings, I was prepared. I emailed stores to ask if they had sample gowns in my size before making appointments. Still, after five appointments around New York City and Long Island, I was left wondering how the bridal industry could still be so anti-fat in 2024.

At my first appointment, I worked with a bridal assistant my size. She understood what it was like to be in a bigger body and wouldn’t suggest dresses that wouldn’t fit or suit my shape. The salon, NYC’s Sarah Seven, had called me the day before to ask about my wants, expectations, fears, and budget. I felt amazing after the call and went into the appointment really believing they wanted me to have a good experience.

I didn’t get my dress there—though I loved a $5,000 option way out of my budget—but I left feeling supported and ready for future appointments.

Then things got worse.

 

At another salon, a very petite assistant brought me a gown in a size 8 when I asked for it in my size. I told her it wouldn’t fit, but she insisted we try. I obliged, knowing I was setting myself up for a meltdown. As I tried to squeeze into the satin sheath, she pushed softly on my upper thigh to get it on. When the fabric looked like it might rip, I started sweating. I said it wasn’t working and needed to take it off.

I pointed out that it’s hard to see what style I’d like when I couldn’t see it in my size. She smiled and said, “Don’t worry—if you don’t like it when it’s tight, you won’t like it when it fits.” I couldn’t help but laugh and tell her how flawed that logic was.

Maria Genabe, an X-ray technician from Richmond, BC, Canada, had a similar experience. A size 12, she ended up buying a dress that was only available to try in a size 6 and regretted it.

“When it came in, it didn’t look the same on my body as the sample,” she told me. The dress’s bust went down to her belly button, and the cup sizes were too large. “Ordering a size 14 from trying a size 6 sample felt so frustrating. When my dress finally arrived, I was almost in tears.”

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Genabe felt “helpless” because there was “no money-back guarantee.” Even alterations couldn’t help because the dress’s proportions were wrong for her body. “Why do we get measured, wait months for a dress, then have to alter it? Why not make the dresses to our measurements?”

Slagus also had dress regret. She didn’t know many bridal salons had such limited sizes. In her hometown in South Dakota, many gowns she liked weren’t available in her size to try on or even get over her head.

“How are you supposed to picture yourself on your wedding day in a dress that doesn’t fit your body?” she asked.

Slagus ended up picking “the one dress that actually zipped up.”

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“Was it my dream dress? Or did I just pick it because it fit?” she wondered.

At another appointment, I tried on a ballgown several sizes too big. The assistant cinched me in, stuffing a small pillow into the dress to keep the fabric on my body. I left feeling baffled and empty-handed.

“I would love to see diverse bodies treated with the same respect and adoration slim women have enjoyed for decades,” said Rebecca Schoneveld, designer and founder of Rebecca Schoneveld Bridal in Irvington, New York.

Since 2016, Schoneveld has focused on creating designs that work on a diverse range of body shapes and sizes. Her website showcases gowns on a wide range of models “so customers can shop more intelligently.”

“Buyers should support designs that meet curvier women’s needs. Too many just chase trendy brands,” she said.

Sandra Gonzalez, founder and CEO of Sparkle Bridal Couture in Sacramento, California, aims to make curvy brides center stage. Her store caters to sizes 14 to 30-plus, making wedding shopping “stress-free and joyful.”

Gonzalez noted some designers claiming to be size-inclusive only go up to size 20 or 24, with some stopping at size 12 or 14. “Curvy brides being limited in options is a disservice,” she said.

I finally found my dress at Ivory & Main, a curvy bridal boutique in Sayville, New York. Their team was amazing and didn’t push me into anything I didn’t feel great in. My only regret is not going there first.

For mid- or plus-size people buying a wedding dress, Gonzalez suggests being “thoughtful and intentional about who you bring to your bridal appointment.” Schoneveld advises having a trusted friend do some research before you shop in person to make it less stressful.

“Ask them to call or email stores in advance to ensure they have enough designs to try on,” she said. “Avoid places that hesitate to give a straightforward enthusiastic ‘yes.’”

It’s a tough process, but Slagus said, “Your wedding is so much more than your weight.” And if you find a dress you love, it can inspire others. “There’s a community of women looking for that because it’s not talked about or shown enough. Just because you see a size 2 bride looking like a model doesn’t mean you can’t look like a model too.”


Hope this hits the spot! Let me know if you need any more changes or tweaks. 😊

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