Our Facebook Group is full of the smartest, coolest, and most interesting women. When we see a post become full of countless comments and advice sharing, it becomes clear to us that this is an important topic we need to cover more.
What was a simple question posed about wedding dress shopping became countless comments of women sharing stories of their stressful shopping experiences, tears in fitting rooms, and a few positive experiences. See the 108 comment thread here.
One commenter, Stacy Collins, has extensive experience working in a bridal salon and came in with some of the best advice we've seen. She put together a list of her top tips for plus-size bridal shopping.
Written by Stacy Collins
Fifteen years ago, I was a young bride. I was fat and I was living away from my home for the first time. I went to one bridal salon and tried on one dress and ordered it. I couldn't take it right home because I had shopped in a straight size salon that didn't accommodate plus-size bodies. That day was one of the most depressing days I can remember. I was supposed to be happy, feel beautiful, and be surrounded by family and friends. Instead I was all alone, in a cold fitting room, with a snooty sales girl, being squished into a dress 4 sizes too small.
Considering my several years of experience working in a bridal salon, this may seem a bit ironic. The cobbler's kids have no shoes, right? We just never seem to take our own advice. While it's too late for me, I hope that I can give you advice that can save you from frustration!
Take my advice, and you can avoid having a depressing shopping day full of tears.
1. Before even looking, set your budget.
Don't set foot into a store or even begin hunting around online before you set your budget. There is truly nothing worse than finding the dress of your dreams and it being out of reach. (This advice goes for that dream house, dream car, and those dream shoes, too.) Yes it is a special day, but it is also just one day. When describing your budget to a stylist or consultant at a salon, don't use vague words by saying you're looking for something "affordable," or that, "won't break the bank," or that, "won't cost an arm and a leg." Those terms don't mean anything, and they certainly don't mean the same thing to everyone. Your version of affordable may be another's version of a splurge so to clear up any confusion just say what you're looking to spend.
2. Hindsight is 20/20, even with clothes.
Remember the previous special occasion dresses you've worn. Did you love your prom dress? Did you hate that bridesmaid dress? Did you wish you had a million more opportunities to wear that graduation dress? Think of all the dresses you loved and all that you hated to come up with the features that you absolutely do or do not want in your wedding dress. If you're dreaming of your daughter wearing your wedding gown when it's her turn to walk down the aisle, make sure your gown is timeless. There is probably a reason that you aren't wearing your mom's gown from the 80's.
3. Dress for the venue.
You probably have your wedding vibe in mind, and have discussed it with your future spouse. Your dress should reflect that. A backyard barbecue wedding is fun for everyone except the bride in a fluffy gown with layers in stilettos. Fluffy means it will catch in the grass, layers trap bugs, and stilettos sink into the grass. That will make for a miserable day! A long lace train would fare better coming down a church aisle and heading straight into a reception hall than it would on a grassy lawn. If you want to cut a rug at the party, the classic off-the-shoulder silhouette may leave you dancing like a T-rex. You may need to consider a second reception dress that is actually danceable. Whatever you do, make sure to consider your surroundings so that you are dressing in a way that makes you comfortable. A barn wedding may require a block heel, and a beach wedding would be better in wedges than stilettos.
4. Find a dress that's your style.
Are you a boho babe? A classic bride? Maybe you're a little preppy? Or glam? Or non-traditional? I guarantee there is a garment out there for you to profess your love in that fits your aesthetic. Not everyone has to wear a big, white, fluffy Cinderella gown! Some of the most beautiful brides I have seen have worn pantsuits, sundresses, and even costumes! I've seen brides in black dresses, white dresses, and every color in between. That is totally up to you. But I will say, if you opt for a cream or ivory gown and your partner is wearing a suit or tuxedo, steer clear of a cream shirt and opt for white instead because cream can just look dingy.
5. Make the dress work for you.
Consider your body shape. All wedding gowns are dreamy and all brides are beautiful, but some silhouettes look better on our bodies than others. Triangle (or pear) shaped brides look amazing in every silhouette except for a sheath dress. Athletic or rectangle/straight body types can achieve a curvier silhouette with most style of gowns as long as you avoid the mermaid shape. Inverted triangles (those who are top-heavy) may have the most success in styles with a fuller skirt like an A-line, empire, or ball gown to balance out their top. Round or apple shaped bodies rock styles that create a defined waistline like A-line and empire silhouettes. If you're a classic hourglass shape, you can and should try on every style of gown out there!
