I’m standing in a dressing room, surrounded by wedding dresses and jammed into a gown five sizes too small for me. My arms are extended, Frankenstein-style, because the sleeves are so tight that if I bend my elbows I may burst through the lace. This is not how I imagined shopping for a my dress.
Actually, I never imagined I’d buy a wedding dress at all. Before my fiancé and I first started dancing around the subject of marriage, I had the occasional daydream about what a fun, fabulous wedding we might have (Skee-Ball! a sundae bar!), but the dress was never part of the picture, because in the back of my mind, I knew it would be a pain in the ass. I’m a size 16 to 18—just like the average American woman, according to the latest research—and shopping for my everyday clothes can be hard enough. While I’m used to buying online almost exclusively because most stores don’t sell plus sizes, I knew that wouldn’t be an option this time; this purchase would be too expensive, nonreturnable, and, you know, the dress I’d get married in. I had to try before buying. But as I’d soon discover, many bridal samples were 6s and 8s, too small for me to even get into. How could I envision the way a dress should look if I couldn’t even bend my arms in it?
I began my dress hunt as I assume all brides do: hunched over my laptop, googling like a fiend. I was looking for designers who made wedding gowns not only in my size but also my style, which is feminine but not froufrou. The dream dress I imagined was simple: a long A-line skirt, short sleeves, no beading, no frills—essentially the dress version of a classic white tee, around which I could tie a red ribbon sash and call it a wedding day. A week later I had a short list of stores in the New York City area whose pieces would work for me. I tried six shops, including Kleinfeld, David’s Bridal, Lovely Bride, The Cotton Bride, Schone Bride, and Stone Fox Bride (see the below for more details). After all that, here’s what I learned:
• Many retailers and designers do offer plus-size gowns. Wedding dresses are typically made to order, so some designers I spoke with said there was no limit on how large they’d make a dress. Amazing! The bad news: Very few designers carry plus-size samples; what you’ll find in stores to try on is, to say the least, small. (And bridal sizes run much smaller than most clothes to begin with.) If you’re bigger than the sample—usually a size 6—you have to yank on a dress and leave the back unzipped and gaping open. (Sometimes a saleswoman will clip a swatch of fabric, called a modesty panel, to the dress to cover you up a bit.) With some styles this will give you a vague sense of how the dress might look if it fit, but only when facing forward. I call this look “business in the front, tragedy in the back.” Let’s just say it’s hard to feel like a beautiful bride in this situation.
• It helps to preshop. First I researched dresses based on style alone. Once I had a list of designers I liked, I then whittled it down to those who produced dresses in my size. Finally, I emailed the shops to ask about the size range of samples. Many didn’t have samples in my size, but some had a few 10s or 12s I could squeeze into, which can make a real difference in how you’ll look and feel in a gown—you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you like a dress when you can actually put it on. (That said, if there’s a store with tiny samples but dresses you love, go anyway.)
• There are plus-size surcharges, which in my humble opinion, are bullshit. Some bridal designers charge extra (usually around $100 to $200) for dresses above a size 14. They say it’s because they have to use more material, but that logic really bothers me. A size-10 woman pays the same as a size 0; why should I have to pay more than the size 10? It’s a given that every bride pays for individual alterations to the dress she eventually chooses, but this is different. An up-front fee for being above a size 14 seems like a penalty for wearing a plus-size.
I was frustrated enough by it that I paused my dress hunting for a hot second to do a little more research, and I found that the whole surcharge thing didn’t sit well with Stone Fox Bride co-founder and creative director Molly Guy, either. “It’s really outrageous,” she says. “A dress is a dress is a dress.” With her unconventional, bohemian designs, Guy is a leader in the indie bridal scene. Still, her company is small and independent, and early on, she struggled with the logistics of serving plus-size clientele. “I had to apologetically explain a lot, ‘I’m so sorry, our samples are in a size 6,’ ” she says. “If I felt comfortable, I would throw in the caveat ‘because we’re a start-up.’ ” Producing a new collection complete with bigger samples wasn’t financially feasible, but after three years, tired of making “these anemic excuses,” she reached out to plus-size label Eloquii. Collaborating with them, she created a collection of her designs up to size 24—no surcharges in sight.
Some more traditional wedding brands are following suit, like designer Anne Barge, who recently debuted her Curve Couture line. Like Guy, she’d always made plus dresses; “we just didn’t have a name for it,” she says. But openly marketing to plus-size shoppers is important. When designers make one-time-only plus collections, it can sometimes feel patronizing: Here you go, four pieces you can buy! For a limited time! You’re welcome! Campaigns like Curve Couture send the signal that plus-size brides will be able to not just buy dresses but also browse, try on, and zip the damn things up.
