The ultimate guide to plus-size wedding dress shopping

Guest post by Pisquared

While planning a wedding, I've noticed a lot of anxiety is centering around dress shopping — especially for the plus-sized. It's totally understandable. While decent plus-sized clothing has gotten a bit easier to come by, finding something stylish that you feel good in is still difficult, even for normal everyday clothes. Wedding dress shopping bumps the anxiety up a few notches.

I know for me, and I suspect a bunch of you out there, wedding dress shopping brought up a whole host of body issues and insecurities.

buy plus size panties on saleNow that I've been there, done that, I thought I would share my experience and show you that it can be a very happy and positive experience.

First off, I am overweight, there's no denying that. Sometimes I feel great about how I look. Other times I let a bad body image get the best of me. For a little perspective, I am 5'6″, weigh 220lbs, and wear a street size 18 or 20, depending on the cut. Now, here's my guide to plus-size wedding dress shopping…

The models:

When you start your search for wedding dress inspiration, you will not see any large models, not even in plus-sized styles. Because of this, it's hard to picture what these dresses will look like on your body. It also had the undesired side effect of making me hate my body.

The internet is a great place to start looking and get ideas, just try not to fall into the trap of comparing your body to the models. I shed quite a few tears because I became convinced that there was no way I was going to find a dress that looks good on me, and I would just look ridiculous, and why does fiancé even want to be seen with me? It was a horrible downward spiral.

When you start getting that tinge of fear that you are horribly ugly and you're just going to look like an ugly girl in a pretty dress, it's time to turn off the computer and walk away. Seriously, don't torture yourself. Take a break from the internet and maybe all wedding porn for a while.

The shops:

The shop you go to, and the company you bring with you, is going to make or break the experience. I went to five separate shops, a couple of them more than once. Every one was a different experience, with some better than others. This is one of the most important things to keep in mind. Just because you have bad experience at one place, doesn't mean every dress will make you look like crap. Likewise, if the shop isn't treating you well, don't be afraid to speak with a manager or end the appointment.

How to prepare:

  • Wear underwear that make you feel good.
  • Bring some kind of strapless bra, if you have one. Some stores have bras you can wear while trying on stuff. Some gowns are structured enough that they don't require support garments.
  • If you have your wedding shoes already, bring those, too. If not, bring a pair of shoes around the same height that you intend to wear.
  • Also, if the store allows, bring a bottle of water. You'll be amazed how quickly dress shopping will dehydrate you.

Shape wear

I'm on the fence about shape wear. On one hand, you want to look your best, and I admit to wearing Spanx occasionally. On the other hand, you want to be comfortable. I lean more to the being comfortable side. My thought is that you will want to find a dress that looks great without the shape wear. Then if you want a little extra help, you can add the shape wear later.

There's an episode of The Simpsons (Simpson and Delilah, it's the one where Homer gets hair) where Homer is shopping for a suit with his secretary. Karl sees homer sucking his gut in while being measured. He stops Homer and says to him, “You. Let it out.” Then turns to the tailor and says, “You. Disguise it.” That's how I feel about wedding dresses. They should be cut in such a way as to make you look great, regardless of the presence of Spanx.

The clips

The first thing to know, is that dress shops only get samples in certain sizes. Don't be afraid, though. Most places will have enough samples for you to try on, and, as you can see,
zzey have vays of making zem fit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the clips and ties they used to put me in this size 14 gown. Don't feel bad about the clips; smaller girls get them, too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou'll also get the clip treatment if the sample dress is too big.

The best looks

Okay, with all of that out of the way, here's the dress-trying-on porn. I want to put some pictures of a bigger girl in different wedding dress styles out there so you can get an idea of what they might look like on you, and to allay your fears regarding dress shopping…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a slim A-line shape. I loved the material; it draped so well, and was soft, and felt like thicker lingerie material. I found the sweetheart neckline to be very flattering. Likewise, the ruching on the bodice. Those are two things I thought I'd stay away from. This dress is pretty much the opposite of what I thought I wanted in the beginning, so keep an open mind and try a bunch of different styles.

