Where Are the Size-Inclusive Wedding Dresses at Bridal Fashion Week?

Musings and observations from The Knot's Size Inclusivity and Fashion Editor.
Collage of plus-size bridal designs from Bridal Fashion Week 2023.
Photos: Anthropologie Weddings / Jenny Yoo / Getty,Design: Tiana Crispino
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by
Lauren Whalley
lauren whalley headshot
Lauren Whalley
Fashion Editor, Beauty & Inclusivity
  • Lauren writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a specialty in fashion, beauty and size inclusivity.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Lauren worked in wedding editorial for Brides, Style Me Pretty and Enaura Bridal.
  • Lauren studied public relations and advertising at the University of Central Florida.
Updated May 09, 2023

Well, that's a wrap on another New York Bridal Fashion Week. As usual, the runway was filled with beautiful gowns and innovative designs. As a fashion editor, I've had the opportunity to attend Bridal Fashion Week for several years. Alongside my teammates, I analyze trends, build relationships and forecast bridal fashion's next steps. With each passing season, I've been pleased to see designers include more inclusive sizing options on a diverse range of models. It's why I was surprised to ask myself this time around: "Where is the diversity?"

In the months leading up to bridal fashion week, headlines and statements in the press like "heroin chic is back" and "thin is in again" started prompting backlash. In 2014, the hashtag #thinspo was banned on both Instagram and TikTok, which now directs users to mental health and eating disorder resources instead. Still, other hashtags like #sheddingforthewedding (which has over 150,000 posts) thrive in today's social media landscape. News focusing on celebrities' suddenly trimmer body shapes, along with the popularity of weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Monjauro, have also been amplified across digital media. I know Y2K is hot again, but the focus on a singular body type of the past was something I hoped we could leave in the past. Whether it's Bridal Fashion Weeks in Paris, Milan, London or New York, there is a global responsibility to showcase diverse body types.

So let's recap. In total, our editorial team attended over 35 events during New York Bridal Fashion Week, and we only saw one curvy model, with many designers deferring to line sheets for the full-size ranges.

Choosing not to reflect modern body types on the runways and in these large-scale fashion productions means we still have a long way to go in changing the narrative. Alysia Cole, a personal bridal stylist for nine years and body positivity advocate, told The Knot that she feels the same way. "While I'm not surprised by the lack of body diversity this season, I remain extremely disappointed by it," Cole tells me. "Similar to what we saw earlier this year for Fall/Winter fashion weeks, it feels like we've gone one step forward and two steps back when it comes to seeing plus-size models in bridal imagery. Some wedding dress brands are continuing to expand their bridal size charts, but I'm not seeing that reflected on the runway or in campaigns.

The Sample Size Excuse

One of the "reasons" for the lack of size inclusivity in bridal fashion is that designers only produce one of each dress to showcase on the runway. This means they can only hire one type of model, and that's the one that fits into the sample size. "When I ask about their size range, higher-end designers tell me they can make any size since their gowns are made to measure (rather than the standard made-to-order where a bride's measurements are compared to a size chart)," Cole says. "There's this assumption that anyone above a size 10 is the exception rather than the majority, and even though the designers can make larger samples, they don't see the demand. Therefore, they aren't willing to make the financial investment to produce other sample sizes for shows and markets." This, as Cole explains, causes an unfortunate domino effect. "Buyers then don't see the designs in plus sizes and therefore don't order samples for their own boutiques in plus sizes. Then, curvy brides go into these salons and only find a small, sad rack of options, but they make it work, because what else are we supposed to do?"

What many don't understand is that while the runway may seem high fashion, its effects trickle down, impacting everyday fashion options, buyer decisions, and gown availability. "The boutique sales data shows that plus size brides feel like they have to buy these limiting options; therefore, the store isn't motivated to expand into plus size options, and the cycle continues." The Knot's 2022 Attire & Fashion Study backs this up, with 29% expressing they had a difficult time finding dress and attire options that worked for their body type, an increase from 22% in 2020.

So how are brides coping with this? Well, some have chosen to specifically seek out size-inclusive bridal salons that are a safe space for brides who wish to simply feel confident and accepted in their own bodies. One of those boutiques is Curvaceous Couture Bridal in Columbia, Maryland, which carries sizes 14–32. "We look for designers that don't end at a size 14 or 20," says Yukia Walker, the salon's co-owner and operator. "Bodies vary, and the need for a garment to fit all of a person's curves is extremely important to us. We look to see what materials a gown is made of and the ability for customizations so that we can make sure that things fit everyone." Those who don't have a curve-friendly bridal boutique in their area are taking their business to online retailers, like ELOQUII and Anthropologie Weddings, that carry size-inclusive lines.

This begs the question, why do we continue to ignore this issue if it's affecting the very people the bridal fashion industry is meant to serve? "There are certain mainstream designers that have continued to fall short and isolate an entire demographic of customers by not including plus sizes in their range of designs," Walker says. The Knot's same study found that 22% couldn't relate to the models and individuals in advertisements, with many to-be-weds mentioning various difficulties when shopping for wedding attire that they "loved" for their bodies. And as someone who believes in fashion for all, it makes my heart sad to see designers who have the funds and resources to work with models who are differently shaped or abled yet continue to represent one size.

Bridal Fashion Week has always been an indicator of what's on-trend at the moment and for the year ahead. So are we telling to-be-weds that their bodies are just not "on trend"? The modern body needs to be represented every season, not just once in a while to check off a box. And this isn't a dig at the models that were at this spring's fashion week. They are hired to do a job, and they do it beautifully. The responsibility lies with the designers and talent management to diversify body types and put in the effort to include today's very real body types. "There's a misunderstanding about the demand for new plus-size options from both the buyers and the designers," says Cole. "We need more industry disruptors who can see the demand and are willing to take the risk to provide options for the plus-size community; the reward is there."

