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Survival Guide for the Plus-size Bride

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You’re planning the wedding of your dreams, and with your closest college friends serving as your bridal party, you know it’s going to be epic. The best part is you and your sisters get to relive memories of shopping for your sorority dress; only this time, you’re picking out your bridal gown. As you hit the local boutiques, however, your plans hit a major snag: not a single shop has dresses in your size. You can admire them on the rack, but you’d need a jar of Crisco and a crowbar to try them on.

It’s not easy being a plus-size bride. When Lindsay Goldenberg Jones of Women Getting Married contacted both designer and retail stores across the country, she discovered that while many designer gowns go up to a size 20, stores rarely stock samples above a size 10, which is a size six or eight in street clothes. That means larger brides would need to order their dresses without trying them on first, a risky venture when dresses aren’t returnable. Ordering a larger size can also cost up to 20 percent more.

One could forgive bridal shops for only stocking the most popular sizes. However, 67 percent of women wear a size 14 or larger, and the average woman wears a size 18. “Plus-size,” or more accurately, “actual-size” women, are the majority of the population but account for only one to two percent of women depicted in mainstream media.

According to SELF, that lack of representation has a serious impact. “If we only see thin brides in the media, then that can lead people to believe that in order to be a ‘good bride’ one must be a ‘thin bride,’” says Ivanka Prichard, author of a study that revealed at least half of brides want to lose weight. Even women who are healthy and active like fitness trainer Julie Tamir feel the pressure; her seamstress told her, “If you lose 5 pounds when you walk down the aisle, your husband will cry.” When they are body shamed by strangers as well as loved ones, it’s the brides who are often brought to tears.

To turn down the volume on the negativity, plus-size brides need to take proactive steps to find more inclusive spaces. Always call ahead to bridal shops to find out what size ranges they carry, so you avoid wasted trips. Be selective about the people you invite along when you try on dresses and let them know what feedback you do and don’t find helpful. If you receive unwanted body commentary, call it out.

Finding inclusive online spaces for wedding inspiration is equally crucial. Wedding planner Shafonne Myers created Pretty Pear Bride, so plus-size women like herself could “see people that look like them, doing what they are trying to do because it allows them to envision that they can be just as glamorous and gorgeous as they imagined.” Her blog includes profiles of real weddings, a fashion guide, and a directory of bridal salons that stock plus-size dresses.

As The Curvy Fashionista reports, plus-size-only bridal boutiques have begun to spring up across the country. Curvaceous Couture in the Baltimore area, for example, features a complete collection of designer gowns in sizes from 12 to 44. If you can’t find a plus-size-only store in your area, Jones recommends David’s Bridal, which has its own plus-size line. She also suggests that if you need to order a dress without trying it on first, order it online, so you can take advantage of the vendor’s return policy.

Plus-size women often feel limited to clothing styles that hide as much of their bodies as possible. All sources agree, however, that finding the right plus-size wedding dress is about accentuating your best features and letting your personality shine. In Brides, Terry Hall, director of Kleinfeld Bridal, recommends a variety of styles to achieve different effects.

An A-line dress with an empire waist provides the ideal silhouette for the bride who wants to be sophisticated and discreet, while a dropped waist, corseted gown accentuates a sexy, playful bride’s curves and bustline. For brides who are self-conscious about their pear shape, a ball gown shows off their upper half while providing that classic princess look, and a mermaid or trumpet gown can make their legs go on for days.

Rosemary and Twine recommends choosing a dress with sufficient back coverage so you can experiment with different bras and shapewear and ensure you have the necessary support.

My Wedding Guides advises against thin, flimsy fabrics like chiffon, which tend to skim your body. Instead, choose sturdier options like lace, taffeta, organza, or duchess satin. Ruching provides added structure, and asymmetrical hemlines or pleats create a vertical eye line leading all the way to your face.

Where did you find your plus-size wedding dress and the confidence to look and feel fabulous on your big day? Share your experience in the comments.