Everybody pretends that wedding gown shopping is super fun for brides, but that’s especially untrue for many plus-size brides. Plus-size wedding gown shopping can be a nightmare. The vast majority of bridal shops only carry wedding gown samples in a bridal size 8, which is a real life US size 4. That makes dress shopping for regular-sized people a challenge. Imagine how plus-size brides feel!

My Own Plus-Size Wedding Gown Shopping Experience

First off, let me tell you that I know what I’m talking about. I had the most horrendous plus-size wedding gown shopping experience as a plus-size bride fourteen years ago when I got engaged. I mean it was seriously the kind of traumatic, humiliating experience that is featured in bad wedding movies, not something you’d actually expect from the poshest dress shop in the Washington, DC, area.

To be perfectly honest, my bridesmaids had to bully me into shopping. I don’t like shopping for real clothes, so I knew wedding gown shopping was going to be horrendous. Two of my besties went shopping with me – one was a skinny girl, the other was about my size – and we did everything the right way. I made an appointment on a weekday so it wouldn’t be busy, dressed up, arrived on time. But it was still a horrific disaster.

Despite our best efforts, the owner of the shop stuck her nose in the air when she met me. Her disposition improved when she was sufficiently impressed by my reception venue. While I’m sure that level of snobbishness isn’t uncommon at exclusive bridal boutiques, I wasn’t expecting it, and it completely undermined what little confidence I had.

The owner’s daughter was my bridal consultant. She informed me that they didn’t have ANY dresses that I could actually try on, although I could hold them up in front of myself. I was even allowed to try to get into them to see what they’d look like from the front – but nothing came close to zipping. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Meanwhile, my girlfriends are watching me try to squeeze and squish myself into these dresses in 360 degree mirrors. Dear God.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse – the sales associate jumped into a few of the wedding dress samples that I couldn’t even begin to try on and told me “this is what they’d look like if you could try them on.” Seriously? SERIOUSLY. My bridesmaids were ready to kick her butt.

And they should have been, because that was a really awful thing to do. At another boutique, the bridal consultant suggested that my Maid of Honor should try on the dresses for me. The MoH looked absolutely horrified, and I didn’t actually try on anything there.

Fortunately, the bridal industry is changing and more designers and bridal shops are acknowledging a need to serve plus-size brides. There are plus-size wedding gown shops out there, but they are few and far between. Larger dress stores are carrying a wider array of sample sizes, and more designers than ever are selling their creations online.

Tips for plus-size wedding gown shopping

Consider bridal shops in a wide area around your home. If you don’t live near a major city, plan a road trip with your besties. This is one time it’s perfectly justified to travel to find the perfect dress. Call the bridal shops in advance and find out if they have plus-size wedding gown samples available in your size. If they don’t, cross that shop off your list and move on.

Once you’ve found a shop that does have a broad range of sample sizes, ask the following questions:

  • Do you have plus-size wedding gown samples in all of the designers you carry?
  • How many different options do you have? Some wedding gown shops actually carry a full spectrum of plus-size wedding gown samples, although they won’t have them for all the different specific dresses. Brides can try on different styles to see how they look – strapless, halter, trumpet, A-line, ball gown, etc. – to determine if the look flatters them, but they won’t actually be able to try on every gown.
  • What sort of dressing rooms do you have? Some more modest brides don’t like to show their butts to the world, and shops with the 360 degree mirrors in the salon area, or with dressing rooms too tiny for your besties to accompany you in there, could be a problem. Ask ahead so you know what to expect.

Bill and I posing with our wedding party in Freedom Plaza, September 2004

Wear the kind of undergarments you will likely wear on your wedding day. We nicknamed my bra “The Iron Maiden” but she did her job. I’ve never looked so smooth. Wear the Spanx! If you want to see what a mermaid dress is going to look like, tie everything down the way you actually plan to do it so there’s no guesswork involved. Obviously, you’ll need to get proper a proper bra for the actual dress once you’ve chosen your wedding gown, but showing up in the wrong bra basically guarantees nothing will make your boobs look good.

Finally, make an effort to look good when you go plus-size wedding gown shopping (or shopping for any size wedding gown, really). Do your hair and makeup. Wear something attractive. Carry a good purse and wear good shoes. Snotty as it sounds, better dressed, more affluent-looking people get a higher level of service from salespeople who work on commission. Not saying it’s right – just saying that’s the way life works. Have you ever seen how flight attendants treat passengers in suits versus those in yoga pants? Since we know it happens, take advantage and make yourself look like a million bucks so that you get treated like a priority guest while you’re shopping.

Good luck, and happy wedding planning!