On wedding shows, dress shopping always goes the same way: the bride’s closest friends take her to a salon where everyone drinks champagne while she tries on dresses until one makes her cry because it is The One. It looks like a lot of fun (I adore champagne), and I’d’ve been looking forward to my turn except for one thing: I’m a size 28W, big even for plus-size. I knew it would be an ordeal to find something I could wear; in fact, I put off dress shopping for as long as humanly possible because I wasn’t sure finding a dress was going to be humanly possible, even without champagne.
Google assured me that there were dresses being made in sizes that would fit; I just had to find them. After looking into a couple of bridal salons, I decided there were only two options: go to a big-box store or buy something online. The former seemed like less hassle, so I arranged to meet my maid of honor, Conni, and bridesmaid, Sara, at David’s Bridal one evening. I’d been there once before, when I was in a friend’s wedding party. All I’d had to do was pick any dress in any shade of green, and at a size 26 my options were pretty limited. As in, “seafoam green strapless satin with lots of tulle and zero chance of ever being worn again” limited. Still, I was hoping that maybe they were more accommodating when it came to brides. Even if I didn’t like any of the dresses, I could at least try on a few different silhouettes and get a sense of how they looked on me.
Only I couldn’t. I checked, and while they go up to 30 on the website, I was told they didn’t have anything bigger than a 26 in the store. The thought of being squeezed into a succession of too-small dresses while a saleswoman pinned their edges to my bra was too depressing for words, so I canceled. If a chain that big didn’t have anything for me, who would?
I went back to Google, searching for an online retailer with a liberal return policy, figuring I’d have to hire someone local for the inevitable alterations. I found a beautiful mermaid dress online, but couldn’t bring myself to drop $800 and risk being stuck with something that wouldn’t fit and couldn’t be returned. I loved another dress enough to track down a local shop that carried the line. They said they could special order something, but they didn’t have anything larger than a 20 in the store. I knew that their size 20 was most likely a 16 or 18 in the real world, because the Wedding Industrial Complex is ridiculous when it comes to sizing. My measurements, which fit nicely into size 26 to 28 skirts, were too big for the unaltered size 30 I found on one site. God only knew what dress size I’d need—32? Some wedding sites claimed that, even if a size 32 were available, it would come at a 10 to 20 percent premium. I felt like I was the size of a planet, and I knew I was doomed. No one sells wedding gowns to planets.
After a pause for despair, I took one last trip down the Google wedding-dress rabbit hole. One link led to another and somehow I ended up at the website for a boutique in a small town about 40 minutes north of my northeast Seattle home. I blinked. “We know brides come in all shapes and sizes, and we have gowns for every body type with samples in our shop ranging from size 6 to 36,” it said. I had to read that part a few times to process it. They not only had dresses in my size, they had dresses that would be too big for me. I consulted with Conni and Sara about dates, and then booked an appointment. On the day, I fretted all the way there: What if they didn’t actually have anything for me to try on? What if I fell in love with a dress I couldn’t have? What if they were condescending or treated me with resigned tolerance?
The shop was unassuming, a large showroom with dresses hanging in rows. The fitting rooms were off to one side; morning light filtered through high windows at one end of a large room that was partitioned into private suites. We were shown to ours and greeted warmly by a lovely woman who introduced herself as Zerlinda. She made sure we had pomegranate mimosas before asking a lot of questions designed to help her figure out my style. Once she thought she had it down, she disappeared for a few moments and returned with an armload of dresses. Even as I started to try the first one on (“Put your arms above your head and just dive in”), I still wasn’t convinced. But the dress, a lacy sheath with a sweetheart neckline, mostly fit. I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t quite zip completely and didn’t make me cry, but it covered my body. I stood on a platform in the middle of the mirrored room looking at myself from every conceivable angle while Conni and Sara snapped cellphone pictures for future reference.
I kind of fell in love with the second dress, an A-line with beaded lace appliques on the bodice and embroidered lace on the skirt. It had a scalloped hem and a small train, and it slid over my head and zipped up easily. The skirt was amazing, but I worried that the bodice didn’t define my waistline enough to keep me from being a rectangular bride. Conni and Sara concurred and we moved on. The third dress, which did have to be pinned to my bra, had a wrap top with a long tulle skirt and fell into the category of “not me at all.” The fourth… That one I didn’t even bother to show my friends. Zerlinda left and came back with more. She squeezed me into a corseted mermaid gown and I realized what a mistake that $800 dress would have been. She knew the silhouette wouldn’t work, but wanted me to see how effectively a corset back would define my waist. It was remarkable. She brought another dress with ruching so I could decide how I felt about that, too. It turns out that ruching is not my thing.
In between taking off the mermaid and getting into the ruching, I tried to explain how grateful I was to be treated as just another woman wanting to look amazing on her wedding day. She told me that, as the owner, she books all plus-size appointments into her room to be sure they’re done right. She said that she knows it can be difficult to shop for a larger dress and believes that every bride deserves to feel gorgeous on her day. It felt like a gift and tears came to my eyes.
I got a little thrill every time a dress fit, but even as I tried new things on, I kept thinking about that second dress. White shot through with silver thread, it had a sweetheart neckline and a beaded lace bodice that was fitted down to the hips. The beading stopped there, but the embroidered lace appliques continued down the slightly flared skirt. I hadn’t considered wanting a train, but I’d fallen in love with the way this one swirled at my feet. Zerlinda suggested I try it on again, taking into account the difference a corset would make to my shape. I slipped back into it and fortunately, Sara was ready with a handkerchief. It was The One. In that moment, I was overcome by love and joy and gratitude. I allowed myself to be talked into trying on a veil. I did not like the veil, but the dress, though—the dress gave me shivers. I was reluctant to change back into my street clothes.
Once my measurements had been taken, I got out my credit card. Zerlinda took a picture of the three of us with me in the middle holding a small “i said yes to my dress” sign. Then she gave me a ribbon-tied gift box with several small items inside: a small “Mrs” necklace, a tote bag, a perfume sample, and a “Love” temporary tattoo. Everything about the day was perfect: the shop, the owner, the dresses, the mimosas, the bit with the veil, even, and especially the tight hug Zerlinda gave me as we were leaving. I’d arrived skeptical and prepared for the worst, but she made me feel beautiful, pampered, and, more wonderfully, normal. I walked down the aisle in May knowing that I looked spectacular, and the look on Victor’s face as I walked toward him said everything.