Shopping For A Wedding Dress (As A Curvy Girl): 5 Things To Keep In Mind

(a dress I loved, but not the dress I adored)

In the ongoing circus of planning a wedding, the task of finding one's perfect wedding dress can be arduous. Not only must we consider what style we want to wear, but where to shop, and whether the dresses we like are even within our budget. We then churn through the rigmarole of finding exact dresses we'd like to try on, locating bridal shops that carry them, setting up bridal appointments, and deciding who to bring with us for the try-on. If these practical logistics weren't enough, the whole act of finding, "THE DRESS THAT YOU'VE DREAMED OF YOUR WHOLE LIFE," and knowing that, "THIS DRESS WILL FOREVER STAND IN YOUR WEDDING PHOTOS AS YOUR MEMORIES OF THIS DAY," can bring up a crushing amount of insecurity about our bodies. This is true for anyone I'm sure, but I'm a plus size bride so I'm speaking to the plus size brides. 

In the days leading up to my hunt for a wedding dress I want to confess a pretty ridiculous amount of waffling between feelings of excitement and guilt. It's not the coolest feeling to be shopping for such an important occasion directly after months of quarantine indulgence and comfort-cooking. I didn't want to be skinny for my wedding, but I didn't want to be what I am, which is fluffier than I had been, entering 2020. At the same time, I felt determined not to let the fact that I'm a little chunkier this side of a global pandemic ruin the fun of shopping for my wedding gown: after all, I survived Covid-19, didn't I?

But the uncomfortable thoughts did continue as often as I pushed them away, as often as my fiance told me how beautiful I am and how attractive he finds me. After all, we are our own worst enemy. I didn't not want to go wedding dress shopping, but I severely regretted every quarantine bake of the past six months.

Relief finally came (of all places) through an article about plus size model Hunter McGrady who is Sports Illustrated's curviest cover model yet for their swimsuit issue. Now don't get me wrong, I don't particularly like Sports Illustrated and I don't appreciate women being objectified. I think there's a lot more to celebrate about women like Hunter McGrady than the fact that she is now a pinup girl. 
However, principles aside, I will admit that seeing a woman whose body is so similar to mine being celebrated in a mainstream magazine as sexy and desirable soothed something deep inside of me that was ashamed of my squishier, post-quarantine figure. If the stunningly beautiful Hunter McGrady could show up in a bikini on magazine racks, news articles, and talk-shows around the world, then I could dang well pick out a wedding dress to the audience of myself, my fiance, and a group of people who loves me whether or not I am a size 2 or a 14/16. In this particular article, Hunter McGrady was being interviewed about her 2019 wedding and whether she went on a wedding diet beforehand:

“I never quite understood why people used their wedding as a weight-loss journey,” McGrady said. “For me, I've had friends who have gotten married and all of a sudden, they show up on their wedding day and they look nothing like themselves. Of course, I think exercise is important. Eating right is important. Taking care of yourself is important.”
“But I think that these... Sometimes people go to extremes for their wedding day, and I always say, ‘Well your fiancĂ© asked you to marry as you are right now. You're beautiful as you are,’” she continued.

This made sense to me. I don't want to show up on my wedding day looking like a different person. Andrew knows exactly what I look like. He sees my body the way it is and calls it beautiful. I personally want to continue being active, regain the way of eating that makes me feel best, and continue taking care of myself as McGrady notes. All these things are important and things I'm focused on doing better, but listen: this isn't a race to lose weight. I am not going to wait six months to buy a wedding gown because I'm ashamed of the fact I went into hibernation mode this spring and emerged this summer all fat n' sassy. I felt encouraged and equipped by McGrady's common sense take on the entire issue.

This past Sunday my sisters, mom, and I traveled up to DC to have brunch and a bridal appointment at BHLDN in Georgetown. We sat outside at Le Diplomat and almost forgot about the remaining drama of the pandemic, though we wore masks when not eating, had our temperatures checked, and otherwise lived that Covid-protection life. We ate that basket of bread. And pain du chocolat. And brunch. We wandered up the street to grab coffee, then headed to my appointment. And guess what guys? I found THE DRESS. The second one I tried on. Zero drama. Because at the end of it all, I am just my normal Rachel marrying her Andrew in a fancy dress. Why the sudden pressure to be some way I am not? Here, then, are five things I would invite all other curvy brides to remember in this process:

1.) Nabbing a scalding-hot deal at sample sales could be difficult; don't feel bad. So many of my more petite friends were able to find their gowns at a steeply discounted rate because they were small enough to fit into/take home the sample gowns from past seasons. While I totally appreciated the tip to check sample sales (and I still think it's worth it if you can find a size-inclusive bridal shop to visit), most bridal shops carry samples of each gown in only one or two sizes. If you are not lucky enough to be one or the other of the sample sizes (or smaller than either), you're out of luck. BHLDN carries each of their gowns in a size 4 and a size 14. But not normal size 14. Formal size 14, which leads me to my second point...

