Bridal Dress Shopping Is a Whole Other Kind of Hell When You’re Not Straight-Size

If you're bigger than a size 12, or differently abled, finding a wedding dress to fit your needs is far from a fairytale situation

Plus size wedding dresses: a bride is picture in between two bridesmaids in purple dresses

(Photo: Stocksy)

Wedding season is here, and while most of my straight-sized pals are out planning their chicest and finest looks to wear to their friends’ big days, this plus-size babe has decided to curl up into a ball and have a mild panic attack. You see, being bigger than a size 12 and finding something wedding-appropriate can be hard—like really freaking hard.

And if you’re in the wedding party, or the bride herself, it can be downright impossible. Oftentimes, popular bridal stores carry extended sizes on their websites, but typically won’t have samples larger than a 10 or 12 in store—which means bigger brides-to-be and their entourages can’t even try on most options.

Of course, every store varies, but this is a pretty common experience for anyone whose body doesn’t confine to the very narrow standards upheld by the bridal industry. Vanessa Butler, a 31-year-old editor from Quebec City, says she was excited during the lead-up to her wedding last year, but delayed getting her dress for months because she knew she wouldn’t have the same Cinderella experience as her straight-sized friends. “It was so sad seeing other people getting so giddy sliding on these dresses that I knew would look great on me too if only they had my size,” she says.

In the end, her anxiety was justified: the dress she settled for never quite felt like The One, and she hated how she looked and felt on her big day. “I know that there are so many other women in the same situation. Why aren’t these wedding dress stores equipped for us [plus-size brides], too?”

Related: How Plus-Size Clothing Swaps Create Community and Make Fashion Political

Like Vanessa, many women describe being squeezed into way-too-small gowns, with clips and ties to estimate where the extra fabric would go. And in addition to being humiliated, bigger brides also get ripped off: some designers charge anywhere from $100 to $200+ extra for making plus sizes. Winnipeg-based policy analyst Gazel Manuel, who also got married last year, believes this is just another way of extorting plus-size brides: “If there was more selection of plus-size bridal wear, I think the prices would be more competitive,” the 26-year-old explains. As more and more e-retailers, like ASOS, Modcloth and Stone Fox Bride, enter the market prices are definitely becoming more affordable, but online shopping doesn’t provide brides with that “say yes to the dress” moment of shopping with their friends and family.

It’s no wonder so many women fall prey to scary pre-wedding diets. According to a study from Cornell University, most engaged women (70 percent of the study’s participants) envisioned an ideal “wedding weight” that was, on average, 23 pounds lighter than their current weight. Think about it: how many times have you heard a friend or colleague talk about “shredding for the wedding”? Stats like these illustrate how often women are made to think they need to fit into certain bridal standards—when really dresses should be made to fit them.

As soon as Toronto-based relationship coach Claire AH started looking for her own wedding dress, she immediately felt a sense of anxiety: “I had never seen fat brides and, more specifically, fat disabled brides in the media or online before,” says the 31-year-old. After suffering three strokes in her cerebellum and medulla oblongata in 2015, her balance was compromised and she relied on a cane for mobility. “I was worried that when I started searching [for my dress], people would be weird about my size or my disability and that I’d be relegated to outfits that’d be frumpy or unstylish.”

Related: Why Is Plus-Size Shopping in Canada the Actual Worst?

While Claire was eventually able to find a dress she loved, Sam A, a 29-year-old social worker from Toronto, wasn’t so lucky. Sam, who wears leg braces, says she was shocked to discover that many salons asked her to remove her shoes before entering. “I did not want to stand in a tiny hallway, causing a line to form behind me while I struggled to remove my shoes and braces, only to then have difficulty moving around the salon without my mobility devices to support me,” she says, noting that the experience made her acutely aware of her body in a variety of negative ways. In the end, she decided to go DIY and have her dress made.

If you’re looking for a wedding dress to accommodate your body, not the other way around, there are a handful of specialty shops across Canada that focus on body positivity. Some of them include Henkaa in Toronto, Bella Mia Bridal in Hamilton and The Perfect Gown in Winnipeg. “We know that searching for a wedding dress can be very stressful,” says Gina Kostanecki, marketing manager for Henkaa. “Body positivity and inclusivity is at the core of our brand and we are so proud to help our customers look and feel beautiful.” With a collection of wedding dresses for $400 and under in up to size 24, they have an understanding of what brides actually need, without compromising integrity. Until big retailers get on board, these stores are just a small example of what a big difference body inclusivity can make when it comes to having bridal and bridesmaid dresses for all women.


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