The corset back does't hurt, either. Here's me having an Oh-my-God-I-look-so-pretty moment. I found I looked the best in dresses with a corset back. You can cinch them up to give such great definition to your curves.

full A-line dressThis is a full A-line dress, with an empire waist and split front. Previously, I thought that combination would only make me look pregnant, but this dress is stunning. Check out the back!

Here is your standard princess ballgown. It's not too bad, but not great, either.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere's another ballgown. This one has kind of a criss-cross wrapping at the top and ruching. The top is actually pretty similar to the dress I eventually settled on. As you try on dresses, think about what you like and don't like about the dress. If you can narrow down specifics of what you like, then you can start to find dresses with those elements.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a more fitted dress. This is either a fit and flare or possibly a trumpet, I forget which. The David's Bridal bra they put me in fit a little funny. You can see it makes my boob look wrinkly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis dress is somewhere between fitted and ballgown. There is a lot in between very tight, and very poofy.

Compare the above dress to this much fuller ballgown. This dress was heavy. I also confess this was my top contender at David's Bridal. Personally, I really liked the full skirt look on me. I have pretty broad shoulders, and the poofy skirt balances them out nicely.

Here's another A-line dress. I wasn't crazy about the skirt, but I liked the top and the back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is an empire waist gown with a split front and A-line skirt. It's what I think of as “the Juliet dress.” It was also just kind of meh, but it could be nice if you're going for more of a Renaissance or Medieval vibe.

This reminds me of a Grecian goddess dress. It's an empire waist. I loved the material, and the way it draped.

Another A-line, this time with straps! I thought I wanted sleeves, or at least straps, but it turns out I like the way I look strapless better.

This is a simple, flowy, empire waisted dress. If I was getting married on a beach, I would wear this. Well, that and maybe a slip, because you can totally see my underwear in that picture.

This is a drop waisted ballgown with a crazy skirt. Again, I loved the criss-cross bodice. The dropped waist shows off my hips nicely. I must like those elements because the top is similar to what I ended up getting.

fit and flare dressThis is a fit and flare dress. It's much more fitted than an A-line, but not as tight as a mermaid style. I found walking around to be pretty easy. This was the first form fitting dress I had tried on, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

trumpet style dressI believe this is a trumpet style. It flares at the hips. It's more form fitting than an A-line, but less so than a fit and flare. So, on the scale of “poofy skirt to form-fitting skirt” dress silhouettes go: ballgown, A-line, trumpet, fit-and-flare, mermaid. Oh, and I guess sheath is thrown in there somewhere, too.

tea length dressThis is a fun tea length dress. The skirt is still A-line. The majority of wedding dresses fall into the A-line category, probably because that shape is pretty flattering on just about everyone. This dress was fun, and if I didn't want a full length dress, it would be a top contender.

 

Here's one more ballgown. The shape is similar to what I ended up getting. The picture's at an odd angle, but I really liked the way the bodice crosses over the hips before going into the full skirt.

sexy mermaid dressI was feeling brave enough towards the end of my first appointment that I tried on a mermaid dress. This is a style I never thought I could pull off, being as big as I am, but, holy curves, this thing really did look stunning. This is a dress that is meant to be seen walking away. It's great in photos. Not-so-much for moving around, though. It's so fitted through the thighs that I had a hard time stepping up onto the little pedestal.

The less-than-flattering looks

Not scared yet? Feeling like you can find a style to fit you? Good. Now, let's look at some less-than flattering-dresses.

…It's okay, feel free to mock these with me! Not everything is going to be a winner.

Keep that in mind as you try on dresses and try not to let the losers dampen your spirits too much. It also helps to have a good friend with you to make you feel better and to mock the ugly dresses with you.

