How to shop for a plus-size wedding dress with less stress

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.

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…

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 inspo 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 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.

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

full A-line dress

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

fit and flare dress

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.

trumpet style dress

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.

tea length dress

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.

sexy mermaid dress

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…

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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Comments on How to shop for a plus-size wedding dress with less stress

  1. I wish I had seen this sooner!

    I was so nervous about the not being able to try on dresses that I avoided the boutique type places all-together (Price was a factor too). I knew DB would have my size, and bigger, and smaller too, so I decided to simplify for myself and just went there. I had a pretty good experience and, because I’m such a self-conscious person, being able to try on dresses that all fit did wonders for my self-esteem. I just ignored the size, which is always at least 2 sizes larger in wedding dresses, and paid attention to the fact that all these fun dresses fit me.

    I know myself, and I was unwilling to have that hit to my self-esteem. Some might say I wimped out, but I think I did what I had to to keep myself from going crazy.

    • I don’t think skipping certain types of shops is “wimping out” at all. You know yourself and you did what felt best for your self-esteem and well-being. Props to that!

  2. I went to a bridal expo in Madison, WI and at all dress shop booths I asked “How many plus size dresses do you have in your shop available to try on?” One shop said “Oh, at least a half dozen!” Really, looking at my short size 24 body, do you think that’s a good answer?

    I shopped first at David’s Bridal with some luck. Just didn’t like sharing a consultant.

    Then I went to Bridal Elegance in Ottawa, IL (near my mom & sister) – it’s the largest bridal shop in Illinois! Huge, tons of options. When I saw them at a bridal expo in Illinois and asked how many plus size dresses in stock, they said “5 or 6, maybe 7… dozen.” And they weren’t kidding. Racks and racks and racks of dresses. I didn’t try on dresses that I didn’t like simply because there wasn’t much choice, like I did at David’s. I must have tried on at least 2 dozen dresses that day at Bridal Elegance, with at least 3 being top contenders. We bought my dress that day.

    My dress is a Mori Lee A-line sleeveless dress (I hate to say it has straps because it’s a V-neck) size 30 which we shortened to tea length and I love it. I added Mary Jane shoes and a birdcage veil to give a slight vintage feel to it. I felt so beautiful that day in that dress.

    I have pictures on my blog if you click on my name up there.

    And Pisquared, you’re beautiful! Congratulations on your marriage!

  3. You’re pretty rad. I a little bit wish this had existed to read a while ago, but I think I can live with my choices.
    I’m getting married in April and I’m a street size 16-20 on top or 20-26 (thanks shops) on the bottom. And I decided, after yucky comments and treatment as a bridesmaid at bridally shops, to just damn well go ahead and make my own dress. Currently working on it, but everything should be hunky dory, and it will fit the way I want it to, and look the way I want it to, and I don’t have to spend more hours crying about my stupid body.

    Anyway, thanks for being happy and amazing and I hope this post works really well for everyone!!

  4. Things have really changed since I was engaged. I was a size 14 at the time. The first place I went only had samples in size 2. They were all too willing to sell me a non-refundable dress I’d never seen myself in that I could spend thousands altering though. Next place I went had 3 off-the-rack plus size dresses that were ugly sacks, and lots of size 2 samples. Same deal – buy something that I’d never seen and spend 2-3x the cost of the gown to alter it. I quit looking at that point.

  5. I LOVED my wedding dress, but had a not great experience purchasing it. When I tried it on in the store (at David’s Bridal, so it was in my size), the saleswoman encouraged me to buy a size smaller since I was over a year out from my wedding and had been losing weight steadily (at the time, I was 70 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight). I took her advice, and, of course, the dress I purchased never fit. My dress was discontinued, so I couldn’t return or exchange it (since I bought it so far out). However, when I brought it in for alterations, they were really nice about the whole thing, and did a good job with the alterations – but it never fit quite as well as that sample dress I first tried on in my actual size (the altered dress had some light wrinkling that would not go away towards the waist, presumably because it was still a little too small there).

    TL;DR: Buy a dress in YOUR SIZE, and don’t buy it too early.

  6. What a great blog! Thank you for being educational and informative!!! 🙂 I LOVED reading it!

  7. CA brides check out http://dellacurva.com/ Della Curva is Southern California’s first plus-size bridal salon exclusively catering to full-figured curvy brides sized 16-30. Their sister store Lili Bridals is also awesome if you need any sizes under 16. Hope this helps!

  8. I have the added issues of being a 5’9″ size 18 wedding dress shopper with absolutely NO interest in white and too much knowledge of how the typical rack dress is made/marked up. I’ve yet to set foot in a bridal shop for myself, and I have an awesome friend making sure I don’t need to, which brings me to this:

    All of the above advice is AWESOME, but for those who might also have the “I don’t want white” issue or the “I can’t tell what a dress will look like on someone my size”– don’t look at wedding dresses for the inspiration. Look at Dresses– day dresses, prom dresses, bridesmaid’s dresses, costumes from historical periods. The shapes and body sizes thought “beautiful” by the main stream have changed SO MUCH in the past 200 years, that it *WILL* be easier to find design elements you like from things that aren’t a modern white wedding dress. From there, you can go to a shop (or dressmaker!) armed with terms and images that you’re more confident will have the effect you want. Just because you want a white dress for your wedding day doesn’t mean white dresses called “wedding dresses” should be the only things you research. 🙂 They’re all inspired by fashion through history anyway.

  9. Thank you for this post!

    I also highly recommend consignment shops. The first shop I went to was a consignment shop and they were amazing. They carried dresses in a wide range of sizes and silhouettes (I called and asked beforehand to make sure this was the case), and I was able to learn what shapes I liked and roughly what size I was. I also loved that most of the dresses came with happy stories of the people who’d worn them before.

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