2.) Plan to wear a way larger size than usual. This is something I was very happy that I knew before walking into BHLDN or any other boutique for that matter. If you aren't prepared for this, there can be a serious body-image shock when they measure you and recommend a fit. For some reason (nobody can tell me why) formal sizes are always way, way, smaller than street sizes. BHLDN's website calls their dresses "true to size" and some of the reviews agree, but I did not find this to be true for my body type. I've always been honest with you on this blog about many things and for your benefit, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I'm going to tell you the way-larger-size gown that was ordered for me.
Even after my quarantine build-out, I still wear a 14 (sometimes 16, depending on brand). After taking my measurements and comparing them to the official chart, my attendant recommended that they order me a size 22... I was tempted to have a small freak-out moment until I realized something important: my body had not shifted during our conversation, only my label. I had not suddenly ballooned 3-4 sizes above my usual body. There was no Violet Beauregard moment going on here, just a matter of words. Same exact body size, way bigger dress size. Realizing this, I felt calm again, and happily signed the papers.
The truly wonderful attendant admitted that when my gown comes in, it will likely be too big in a couple places and need altering, but to really coordinate with all my various measurements that was the size they recommended ordering. Okay, fam. I've never been able to step into a gown in my entire life. I'm part of the over-the-head club all the way. Go ahead and admit's my butt, isn't it?  

3.) It is your butt (or another body part). One thing I learned in this process is that unless the gown you find is part of an abnormally size-inclusive bridal line, gowns are based off an industry standard of this process: one design is made at a size 8. The exact pattern is scaled down for smaller sizes and up for larger sizes, including plus sizes. The mainstream bridal industry does not account for any variation in body type as you get larger or smaller, which means you're stuck wearing a gown that was designed for someone with a size 8-shaped body....only a much bigger version of said gown. It helped me to realize that because this is the industry standard, if your beautiful body is shaped more generously in one spot than another (hello, booty), then you will of course have to order several sizes up before the pattern provides enough room for your curves.

 4.) Some of the gowns won't work on your sweet body and that's okay. In emailing BHLDN with the list of gowns I planned to try on, I was aware that in a couple instances the designs might not work with my body. One had tight sleeves, and my arms are the least-toned place of my body. Another was a slim-cut shape, made of a totally unforgiving fabric. I got it over my shoulders and knew that this was a, "Give up or get stuck" situation.
It was okay to try on a gown I wasn't sure about, just as it was okay that those two designs weren't the best for my body (especially not in the limited sample sizes available). Let me say it again very clearly for those of you who weren't listening: if a certain style or size does not work on your body, your body is not at fault; neither is the dress. Just like some things are meant to be, some things are definitely not meant to be. I said goodbye to those two options without a single regret because.....

5.) Some of the gowns WILL work on your sweet body, and that's the best! To be completely candid, I knew that I was taking a risk by walking into a store like Anthropologie hoping to find a plus size bridal gown. I quickly scoured the internet and could not find a single representation of my body type wearing these gowns (apart from @arielleestoria!), so it was a total gamble to drive three hours for a bridal appointment, not knowing if I'd even fit in their dresses. Happily, two of the five dresses I'd originally singled out were just what I was hoping they'd be! As stated before, they came nowhere near to actually fitting me but I was able to pin them to my body closely enough to be able to envision how I'd look! Not only did I find my wedding dress there, but I was so caught in the middle between these two gowns that I almost couldn't decide. In the end, I chose my gown based off the fact that in this particular gown, I felt like the bridal version of Me, rather than me dressed up as A Bride. 

In conclusion, I want you to feel encouraged! It can be upsetting to feel your wedding day approaching and realize that you aren't the trim, fit, superhuman version of yourself you felt (during your un-engaged days) that you had plenty of time to attain. The good news is, your fiance loves you. Your family and friends love you. You are armed with common sense and the confidence that somewhere out there, a dress exists. This is your special day and you absolutely do not want to waste the months leading up to it in bad body-talk. Happy dress-hunting!

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