Finding that dream wedding dress is a challenge for any bride - let alone one who's 10 sizes bigger than the floor samples. Our curvy (and proud of it) writer, Brittany Gibbons, reveals how to shop for your wedding dress at any weight.
As a kid, I spent afternoons in my grandmother's Ohio bridal salon, tiptoeing through the fitting area and sneaking glimpses of gushing brides-to-be. They'd twirl in the mirror and sigh, and you just knew it was the first moment they really felt like a bride. Once the shop closed, I'd put on a long veil and march up the showroom staircase, stopping at the top to meet my groom (who, for most of fifth grade, was Bill Murray from Ghostbusters). After college, I parlayed my love affair with weddings into a career as a planner, working for one of the area's most chichi country clubs. It was a high-pressure job with bad hours, but the perks included my favorite things: gorgeous flowers, beautiful dresses, lots of glamour, and endless slices of leftover cake.
If anyone was set to have unrealistic expectations about her wedding, it was me - which is why I was completely blindsided after I got engaged and it was time to go wedding dress shopping. The fantasy: an emotional major life event with all the quirky romance of a Nora Ephron movie. The reality: walking out of the fitting room as a size 18 woman with a size 8 dress chip-clipped to my body. As other smaller brides-to-be spun around in zipped-up designs and beamed from the platform in front of giant three-way mirrors, I stood sheepishly with dresses pinned to my clothes as if I were a paper doll or pulled around me with the back gaping open and my shapewear exposed. There was no twirling - just my mom, my maid of honor, the saleswoman, and me biting our cheeks and trying to picture the gown 10 sizes bigger. Would it fit? Would it be flattering? Was it even available? I finally ordered a champagne lace ball gown without trying it on; I wouldn't until it arrived at the shop seven months later.
While trying to find "the perfect dress" is daunting for any bride, it can be downright traumatic for a plus-size woman. So here are some tips to help you avoid an experience like mine and have the most fun shopping adventure of your life.
1. Find a place that will treat you right.
Just because you aren't a waif doesn't mean you have to settle for a subpar experience, be shown limited options, or be treated rudely by an associate, says Amanda Cover of Bombshell Bridal Boutique in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, which caters to curvy women. Call ahead and ask to work with someone who specializes in plus sizes. She should understand your needs, have dresses lined up in a fitting room when you arrive, and not rush you. You can also seek out salons that have plus-size designer samples on hand, like David's Bridal and Macy's.
2. Go when you're feeling good about yourself.
You know those moments when you and your body just aren't having it? To make sure you aren't trying on a dress in the least slimming color known to womankind on those days: Avoid shopping when you have PMS, drink tons of water, and lay off the booze and salty foods the night before. (For me, this means I wait to eat tacos until after I try on dresses.) Then prep your brain the morning of by focusing on the parts of your body you're excited to show off - great cleavage, sexy hips, or the color of your eyes - and share them with your stylist right off the bat. We're our own harshest critics, so silence your mean inner monologue before you set foot in a fitting room.
3. Don't sweat the size.
Once you've chosen a gown, your sales associate will pull out her tape measure and order the size that matches your largest measurement. (Skinny girls have to do this too.) Add to that the fact that bridal lines tend to use high-fashion sizes (no vanity sizing here) and this may be the "biggest" dress you've ever bought. If you're like me and you've spent way too many years cutting the tags out of your jeans to hide the number on them, it's time to let that go. Take deep breaths and repeat after me: "Nobody at the wedding will know, or care, what size I'm wearing."
4. Get a very good seamstress.
Ask your salon to recommend one who has experience in bridal, and get references from her or look for online reviews of her work. A great one can add boning, straps, or bra cups to make you look even better in it. Remember, this is a wedding dress and probably the most expensive piece of clothing you will ever own, assuming you aren't Kate Middleton. So make sure it fits well and feels amazing.
5. Keep an open mind.
If I could change one thing about my wedding day, I wouldn't have worn a strapless gown. Minutes upon minutes of wedding video feature me hiking up the top of my dress, fighting off armpit fat, separating my cleavage, and adjusting an ill-equipped bra. I was set on wearing strapless but should have considered keeping my boobs happy and supported with a great sleeved dress, like Amber Heard and Nikki Reed did. Or at least given straps a chance (see: Kate Moss and Angelina Jolie).
6. But don't be pushed into what's "flattering."
As a plus-size woman, I'm so over being told what I can and can't wear. I'd fallen in love early with a champagne silk dress flocked with beautiful silk flowers, yet my saleswoman discouraged it, warning it would add bulk to my midsection, and I caved. However, Anna Walsh of Anna BГ© Bridal Boutique in Denver says finding the perfect dress is more than just choosing what's slimming: "Plus-size brides are usually steered toward an A-line dress, and that works for some but not for all," she says. "A good consultant will take into consideration the bride's style, shape, and comfort level to find a look that fits her vision." Bottom line: Let your dress reflect your personality, and don't submit to a curvy-girl stereotype.
7. Don't delay.
You may be hoping to lose weight before you start looking, but the longer you wait, the less options you'll have. "I may be your fairy godmother, but I'm not a miracle worker," Cover says. "Gowns take six to eight months to come in, so if you wait too long you'll be limited to what's in stock." Dresses can be altered to accommodate weight loss, but trying to find the One from the back-room stock is a plus-size bummer, so go as you are, because that's how your groom likes you!
8. Remember that it's your experience.
Not your mom's, not your aunt's, and not the sales consultant's. Don't buy a dress just because you've been there for hours, you've tried on tons of options, or everyone around you is urging you toward something you don't love. Buy the dress that makes you feel so beautiful and happy that the only thing that could top it is meeting the love of your life at the end of an aisle and saying "I do."
I got lucky: The gorgeous champagne gown I'd ordered sight unseen arrived in time. Slipping into it and having it zip all the way up - albeit loosely and in need of alterations - was one of the happiest moments of my life. Even the fitting-room attendant, after she wiped the sweat from her brow, joined in my excitement - just another blissfully happy bride in the perfect dress.
Want more genius planning tips? For the best wedding dresses, advice, and big-day inspiration, pick up the BRIDES April/May 2016 issue, on newsstands now and available for download here!