The Size Inclusivity We Saw This Season

While there is a lot of work to do, there are still designers out there making strides, which is the momentum we need to change the narrative. Walker told us that a lot has changed since opening up Curvavecous Couture 14 years ago and that there are brands making progress by pivoting their inventory to be more inclusive of curvier individuals. These are the industry disruptors paving the way for change. "Brands like Essence of Australia and Allure Bridals do a good job of including plus size models in their marketing imagery, and it always feels reassuring to see bigger brands make that commitment," Cole adds.

So, who else is setting the bar for size inclusivity? Walker tells us that, surprisingly, it's mostly the designers you haven't heard of… yet. "I'm seeing more independent designers prioritize plus size models on the runway and in their marketing," says Cole. "Canadian bridal brands like Laudae, Aesling and Truvelle have consistently used both plus size and straight-size models for all gowns in their collections. Elizabeth Dye last season sent all her gowns down the runway in a size 18. When I see these independent designers make the financial investment to showcase their pieces in plus size samples, I can't help but feel like the bigger brands really have no excuse."

Allure Bridals x Disney Fairy Tale Weddings

Size inclusive bridal fashion at Disney.
Photo: The Walt Disney Company/Disney Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons

In February 2023, Allure Bridals launched their latest collection with Disney Fairy Tale Weddings and held its virtual runway show at the Disneyland Resort. However, it wasn't the shimmering lights of Sleeping Beauty's Castle or the glamorous fireworks that caught my attention. The diversity and representation of all body types impressed me to the point where I wanted to learn more about the emphasis on size inclusivity in the collection. I was so impressed by what I saw that I reached out to Kori McFann, Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons Marketing Director, "We are passionate about diversity and inclusion, and that is reflected across everything we do—from our wedding dresses to our models and influencers who walked in our fashion show. When it came to planning the Disney Weddings Fashion Show, we wanted to make sure that someone watching could see themselves represented and be inspired for their own wedding day."

Allure Bridals Disney Fairy Tale line of inclusive dresses.
Photo: The Walt Disney Company/Disney Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons

The runway show, which is available to watch on YouTube, is flooded with likes and heartfelt comments, like this one, praising the brand's commitment to inclusion and diversity: "This made me so emotional, not just because it's Disney wedding content, but seeing such a variety in body types and skin tones being showcased made me so happy to see such diversity, especially in the wedding dress industry." It's a true example of how simple the act of inclusion can make us feel and that you don't need to be a certain size to wear a dress inspired by your favorite Disney princess. McFann's hope for the collection is that anyone who wears one of these dresses feels beautiful and authentically themselves. Every dress in the collection is available in sizes 0 to 30. So to-be-weds aren't limited to just certain gowns in the collection; they have the freedom to shop from a diverse range of styles, silhouettes and fabrics. And I, for one, am looking forward to the release of their next collection.

Anthropologie Weddings x Jenny Yoo

Bride wears a size-inclusive Jenny Yoo wedding dress from Anthropologie.
Photo: Anthropologie Weddings / Jenny Yoo

Remember when I mentioned that we only saw one curvy model at New York Bridal Fashion Week? That was at the Anthropologie Weddings x Jenny Yoo presentation. The collection was full of romantic and avant-garde details, modeled on different body types. "At Anthropologie Weddings, inclusivity matters," says Andrea Louie Brown, the Divisional Merchandising Manager of Anthropologie Weddings. "We are lucky to cater to a diverse range of brides, so it's important that we offer gowns that address not only a diverse range of sizes and body types but skin tones and types as well." Not only does Jenny Yoo offer an inclusive line of dresses in sizes 0 to 26, but they also recognize the importance of different skin tones by offering a range of illusion mesh fabrics so to-be-weds can find a true match.

Size inclusize bridal mini dress by Jenny Yoo.
Photo: Anthropologie Weddings / Jenny Yoo

This particular line was exciting to see in person because it redefined what we normally see on plus-size models. Typically, when curvy models are featured, they are dressed in more conservative gowns, but Anthropologie Weddings x Jenny Yoo challenges this concept by styling their plus size models in dresses with high slits and minis, encouraging to-be-weds to love their bodies and that it's ok to show off a little skin. "We believe all our brides are beautiful, so it's important that they feel represented across the board in not only our assortment and size offering but also in our creative imagery as well as on the runway," says Brown.

Our Hope for Future Bridal Fashion Weeks

The progress is there; we just haven't reached the end goal yet. "We still have a long way to go to make sure that everyone is included in sizing, but the progress we are making from when we first opened our business has been wonderful to watch," Walker tells us. And much like myself, Cole dreams of the day we can go to bridal fashion week and see a runway that represents every body. "I would love designers to case their next season like the 2020 Savage X Fenty show, just a beautiful explosion of diversity. I'd love to see the shows and campaigns be cast with diversity at their core in a real holistic sense, not just checking off a box," she says. The hard truth, though, is that some of these designers simply don't want plus size people in their dresses, and they're letting us know it."

Savage x Fenty inclusive fashion show.
Photo: Courtesy of: Savage x Fenty / Getty

Ultimately, it's the designer's job to create size-inclusive lines that also include size-diverse models in the campaign and runway. It's the media's job to demand more body diversity and give the community a voice and a platform. It's the photographer's job to capture plus-size models, not just the thin ones. It's the consumer's job to voice that they want and need more inclusive sizing. At the end of the day, we all have the responsibility to help make the change. Cole says it best, "I want these designers to remember who they are really designing for, and that folks of all kinds get married and need to see themselves in these gowns."

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