Last year, the APW staff went to meet with the awesome ladies of The Wedding Party, an independent wedding dress store in Berkeley, and picked their brains about wedding dress shopping. We’d asked you to share your fears and concerns, and they had answers to your questions. I walked out of that interview with my perspective totally changed on wedding dress shopping in fundamental ways. What stuck with me most was their smart, practical, and empowering thoughts on plus size wedding dress shopping. So today, we’re bringing you the boiled down and focused tips and tricks.
1. Call ahead. Pick up that phone and call stores. Tell them your size (no shame, no apologies) and ask them if they’ll be able to work with you. The economics of wedding dress stores mean that they normally can only afford to carry one sample gown, and they aim for an average size (if their customers run the gamut between a size 2 and a 22, they’ll probably carry a 10). So they may not have sample sizes that will fit, and that’s normal for all ladies. What you’re looking for is someone who’s informed, confident, and excited to be working with you. If you don’t get that, keep on calling.
2. Big box stores are your friend. Chain wedding dress stores get a bad rap, which they don’t always deserve. But (bless them) their business model is based on having All The Dresses in the store. They’re great for normalizing your shopping experience: behold, dresses that actually fit! Whee! Whether or not you buy a dress, these stores are a great place to start seeing what looks good on you.
3. The sales person is your resource. When you go into a store, part of what you’re paying for is your salesperson’s expertise. Find someone who’s excited to work with you (and hello, excited to get your commission) and put them to work. Ask questions, ask for recommendations, ask for opinions. You know your body; they know wedding dresses. Put that together to find something great.
4. It’s your show. The sales person does not get to control your shopping experience. Period.
5. Don’t worry about the size. Wedding dress sizes are wacky. More affordable brands will often use street sizes, pricier brands will often us “couture” sizes (code for teeny tiny, built for elves). In short, just ignore the number on the sizing tag. Does it fit? GREAT. Next order of business.
6. You can alter a dress to have sleeves (etc.). It can be frustrating to shop in a universe where it seems like everything is a strapless ball-gown, if a strapless ball-gown isn’t going to be what flatters your boobs, or arms, or whatever you need flattered. Lots of sleeveless (not strapless) dresses can be altered post-production to add a sleeve. Dresses can be shortened, support can be added. Don’t be afraid to ask if changes can be made, and don’t be afraid to ask how much it will cost (hint: it should be reasonable).
7. Go custom. If nothing works like you want it to work, well, that’s why God made a needle and thread. When navigating a world of sample sizes that don’t fit and sales people without tact, it can get easy to fall into the trap of, “There is nothing for me. Whatever, this will do.” We call bullshit. You can do better. Getting a custom dress made doesn’t mean breaking the bank, it just means doing some research.
8. No body shaming allowed. We’ve all heard horror stories of sales ladies who ask you if you’re going to lose weight for your wedding, or who generally body shame you. Let’s reframe: that’s not just “how the wedding industry is.” Those are shitty sales people. If someone tries to shame you, nicely shut that shit down (“No I’m not, and it’s none of your business”). Then feel free to ask for a new salesperson.
9. Be Your Confident Self. This one is more philosophical, but it might be the most important. The people you encounter while wedding dress shopping? They’re working for you. If they’re doing a shitty job, that’s not on you. Take your dollars elsewhere to find your kick-ass dress. You are going to look beautiful on your wedding day, and your dress is out there waiting for you.
10. Have Fun. Not just have fun, go into this with the idea that you can have fun buying a wedding dress. You’re buying pretty lace/sparkles/layers of tulle/hot pink/pants/whatever you love and look hot in. And you’re buying for your WEDDING. You deserve to have some fun, lady.
More on silk vs. poly, what alterations should really cost, what kind of dress you can get for various price points, and much more right here.