In the end, how did I find my dress? I considered a custom gown. At The Cotton Bride (thecottonbride.com) I could tweak one of their existing designs to suit my taste—raise a neckline, drop a waist, swap a tulle skirt for chiffon—or create a whole new design with them completely from scratch. The service was great, but I found it difficult to visualize the final product. (You can also try custom places like Grace Bridal Couture in Los Angeles, Mignonette Bridal in Chicago, or KMKDesigns in St. Paul, Minnesota.)
Then I stepped into Schone Bride (schonebride.com) by Rebecca Schoneveld (rebeccaschoneveld.com). The samples were mostly 6s and 10s, but the brand’s plus-sizes debut this spring, with size 18 and 22 samples in its Brooklyn boutique. If you’re not in New York, Schoneveld’s designs are carried at boutiques across the country, including The Sentimentalist in Atlanta, Detroit Bridal House in Detroit, and A & Bé Bridal Shop in Denver. All her dresses could be made in my size and were customizable—I could add sleeves or swap one skirt for another.
I was flooded with excitement. Working with a stylist and Schoneveld herself, I wedged and clipped myself into the pieces, while the three of us talked about the issues women like me face trying to get the dress of their dreams. After a few minutes I looked into the mirror and saw myself in the dress you see above, with a tulle skirt, silvery white bodice, and an elegant lace topper. I adored the dress, and even better, I felt good about it. Schoneveld was sensitive and understanding, and eager to learn from my perspective. “From an ethical standpoint, it feels really wrong to have to pay more for a dress just because it’s a different size,” she says. “But, from a production standpoint, if it takes eight yards instead of six, do I eat that margin?” In the short term, she decided, yes—and after our talk, she opted to expand her standard size range up to 30 and eliminate her surcharge in the name of becoming a more inclusive brand. In the long term, she says, “it’s a smart business move.”
So, brides: Know that there are great options no matter your size or style—sometimes you just have to ask for what you know you deserve. Put on your game face and get shopping; your dress is out there. This is your damn day.
And now, Miller’s favorite places to shop if you’re size 14 or above.
If you want traditional: Kleinfeld (kleinfeldbridal.com) claims to have the largest selection of plus-size gowns and samples in the country (around 200 at any given time), including those from Christian Siriano, Augusta Jones, and Watters, and most of their designers can produce up to size 32. I found the selection a bit too traditional—if you’re into ball gowns and classic looks, this is your place!—but I was grinning like a kid because everything fit.
If you want bohemian: At Stone Fox Bride (stonefoxbride.com) you’ll find gorgeous modern and bohemian gowns, vintage pieces, separates, and its Eloquii for Stone Fox Bride line. The dresses can be purchased online, but I highly recommend visiting the showroom in New York if you can. Not only does cofounder Guy carry plus-size samples, but her team makes the experience both fun and relaxed. That makes a huge difference when you’re in wedding mania.
If you’re on a budget: There were a slew of samples (more than 100) I could try on at David’s Bridal in New York City (davidsbridal.com), and the dresses were, hands down, the lowest price (starting at $399). Browsing the store with a stylist, I found exclusive collections from the likes of Zac Posen, Vera Wang, and Melissa Sweet, many offering styles up to size 26. I didn’t find my dream dress, but after trying on more decorative ones, I realized I kind of liked some sparkle.
If you want personal: I found The One (see it on the next page!) at Schone Bride (schonebride.com). The samples were mostly 6s and 10s, but the brand’s plus-sizes debut this spring, with size 18 and 22 samples in its Brooklyn boutique. Don’t live in New York? Schone’s designs are carried at boutiques across the country, including The Sentimentalist in Atlanta, Detroit Bridal House in Detroit, and A & Bé Bridal Shop in Denver.
And for more options… Many off-the-rack dresses can double as a wedding dress. Or look into the size-inclusive ready-to-wear lines that are getting into bridal. Addition Elle (additionelle.com) launched its first bridal collection this spring, featuring five styles in sizes 14 to 24, priced between $240 and $380. Fame and Partners (fameandpartners.com) followed with a 21-piece line in sizes 0 to 22, priced from $299 to $1,299. And ModCloth (modcloth.com) currently has dozens of dresses in their bridal collection, which goes up to size 26, for between $27 and $600.