The Nightmare That Is Shopping as Plus Size Bride
Getting engaged is a time of excitement, with a bevy of events to celebrate your love with your partner. And the best part (at least for an attention-seeker like me) are the looks you get to put together. That is, unless you're over a size 12.
I've been varying degrees of plus size my entire life, so I'm familiar with the rigmarole that is shopping. As a size 14/16 (which affords me an incredible amount of privilege in and of itself) it's taken years for me to solidify my shopping roster: which stores make plus sizes, which stores have my size in-store versus relegating me to the dismal, all-black options found online, which brands run small, which run large and which fabrics cling.
But even so, when I got engaged, what excited me most was shopping for a wedding wardrobe. Sure, I was thrilled to get to marry the funniest person I've ever met, but we've only known each other for five years. My love of clothing has been an enduring one, from the flare jeans of 2002, to skinny jeans and somehow back again. And yet, when I began looking for clothes to wear for the seemingly non-stop variety of events leading up to our wedding, I was met with a disappointing zilch.
Where Are All Of the Plus Size Bridal Options?
Nearly 70% of women are plus size in America, yet only account for 19% of the market spend. The reason for this becomes abundantly clear the second you try to shop in a plus size body. Visit any of the number of retailers that have become synonymous with bridal fashion, and you'll be met with cheerful declarations that they're, "all about the bride." When I searched one of these retailers' selection of "Little White Dresses," I was met with around 900 options. However, when I filtered by a size 14—the very beginning of plus sizes—that number plummeted to 27. Another retailer's stock of white dresses went from over 1,900 options to only nine, when filtered by their biggest size (a measly XXL).
While it's difficult for brides of all sizes to find the right dress for each wedding event, there's a difference between an abundance of options not fitting your style preferences and having no options at all. It's like being at a jukebox, and every single song that's ever existed is readily available for you to play. But when you go to pick a song, the jukebox says, "Actually, you're only allowed to play that U2 album that we put on everyone's iPhone in 2014." More often than not, plus size women want to listen to Beyonce's new album, but have to settle for U2…again.
The (Extremely Exhausting) Plan of Attack
My experience is not a new one. Any major anniversary, vacation or, god forbid, black-tie event for which I might need a nice outfit, requires NASA-level preparedness. I got engaged in April of 2021 and began immediately shopping for my wedding in November 2022—and I still don't have outfits for most of my bridal events. I even recall telling my mom that I was, "just going to buy everything white that I like for the next year," because I knew my options were going to be scarce.
For myself and many plus size women, shopping is a numbers game, trying on as much as we can from as many stores as we can. And because most of the clothes afforded to women over a size 14 are only available online, we have to plan way in advance for the back and forth of ordering and returning batches of clothing over a months-long journey and shelling out hundreds of dollars at a time for the simple luxury of being able to try clothes in our size.
This process is discouraging on a good day and downright demoralizing at its worst. And during our wedding journeys, a time where we're told we're supposed to be our most beautiful (aka our thinnest), these feelings are only amplified.
Sean Taylor, a plus size influencer and friend of mine, got engaged in December of 2021. She says the journey to find clothing as a bride stands in opposition to the way that plus size women have been conditioned to shop. "There's an expectation for fat women that you just get what you get and you don't throw a fit—if it fits it ships," Taylor says. "I think maybe that's what's intimidating about bridal. It may be for the first time for a lot of people, you're allowed to hold a higher standard and want something more for yourself. But, navigating that and having the right support for that can be really overwhelming."
The Message Plus Size Brides Get
As I went further down the bridal fashion rabbit hole, I began documenting my journey on TikTok in a series I called "Your Favorite Fat Bride." I'd order outfit after outfit, measuring myself against brand's sizing charts that, turns out, were merely a suggestion. I'd then try each one on for my followers and, more often than not, make fun of the absolute mess of it all. As the series took off, I was flooded with comments from other plus size brides saying they were "discouraged" and "stressed", with one calling her dress shopping experience "an atrocious nightmare."
This got me thinking about why plus size bridal is so hard to come by. Why is it acceptable for brands to keep treating plus size women this way, especially during an emotionally charged time when all women are told we need to look our absolute best? "It always feels terrible when you look at a site like Lulus, and you're looking for bridal stuff and there's nothing in your size," Taylor says. "It definitely sends a very clear message that you aren't supposed to have whatever love story you want in the body that you have."
On the whole, we so closely equate thinness to worthiness and being deserving of love that it's no wonder plus size brides are largely left out. It's all around us—from concepts like "shedding for the wedding," to movies like Shallow Hal where the lead literally had to be blinded to a woman's fatness in order to love her. And, if I may get on my soapbox for just a moment, I want to remind everyone the male ingenue in that movie was skinny legend, Jack Black.
But I digress.
In a world that is rampant with fatphobia, it's no wonder that plus size women are ignored in the bridal fashion industry.
Another Thought: Don't Wait Until You Have the "Perfect Body"
So how do we combat this downright ignorance of the plus size bride? I wish I could say I had a five-point plan to upend the fashion industry, compelling brands to create clothing for all sizes, but I don't. Often in situations like these, the onus is unfairly placed on the individual instead of the system that created the problem. And while in recent years, some brands have stepped up to offer more for plus size women—ELOQUII and Anthropologie come to mind—the options for us are still few at best.
The fashion industry doesn't make it easy for plus size women to thrive, but the single best thing I've learned over this time as a bride is to not wait. I can't name the amount of times I've heard the women in my life say they'll go on vacation, start dating again or buy that perfect outfit after they've lost weight, putting their lives on hold until they feel they're more deserving of it. The reality is, we're deserving of good things now. And while the process is exhausting, plus size people belong in the wedding narrative just as much as anyone else.
A helpful trick I've learned is when I'm feeling bad about myself or like I need to change myself to be more in line with what the fashion industry deems worthy, I think to myself, "Who profits off of this feeling?" Usually the answer is some old guy in a glass tower office, and I immediately dismiss it.
Sean Taylor agrees. "So often you're holding off on living your life to the fullest because you should wait until I have the right body to do XYZ," Taylor says. "There's just something about making that decision and saying, 'I'm going to show up fully as I am, and this is the body that I'm going to be doing it in."