This is a sheath dress with a lace overlay. It is way too small for me. The nice sales lady is explaing about the keyhole back and how pretty this dress would look if it was in my size. I don't believe her.

Another thing to keep in mind, is that what you like in pictures won't necessarily look good on you. This is the Elsie dress by Maggie Sottero. I fell in love with this dress online and in the window of a local bridal shop. I was really disappointed that it looked so bad on me. Granted, it's a few sizes too small. but, really, it's doing the exact opposite of what I want it to do. Oh, well. On to the next one…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis dress completely disguises my curves and makes me look like a rectangle! Compare that to the nicer looking ones. Some gowns are just more flattering than others.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bodice on this princess dress makes me look really top-heavy.

Here's another dress I liked online. Not-so-much in real life. I didn't like the material, it kind of made me think of curtains. (By the way, the nice lady holding my dress up is my future mother-in-law.)

Here's something more fitted, but not really doing much for me. I think the split in the skirt starts at an unfortunate place.

I actually like the way this dress looks, and I really liked the look of the cap sleeves. What I didn't like was that the sleeves prevented me from moving my arms up. I was on the pedestal, laughing, and being all “I'm a T-rex!” The sales lady was not as amused.

Sometimes, when you ask for larger sized dresses, they give them to you. This might not be too bad of a dress if it had actually fit. It strikes me as odd that women are expected to purchase a garment as important and expensive as a wedding dress without having tried on a version that fits properly.

Bad dress shopping experiences

Finally, this face says it all. I had driven about three-and-a-half hours to try on this specific dress. When I was calling around to area bridal shops, this one told me that they had the dress in a size 14. It wasn't ideal, but it would be do-able to at least try on. When I got to the shop, the dress was a size 10. I am a street size 18 on a good day. We somehow managed to defy physics and get me in the thing, but it's not sitting right at all, and is nowhere near closing in the back. Not cool, dress shop, not cool.

Actually, that was one of my worst dress shopping experiences. If this had been my first time out, I would have left feeling very bad about myself. It helped that I had a few positive experiences under my belt at this point and could call BS on the shop.

Rocking the dress on my wedding day.
Rocking the dress on my wedding day.

As a small aside, I did end up buying that dress, from shop close to my home where the sales people had been nice to me, after I had tried it on in a size much closer to my own. I speak with my wallet.

Having a positive dress shopping experience

The good thing that came out of that horrible dress shopping trip was that I got to spread a little of the offbeat love around by showing off my awesome red shoes. This poor lady on the pedestal next to me was getting flack from her family because she wanted to wear blue shoes with her dress. I lifted up my dress and let them know I was going to wear red. They seemed to lighten up a little after that.

So, yeah, not everything will be a winner. It helps if you can keep a sense of humour through the whole process. Remember that you're beautiful! Also remember that your partner thinks so, too. It's hard to keep a positive attitude, especially when it comes to wedding wear. Unfortunately, I don't have a cure for that. I spent the night before my first major dress shopping excursion crying into my pillow. In reality, we had a lot of fun and, in the end, I did walk away happier with my body. I just needed to see in person that I could look very pretty in a wedding dress.

On a happy note, most of the shops I went to were very nice and all had stuff I could try on. No one made any negative comments on my size. David's Bridal can be hit or miss, but if there's one close to you, I would recommend it as a starting place to try on a variety of silhouettes.

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Comments on The ultimate guide to plus-size wedding dress shopping

  1. EPIC post. I want to flood Pinterest with pictures of you just so there’s more variety in the world.

  2. I specifically sought out a plus-size salon after having a HORRIBLE dress shopping experience. The first place I approached essentially fat shamed me the entire session. Saying, “Well we only really have bigger sizes in A-line” or “I have seen a lot of bigger girls and most of them have never picked a mermaid shape.” Um, thanks? I pointed to dresses and they would say, “You won’t fit into that” Tell me how you really feel?
    I left feeling so terrible, I am a street size 12, and they really had NOTHING that I was interested in. It was uncomfortable and unprofessional.
    For my second dress experience, I researched plus-size salons and found one in the Midwest. The entire session was balls-amazing. EVERYTHING fit and the consultants were great at making me feel special. And I found my dress!
    So bear in mind curvy girls, if you want to try on every type of dress and have it fit (sometimes they were too big!), just go to a plus size salon. It was awesome.

