The Curvy Girl’s Guide To Wedding Dress Shopping

Curvy bride Cathy Sawyer in her gorgeous bridal ballgown. Photo by Lisa Mark Photography.

You know what you want in a wedding dress but will you be able to find it in your size? This is a challenge faced by many a bride if you aren’t sample size (which, let’s face it, is most of us!) and you have curves. Also ICYDK, bridal gown sizing is a very special thing in that it’s smaller than your average clothing size (read if you are a size 8 in everyday wear, you could be up to a size 14 in bridal wear!). With this in mind, gown shopping is not easy, especially if you are a specialty size.

“Wedding dress shopping can pose quite the challenge for plus-size brides,” says Diana Di Poce, founder & editor-in-chief of DARE Magazine. “Over the years, I have spoken with many curvy brides who have had unfortunate experiences while shopping for their gowns. Many bridal boutiques do not cater to women over a size 12, or do not have plus size samples available to try on. These brides-to-be are often let down with a lack of options, and leave boutiques feeling traumatized, when they expected a fairytale experience.”

Cathy Sawyer knows this scenario well. When she was looking for a wedding dress a few years ago, she was extremely challenged because virtually no stores she visited offered dresses in plus size samples. “I am a size 20 street size and it was virtually impossible to find a store that stocked any plus-size gowns,” Sawyer says. “One of my most frustrating experiences while shopping was in one popular high end store—I was told that most dresses were available in plus, but the samples were generally a size two and a FEW had plus size samples in a 14.  The consultant brought me a style I loved, but there was no plus size sample (which still would have been much too small), when I asked how I was supposed to know if I liked it her response was ‘well, you could hold it up against your body and see how you like it.’  Its been three years since that day and I still laugh —it would be like shoe shopping and putting a baby-sized shoe beside your foot and deciding if it would work!”

Sawyer says she was lucky to find a bridal boutique stocking size 26 samples which she easily fit into and could be clamped and fitted into styles to see how they would actually fit her. “I felt like a model!” she says. Based on her own experience, Sawyer recommends finding out what your dress size is before starting to shop and scoping out brands that are available. She also found it helpful to call ahead and ask if they have plus size samples in the styles she liked before making the appointment.

Andrea Anastasiou, fashion stylist and owner of White, Toronto & White, Montreal says today there are so many wonderful styles for brides with curves to consider and many designers will custom create to any size. “Fabrics have changed a lot, and what the designers are using to create wedding gowns is allowing for options to ALL brides,” she shares. “We no longer need a special collection that goes up to certain sizing. Many designers we work with will provide a range of sizing, and/or offer the option for us to make custom gowns, which allows for creating a garment that is tailored to our client’s body. Smaller designers we are working with really want to be accessible to all brides and be inclusive. And, we as bridal service providers can take our expertise and really help a client choose something that will flatter and make her feel amazing. It’s the best time to be a bride. The possibilities are endless.”

We asked Anastasiou to delve a little deeper into the plus size dress shopping quest—here are her incredible shopping tips!

Make gown structure a design detail focus.
“The best advice I can offer when a client is curvy and choosing a gown is to consider the structure of the gown itself. Many of the gowns on the market now have incredible stretch in them that hold the body and can really shape and lift for brides wanting a fitted gown. If your want something more flowy, you need to consider: does the garment allow for proper undergarments and support? Can you put a bustier under it to lift the bust and shape the waist? Sometimes those gauzy, breezy dresses are hard in terms of shaping and supporting, or allowing for good undergarments no matter what your curves are, this is important for all brides to look at and consider before purchasing their gown.”

A  V-neckline is your best friend.
“I love gorgeous V-neck options which are extremely flattering, elongating and offer great support vertically for the bust. Fitted gowns are insane these days, with designers like Galia Lahav and Berta adding stretchy liners to really hug the body and let a curvy girl celebrate her shape, while feeling secure. There are some great options on the semi-fitted, soft A-line front. With these styles, the fabric lies closer to the waist and top of the hip and there is less volume in the skirt, but just enough to give you that special bridal feel.”

You CAN rock a sexy naked dress!
“Honestly any bride can wear this dress style, trust! Often, we make a nude slip that is detachable for the ceremony, or fill in or layer the necklines with more lace so as to not reveal too much, but just enough so that brides can embrace the light and airy feel of a naked gown. Girls can take advantage of the transparency-effect that is so beautiful and ethereal about these gowns, but with the reality of having to wear them in front of their grandparents! 
Often, we will make the lining so it can detach to showcase great legs. Sometimes we will add mini-skirts underneath in nude, again to give the look that the dress is naked but not! There are lots of ‘tricks’ that we can use so as to not compromise the look, but make it wearable.”

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