What It’s Like Shopping for a Wedding Dress as a Size 28


How the wedding industry treats the far edge of plus

by Deb Martinson

Woman with long hair and tattoo laughing while trying on strapless lace wedding gown in store

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.

Deb Martinson

Deb Martinson is a computer geek and former mental-health activist who knits vegetables for fun and plays with databases for money. She lives with her geekboy husband in Seattle, where they have the same job title at different software companies.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • AP

    I love this essay so much- both the content and the writing! So happy that you got the dress experience you wanted and deserved! Congratulations<3

  • Jane

    So glad to hear you ended up with a great dress and a great experience, but so frustrated that you had to jump through so many hoops. Good for you for not letting the fear of rude people and tiny dresses get you down.

  • penguin

    This part broke my heart:

    “I felt like I was the size of a planet, and I knew I was doomed. No one sells wedding gowns to planets.”

    This story was very similar to my wedding dress shopping experience, although I didn’t cancel my DB appointment and ended up wishing I had. I ended up finding my dress in a small boutique shop after one of my friends recommended it (she got her dress there). They had a lot more options for me to try on, and I even ended up with a dress that sounds similar to the author’s. Highly recommend this one (with the corset back!):

    https://www.essensedesigns.com/essense-of-australia/wedding-dresses/1757-plus/

  • sofar

    When I got near the end, I had to hold myself back from fist-pumping for you at my desk.

  • NolaJael

    “She told me that, as the owner, she books all plus-size appointments into her room to be sure they’re done right.” This owner gets it. Maybe someday she’ll have a trained army of body-friendly employees, but for now, this is everything.

  • Angela’s Back

    haven’t even read the story yet, just had to jump down here to say I LOVE your wrist tattoo, the colorwork is incredible <3

    • deb martinson

      thank you! the artist was genius.

  • Thank you for sharing! This so mirrors my own experience shopping for a gown as a plus size bride. I went to 2 “traditional” shops before I went to a shop that specializes in plus size brides, and my experiences were like night and day. So glad to hear that you had a great experience and found a dress you love!

  • Sarah Hart

    I have never commented on this site, but I was so happy to read your story! As a plus size bride I bought mine online, but I think your experience sounds wonderful and the owner sounds amazing!

  • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

    I love this. I’m trying not to cry at work. Also, you look amazing and your tattoo is gorgeous.

    • deb martinson

      Thank you! My tattoo artist was amazing – it’s all her. All I did was say, “A llama with flowers, please.”

  • Transnonymous

    Actually tearing up at my desk. This is wonderful.

  • Zerlinda Larimore Lochtie

    I am completely humbled by this article. It is a great feeling to know I was a part of your big day and making your beauty shine!!! The heart you gave me is pinned to the board above my desk and always reminds me of you! Thank you so much for all the kind words,
    Zerlinda

    • deb martinson

      Thank you for all your help, and especially thank you for telling me how special the moment your husband first saw you in your dress was. You were absolutely right about not letting Victor see it beforehand – the look on his face was amazing. Our photographer caught it on film and I have a copy of the picture on my desk. So much love, and he’s trying so hard not to cry.

  • I love this for so many reasons, one of them being that I know exactly which bridal shop this is, and it’s in my hometown! For anyone wondering, it’s LaineeMeg Bridal in Snohomish, WA (unless there’s another Zerlinda who owns a bridal shop 40 miles northeast of Seattle!). I have an appointment there in a couple weeks! So happy you were able to find a beautiful dress that you love, every woman deserves as much.

    • Future dress shopper

      Thank you, I was wondering! Looks like I’ll be making a road trip from Seattle in the near future.

      And thank you Deb for sharing your story, I hope I can have a similarly enjoyable experience.

      • deb martinson

        Definitely check them out. I was not made to feel awkward or out-of-place at all. It was fantastic.

    • deb martinson

      You’re right.I hope your appointment goes as well as mine did. Good luck, and thanks!

  • emmers

    This was a really wonderful essay. I’m so glad you found a great dress, Deb.

  • Stephanie B.