    • “I have seen a lot of bigger girls and most of them have never picked a mermaid shape.”

      HA!!! I’m a plus-sized curvy girl, and I am TOTALLY rocking a mermaid shape for my wedding. And it looks fantastic, versus a ton of A-lines that did nothing for me.

      You are absolutely right though — being somewhere where you can really try everything on (with awesome consultants) is definitely key.

      • You know, I’ve always hated those fishtail type dresses and have seen very slim girls wearing them and look awful, and thought they basically suited noone. But no – actually the plus size fishtail looks gorgeous! Maybe it is secretly a good shape for us bigger ladies and we’re just conditioned to think that only thin bodies can get away with more unusual styles.

        • OMG yes! I was really wary of putting it on, but the sales lady told me to “hush and trust her”, and I did and ZOMG I was like, “I have a waist? And sexy curves? And clevage that doesn’t make me look god-awful? I WANT THIS!”

          Try on the weird stuff!

    • That’s such bull that they told you that. The last wedding I went to where the bride was plus-sized, she wore a full-on mermaid dress and looked AMAZING.

    • I’m sorry– you’re a size TWELVE and they were saying nothing would fit you?? (Was this the shop from “Mean Girls” where they only carry up to a size 5, or something?) I’m also a 10/12, and in my experience from bridesmaid and bridal dress shopping, most samples ARE those sizes! I’m so sorry you had that experience.

      • Not to mention that a size 12 technically isn’t even plus-size, even by many bridal salons’ standards.

        • Just some input- as a size 10-12 going dress shopping, it translates into a wedding dress size 14-16. Sample sizes were about 8-12 in wedding dress sizes, translating to a 4-8 in street size. I did end up trying on a few plus size dresses just because they were sure to fit.

          • Agreed! I’m a size 12, and my wedding size is between a 16 and an 18. I went to a plus-sized store in DC, and it was FABULOUS! (I bought a mermaid)

      • i felt so bad for the family i had brought with me. i tried on two dresses and then the appointment was over. it was so embarrassing, everyone was so excited to come with and the appointment went south so quickly. like, really, there was nothing anyone could say to make light of the situation.

    • Where in the Midwest did you find such a place? I live in Wisconsin and am starting at the Madison Davids Bridal on Saturday. Very Nervous!

    • Plus-sized salons are great, but there are also dressmakers who specialize in real sizes (oh hai). The whole reason I started making dresses for other people was because a friend of mine was made to feel horrible – and she is totally gorgeous. Making someone feel anything but amazing about their body is SO. NOT. OK.

      I’m so glad that you finally found a dress that worked for you and got the decent treatment that all of us deserve. Experiences like yours are why it’s so important to remind each other what Beauty really is. Thanks for sharing details.

  3. Good advice. Ladies, don’t stand for being treated anything less than awesome from a dress shop, no matter what your size. I had an appointment with one shop, but when I got there, they put my in a closet sized room (even though they had big rooms specifically for bridal appointments), and I’m not exaggerating when I say I could barely fit myself and a dress in the room, let alone someone to help me get into the dresses. The consultant barely even noticed I was there and never offered to help me into any dress. She kept pulling dresses that were size 10 or 14, and I couldn’t get into any of them. Both I and my friend made it a point to tell her several times that I hadn’t been able to get into any of the dresses she brought, and that I was going to need at least an 18, but she just kept bringing size 10. Needless to say, we left pretty quickly, and I ended up paying about $300 more for the dress I wanted at another shop, where I was treated very well.

