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.
Now 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…
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 inspo for a while.
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 to go plus size wedding dress shopping:
- 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.
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 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.
You 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.
You'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…
This 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.
This 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.
Here'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.
This 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.
This 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.
This 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.
This 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.
I 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.
This 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.
I 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…
This 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.
The 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.
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 humor 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.