    As a plus-size woman, I know how hard it is to find clothes in general, much less a wedding dress (I bought mine online). Your essay made me cry happy tears — I’m so glad you had a good experience buying your dress AND that it was everything you hoped for!

  • Pingback: Wedding Dress Shopping on the Far Edge of Plus – Jewelry Finder 4 U()

  • Holly

    I loved reading this story. My wife and I wear a 4x – 6x, and wedding dress shopping for not just one but TWO dresses 5 years ago was… extremely challenging. But we did it! I know I’m biased but I thought we looked beautiful! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f1d2166cbd4024bccd7baa5acbf231755984b4b8dd42500bf5571fe79212ba76.jpg

    • Jessica

      Gorgeous! I love it.

    • HarrietVane

      Stunning!! And I love how different your styles were.

    • Jess

      I agree! You both look beautiful and happy. Not even cute children in tutus upstage you.

  • Jessica

    Gorgeous! You are beautiful & I love the dress.

  • S

    This is such great writing and that dress is BEAUTIFUL. On behalf of all APW commenters: please submit your wedding to APW so we can ogle the photos!

    • Genna Freed

      YES!

  • Genna Freed

    When I got married a few years ago, I didn’t know plus size bridal shops existed. I’m still not sure if there are any within a reasonable distance in this small part of Ohion. I wish I would have, though! I ended up with a “meh” dress (at best) that ended being my worst nightmare when dancing…a button popped! It didn’t come down, but the “extra large” panel at the back (as the seamstress not-so-kindly reminded me EVERY fitting) was crooked and super obvious in pictures. I made my husband promise that we could renew our vows someday and I could find my dream dress. Maybe a trip to the PNW is in my future! Zerlinda sounds like the fairy godmother every girl needs <3

  • Pingback: Wedding Dress Shopping on the Far Edge of Plus | Wedding Adviser()

  • LW

    IIRC, it’s not actually WIC craziness that is causing the size disparity between bridal sizes and current sizing. It’s that bridal sizes haven’t gone through the same size inflation that current sizing has. The sizing of bridal fashion is more in tune with how sizing was back in the eighties and early nineties.

    • EF

      yuuup. and the same way sizing works in the uk/parts of europe…an 8 in the usa is a 12 in the uk. does cause a little bit of a mindfuck when trying to buy a pair of trousers!

  • Andrea See

    What a beautiful story!! It’s always a good thing when an experience goes better than expected- that shop you found sounds WONDERFUL. Congrats Deb!! :-) You looked BEAUTIFUL!

  • xyz

    I’m in Europe, which is not super plus-sized friendly, so I was really nervous. My dress shopping was a mixed bag.

    The first place, I explained what I was looking for, showed photos, then the owner showed me a photo of apparently the only plus-sized bride she’d ever dressed, and just brought me dresses similar to what she wore. i.e. the exact opposite of what I wanted. I felt like she couldn’t see past “fat girl” to any concept of individual taste or body shape.

    The second place was much better. She listened to what I wanted and I tried on a bunch of great options. Most of them couldn’t zip up, but I was actually fine with that, everything was arranged so that I could still get a good sense of what it would look like in my size. I bought dress #1 here.

    Because I’m complicated, I needed two dresses. I went over to the UK to try some amazing dresses I found online. I was *so sure* I’d find something I didn’t even book any other appointments. This was a disaster. The dresses were all tiny, tiny sample sizes, many that I couldn’t get into at all. She made me put my arms through the arm holes and hold it up against my body, as if that would give me any clue. She was very nice, but I still felt humiliated. (And for reference, I’m like a UK size 18, the dresses were 6 or 8.)

    I panicked, did some quick research and calling boutiques and managed to book an appointment in London the next day. This was at Fairy Gothmother – as the name indicates, it’s for a more offbeat bride – and they were great. A bunch of dresses I fit into, awesome staff and I found dress #2! Recommended for any UK brides.

    • Anja

      Fairy Godmother sounds wonderful. I had to look it up and it’s all I ever dreamed of. Now I’m trying to convince myself that it isn’t too far away. (It is. I live in Germany.)