  4. Lovely pictures.
    Sales ladies seem to not have a sense of humour. I would have laughed my butt off about t-rex arms. I also remember trying on a dress with a weird high neckline and asking for my garlic necklace please. At least my sister thought it was funny. 🙂

  5. Hello, just wondering if some of you lovely ladies would be able to share some of the names of the stores you guys tried? Perhaps I can find them in my area. Thank you!

    • Luxe Bridal Couture in Minneapolis, MN is a plus-size bridal salon and they were AMAZING. i had the best experience, ask for Nikki!

      • Amanda, you just made my day! I’m in the Twin Cities and have been *dreading* looking for a wedding gown. Thank you so much!

    • For those in the VT/Eastern NY region, I highly recommend A Trace of Lace in Rutland, VT. The store had a big selection of wedding gowns in size 14 and above in a variety of styles, even though it’s not a plus sized store. It’s a mother/daughter team running the store (daughter runs, mother assists). The mother is the one who helped me and she was amazing. She’s a former OB/GYN nurse and knows how to make women feel comfortable with their bodies. Plus, they give you free bottled water and cookies.

      • For brides in Sydney, Australia and other towns in NSW, I recommend Calabro Bridal in Wetheril Park. They also have a store in Newcastle, NSW. They had most dresses from size 6 to 22+. They never once judged me for my body or style choices. The ladies there were absolutely lovely! I bought my dress from them purely because the one I tried on fit me perfectly and I didnt have to imagine what the dress would look like on me before I purchased it. Plus, the gowns are a good price!

  6. Love this post! Read it last week in the Tribe, and it was such a life saver. It really helped me mentally prepare for my own shopping trip.

    This weekend I went dress shopping at a DB in Manhattan and also to…ahem…that other famous dress shop in Manhattan…the one that starts with a K. Anyway, DB was a great way to get into the trenches, try a dozen shapes on, and get a feel for fabrics and silhouettes. (Trumpet and fit-and-flare FTW!)

    At K, we had a wonderful consultant who listened to my description of the wedding and my own style and brought flattering, sexy, comfortable gowns! I was thrilled. Customer service is key! I said “Yes” and couldn’t wait to sign away. They took my measurements and then…all hell broke loose. Come to find out, this dress actually doesn’t come in my size!!!! I’m a street 16/18, but somehow no one caught that this wasn’t a viable option until AFTER I had fallen in love with it. (Were there other dresses I liked there? Would they have been available in my size? Sure. Was I emotionally and/or physically ready to say goodbye to my favorite and try on 5 more gowns? Nope.)

    So my worst nightmare of bridal-induced-body-hating came true. And you know what? I’m over it. There are other gorgeous dresses in the world and now I know exactly what makes me feel good. And I’m stronger now because I’ve walked into the ritzy-est salon, been “too big” (their words) for my dream gown, and lived to tell the tale. At the end of the day, it’s just a dress. There are so many gorgeous options for all sizes, and as you’ve shown, it’s totally worth shopping around – despite the ups and downs you might find.

    So my advice to add here is: be strong, be beautiful, embrace the adventure. It might also be good to know your measurements (because “sizes” are relative in bridal wear).

    And I heartily recommend Spanx or other shapers – the ones that are shorts and an open-bust cami all in one (http://www.spanx.com/shop/spanx/shapewear/skinny-britches-open-bust-mid-thigh-body-zid38-1909/cat-38-catid-tn_spx_sw?CategoryDomainName=SPXNA-38&vva_ColorCode=NATRL&_t=pfm%3Dcategory) because then you feel like you have clothes on the whole time! It’s much easier to focus on being gorgeous when you aren’t stripping in front of a stranger every 10 minutes!

  7. Great post!

    I went to a specialist plus size shop, which had a pretty wide variety.