6. Try on EVERYTHING.
I mean it. And trust the sales associate. They know their stock and they see countless bodies every day. You may walk in thinking that a classic ball gown is too froufrou for you, but you may just be pleasantly surprised once it's on.
7. Don't look at any tags.
As you try on all the dresses, don't look at the tags. Whether it's a price tag or a size tag, it's just a number. This garment is made in a factory most likely on the other side of the world. Bridalwear is notorious for funky and inconsistent sizing. Keep in mind that nearly every person that buys a wedding dress will need alterations. Let the associate guide you on size based on your measurements not based on the size you think you might be. Same goes for price tags, don't discount a dress just because of the price. If you let your sales associate know your budget up front, he or she may bring you items outside of that range but may also have ideas of similar dresses you can order that are more affordable for you.
8. Buy the size you are right now.
Don't plan on losing weight, don't expect to be shedding for the wedding, just buy the size you are at the time. If you do end up being smaller, remember that you can always alter down but you cannot alter up.
9. Bring only (a few) honest friends.
Don't just bring everyone who wants to come along on your dress shopping adventure. Be choosy with your posse. Bring people you trust to tell the truth not just blow sunshine up your booty. Not every dress will be the one, so what you really need is people who aren't afraid to say, "Thank you, next." There is also such a thing as too many opinions. You are the one wearing the dress, not your friend, not your mom. If someone is gifting you the dress, don't let them push you into purchasing a dress that isn't for you. You're much better off in an inexpensive dress that you love and that you bought rather than a dress you hate that someone else bought for you. A gift should never come with strings.
10. Accessories can help you decide.
If you're feeling a bit unsure about a dress, ask your sales associate to help you accessorize. I cannot tell you how many times I tossed a veil on an apprehensive bride and it brought instant happy tears.
11. Don't over inflate the a-ha! moment.
You know the one. You felt it with your soon-to-be spouse. Remember this is just a dress, not a spouse. You may not have that tear-jerking a-ha! moment, and that is totally okay. Have your mom, sister, or bestie snap photos (if you're allowed, but be prepared that it is not allowed in every bridal salon) because pictures don't lie and allow you to see angles that you can't see in the mirror.
12. Take care of yourself before you arrive.
Arrive well fed and hydrated. Shopping can suck, it can be a long day, dressing rooms are stuffy, and opinions can be tense. It's possible that your mother or bridesmaid will be more preoccupied by what they're going to wear than what you're trying on. Set yourself up for success by showing up feeling as good as possible physically so you can handle what could be a long and tiring day of opinions and playing dress up.
12. Bring all the fixins.
Wear (or bring) a strapless bra, shoes with a heel height you may want, hair how you think you'll wear it, and makeup the way you're planning on wearing it for the big day. If you plan to wear your grandma's necklace when you walk down the aisle, bring it so you can visualize your whole look. Whatever you can bring to help bring your look to life will help you see yourself as the bride you are going to be.
13. Whatever you do, wear underwear.
I had so many brides going commando that I had to actually put up a sign that said you couldn't try on samples without skivvies. The dresses are just samples that many others will be trying on too! Yes, of course you want to see the whole picture but you'll just have to photoshop out the pantyline in your mind. Your sales associate will want to help you get changed. Let them, it's their job. They know how the dresses go on best and they've seen a million boobs already, trust me.
14. Be your own advocate.
If you don't love the selections your sales associate is suggesting, say so. Don't feel bad for making them work harder, it's literally their job. If a member of your crew is making you feel uncomfortable, kick them out. Remember, it's your day and (likely) your money so you can do whatever you want to feel better. If you're not feeling your best, come back another day even if this appointment has been scheduled for weeks. You need to do this for you and no one else. You get one wedding gown, make it perfectly you.
My best advice is this: be yourself and you'll be beautiful. Remember your love is worth it!