Today I went to try on wedding dresses for the first time ever. I was a bit nervous and a lot excited! I had seen a dress on The Bridal Outlet website that I wanted to try on, so I booked an appointment and went in with my mum. As a plus-size woman, this part of wedding planning has always felt a bit daunting. I know the kinds of dresses I find most beautiful, and I want to feel and look beautiful on my wedding day, but I am not the most stoked with my current body size. I worried I wouldn’t fit into any of them, or that everything I liked would look awful, or that everything that fit would be hideous designs that people threw together to ‘hide’ a fat body. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how I would feel on the day, in my knickers and bra, rolls and cellulite everywhere, in front of a stranger.
First things first: the experience wasn’t horrible. I was looked after beautifully by Suzie at The Bridal Outlet. She made me feel comfortable from the very beginning. I never felt that, because I’m big, I was less important or not able to be as beautiful as a slimmer bride. Suzie was also a wedding dress designer previously, so not only did she bring her experience helping brides find dresses, she brought her designer eye and skills. She was able to explain different cuts and the purposes of certain details for drawing attention to particular areas, elongating the body, and not cutting the body in half. She was also amazing at suggesting alteration possibilities for the dresses I tried. I cannot recommend her enough! That’s not to say all bridal boutiques should have designers on staff, as an experienced consultant will be able to offer the kinds of suggestions that Suzie offered me.
As I tried on each dress, I began to form a more solid idea of what I want, what suits me, what bridal shopping is like generally, and so on. I’m mostly just so pleased I didn’t leave in a flood of self-loathing tears, which I was afraid might happen because I am definitely not as comfortable with my body as I would like to be. I can honestly say, though, that there were several moments, particularly as I tried on the last dress and popped a veil on, that I felt lovely and beautiful. I never thought I wanted to be a princess, really, but actually, I totally do! And that’s totally fine!
So, I thought I would share a few tips I’ve learned from this experience, in the hope that it will help any new brides out there prepare for their dress shopping experience.
1. You are beautiful.
You deserve this moment to experiment with gowns and see what you like. You are gorgeous and lovely just the way you are. I put on some pretty makeup, did my hair in a low bun (easy to maintain, off your neck for inevitable sweating as you change, and easy to undo to see what dresses look like hair out), and wore a cute outfit. If you feel comfortable and confident going in, it helps.
Also, prepare yourself for the reality that wedding dresses do not provide vanity sizing. Whatever your size, you will likely have to go up one or two sizes. I’m a New Zealand/Australia/UK street size 18 on top and 20 on the bottom, and the dresses that fit me best were size 20. Try not to focus on the size too much because it does not speak to your value and worth as a person.
2. Underneath it all.
Be comfortable in your underwear. I chose briefs that had some tummy control (I wore Lyric Light Control Full-Shape Brief) but were comfortable and didn’t make me feel like a sucked-in sausage. I wore a strapless bra and the fact it was black didn’t present much of a problem at all.
All of the wedding dresses I tried on were made with fabrics and layers that ‘hold you together’. Some had boning/corsetry also, which means that once altered to fit properly, could be worn braless. Really, our lumps and bumps aren’t too much of a problem. If you were trying on a lightweight sheath dress then maybe you would want to make sure your undies are on point, otherwise don’t stress too much. It will be ok!
3. Keep an open mind.
Be as open-minded as possible, even if you think you know what you want and what will suit you. It’s quite possible something will surprise you like it did me. I didn’t think I would like a strapless gown, but I did, cap sleeves were pretty and accentuated my waist, and keyhole backs are just lovely.
Try on dresses you think you won’t like, or that won’t look good. Try on different shapes, styles, colours, and fabrics. Let the consultant know what you like, but also that you are open to other suggestions. They will often have gowns that will suit your shape or the feel you’re going for, which you may not have thought of.
Try on dresses with components that you like, such as a particular neckline, even if you don’t like the skirt. This way you can piece together in your head what you like and don’t like. I didn’t think I wanted to even try a strapless gown, but I did and they were quite nice. Similarly, I didn’t think I’d want any ruching, but a few dresses I tried did have some and they weren’t so bad. In fact, my favourite of the bunch had a delicate ruched fine mesh overlay with lace underneath. It was a more subtle form of ruching but drew the eyes to particular points and accentuated my waist nicely. I also tried some little bolero jackets over the strapless gowns to see how they might look with sleeves. So, really, there are loads of possibilities, and it’s best to try as much as possible for your initial consultation. Now is the time to experiment!
Try accessories you thought you wouldn’t like, or be open to opting out of ones you thought you’d want. I thought I wouldn’t like a veil at all, but then I tried one on with the ruched dress mentioned above and it tied everything together so nicely. I felt lovely and delightful and all those things I was hoping I would feel as a bride trying to find The Dress. I don’t know if I will end up with a veil, but now that I know what one looks like, I’ll be much more open to trying them with other dresses.
4. Document and take notes.
Take photos! Take whole shots so you can get an idea of shapes and lengths (train, no train, etc.) and also take photos of details you like. Maybe the sleeves and neckline on one dress was lovely but the cut of the waist and skirt on another was best. This is also useful when you need to send all the photos to your sisters and best friends who couldn’t make it!
Likewise, take mental or written notes of particular details, which dresses you liked, and so on. This will help you start to filter out the stuff you like most and form a picture in your mind of what you are really looking for.
5. You’ll know.
You will probably know when something feels and looks good. This, in part, will be related to how well a dress fits you. Bear in mind that trying dresses off a rack rarely means a perfect fit. All the ones I tried would need altering in some way. Obviously, the closer a dress is to fitting well, the better you will probably feel, but forget that for the most part since anything can be altered. Even if a dress isn’t a perfect fit, you’ll still be able to get an idea of what makes you feel pretty and comfortable.
The last dress I tried on, with the veil and everything, was the first time in the process I thought I might cry. I just felt so good. My waist was so visible and my boobs looked great and I felt comfortable. That is what you want (the feeling good, you don’t have to cry!). The other dresses were nice or had good components, but the last one came together as a whole outfit really beautifully.
6. Take an audience.
The last piece of advice I have is to take at least one person with you whose opinion you trust. If you look like a potato in a sock, you want to be told! Perhaps not in those exact terms, but near enough! I took along my mum, and both sisters would have come but they were sick/had sick kids. There will always be room for each person’s own taste to affect their opinion, but it’s useful to have people whose input is reliable. My mum was able to point out aspects of dresses that just weren’t me at all, like sparkly silver beading. So not me! (But the good news is that sparkly silver beading can be removed and replaced with something much more my style.)
Here is a handy of infographic of these tips, perfectly pinnable, too! *wink*
I hope that you have found these tips useful. I know they aren’t really anything new, but my own experience really demonstrated the importance of these, particularly during my first look at dresses. Good luck on your own hunt for The Dress!