    My absolute number one tip would be to try on as many different shapes as you can. I never would have tried on something figure hugging, but the sales lady put me in a very tight slinky mermaid (/trumpet?) and it looked AMAZING. I didn’t go for it in the end, but I’m glad I had a go!

    Also, and this goes for everyone – don’t get sucked in to the whole ‘you must choose one NOW’ hype. It’s rubbish and will just stress you out.

    I ended up buying a bridesmaids dress, which I tried on in a sample 5 sizes too small for me. A pain, but it can be done!

    • This! I ended up getting the trumpet gown that the author tried on (about halfway down the page). Never thought it would look good on me (street size 16/18) but holy buggers, I rocked it! I went in with dresses I wanted to try on but if someone (mom, the consultant) suggested a dress in any style/shape, I’d at least try it on.
      And ditto for not being forced to buy it right away. I went back alone a second time to verify that I wanted it and decided to buy it then.

  8. Thank you SO much for the time and effort you put into this post.. I am also a size 18-20 and have been dreading going dress shopping. Seeing a real lovely woman such as yourself has given me such hope, and now I’m so much more excited to get started. YAY.

  9. A bad dress shopping experience can happen to anyone, regardless of size. I went to three shops looking for my dress and 2 were good fun. One just made me extremely uncomfortable and wasn’t straightforward about price, at all. I don’t think places like that should be rewarded with my business.

    • PREACH. I’m a size 4 avid Crossfitter, and my thin privilege was just shredded away by the experience of wedding dress shopping. I went to three stores in the Benelux region, and at each got nosy advice about what kind of shape would be ‘flattering.’ At one point the sales assistant, after I’d squeezed into a very form-fitting column gown, tapped my hip and gently scolded ‘no, this isn’t a good shape for such a solid girl.’

      I wound up buying a J Crew dress off the Internet and I love it. As an aside, the bride in this post is just gorgeous.

      • Hototogisu, I bought my first wedding dress at David’s Bridal and had the same experience…with my fat-shaming mother in tow and rude sales staff . My mother was ashamed and horrified when at a size 2 I had to try on a size 4. Oh, the horror!! The sales ladies piled on the negativity when mermaids and sheaths weren’t flattering on my athletic shape.

        It doesn’t matter what our measurements are, there will always be someone around to try to knock you down a peg. I’m honestly now dreading buying a dress for my second wedding coming up in 6 months. Besides running out of time, I’m more muscular than four years ago and just can’t tolerate the negativity. will probably go with the online shopping route. Did you find anything worth checking out at other online shops?

        • Madeline, that makes me so angry that staff would treat you like that. I hope for your next dress you only take along positive people who will have your back no matter what.
          I also think that if the staff make negative comments or say things that make you uncomfortable, end the appointment, and let them know you won’t be buying from them.
          Also, see if anyone in your area has places with friendly staff they can recommend. All the best!

        • I can’t *believe* you got treated like that. Oh, wait, I can. I hear these stories all the time and I am so, so sorry. You’re right, they totally don’t deserve your business or even a second look. Did you ever find a dress that worked for you?

  10. I love that you made this post! I generally love going shopping just to try on clothing, but I felt SO anxious about wedding dress shopping. You only ever see pictures of women looking way glammed up, but as it turns out, you won’t magically look like this in the shop! Somehow fluorescent lighting on a dress that is 2 sizes too big/small in a cut that doesn’t really flatter your body doesn’t make you look like someone from Pinterest. Total shock to me.

    I would absolutely second the point about trying on dresses that aren’t exactly what you’re picturing in your mind. Even though I normally have a great sense of what fits my oddly proportioned body very well, I ended up in a few dresses that I thought would be perfect and turned out to be flops and vice versa. There’s something about the cut of wedding dresses and the huge volume of fabric and boning that just makes them fit WAY differently than you’re expecting.

    Definitely go with friends/family you can laugh with, and screw humorless shop ladies! If they don’t like your jokes about having a picnic on the excessively long dress train, then they don’t get you and don’t get your dollars!

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