Gown Hunt: Plus-Size Edition

So, as you may have already seen, I said “Yes!” to my wedding dress a couple of weeks ago. In fact, it was the very first major wedding decision that I made, go figure! One thing to immediately check off the Wedding To-Do list, hehe.

Now, I know that for many people, buying your dress before you even have your venue or date solidified is a little bit crazypants, and I didn’t necessarily intend to have my decision made so early on, but that being said, it wasn’t a quick decision either. It took visiting quite a few different salon visits and trying on just a few different dresses before I made my decision, so I’m glad I got started early.

Now, for those of you who may be hoping for a fairytale story all about how I tried on The Dress, knew immediately, cried, and it was all over, I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not exactly how it went for me. I mean, I did find The Dress, and there were tears (eventually), but it didn’t exactly go down the way you see it on TV.

I was actually pretty anxious about the dress-buying process, due to a combination of my love of designer wedding dresses and the fact that I am most definitely NOT a sample size. See, unless you’re shopping exclusively at big box stores like Kleinfeld’s or David’s Bridal (or at a salon that specializes in plus-size gowns), sample sizes dresses are what you have to work with. And for those of us ladies with a little more to love, the wedding dress samples in bridal salons will almost certainly NOT be your size.

Allow me to elaborate for those of you who might not be familiar with the process. Bridal salons usually own dresses in one size, and that size is usually a “wedding” size 10 or 12. Which, in real life, equals about a street size 6 or 8. (How cruel is that, by the way? C’mon, wedding industry! How about a little vanity sizing, eh?)

Soooo, what this means is that if you’re smaller than the sample size, when you try on a dress, your consultant will use clamps and pins to pull in the dress to make it fit closer to your body.

And for someone on the other side, when the sample is too small, the salon will use clamps and pins to clip the dress to your bra, or use other means of securing it, since it won’t be able to zip up all the way.

But what did this mean for someone who is a size 16, like me? Well, it meant that I was admittedly pretty nervous going into the whole dress shopping experience, that’s what. After all, what if I would be physically unable to try on the dresses I liked? You hear horror stories about plus-sized brides going dress shopping and having to do things like hold the dress up in front of them to “get an idea,” since they can’t actually put it on. I was definitely not excited about that prospect.

Complicating things further was the fact that I knew dress shopping wouldn’t exactly be a “classic” experience for me. You know, the kind that you see on SYTTD, where you go in and tell the consultant some things you like, and they pull dresses for you. Stuff like, “I like lace, I don’t like beading, I’m open to a mermaid-style silhouette,” and all that.

But I’ve spent so much time reading blogs, watching TLC, and generally being a crazyperson, that I already knew specifically which dresses I wanted to try — Hayley Paige Dori, Lazaro 3450, Jim Hjlem 8500, Monique Lhullier Bliss ballgown, and so on. So I actually chose bridal salons to visit based on whether or not they carried those gowns (most salons list what designers they carry on their website, so I just called to ask if they had those specific gowns.) Which also meant that I wasn’t able to simply go to a plus-sized bridal atelier to find my gown, because the two that are in this area don’t carry the dresses that I wanted to see.

Anyway, knowing that I loved certain gowns but being unsure as to whether or not I’d actually be able to try them on, one of the first things that I did was make an impromptu solo visit to David’s Bridal (where the above photos were taken as well.) I wanted to be able to try on some different shapes and silhouettes, since they do carry most of their dresses in larger sizes (and they also go by normal sizing there — I tried on dresses that were primarily sizes 14 – 18.)

While I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, this appointment definitely confirmed the silhouettes I liked (A-line and ballgown):

Versus those that, well, just were simply not as flattering (pretty much anything else, haha):

None of the DB dresses I tried ended up being “the One,” (the Melissa Sweet in the upper left corner of the first collage was the one I liked best), and even if I had fallen in love that day, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to commit without first being able to see the other dresses that I already had in mind. So, armed with some knowledge of how different shapes looked on my body, and a lot of hope, I made my bridal salon appointments.

And, lo and behold… the dresses fit!

Lazaro 3450

Sort of!

This Lazaro blew my mind with its ombre skirt, but was reeeeeeally far outside of my budget, womp womp.

I mean, obviously they didn’t fit. But, amazing, miraculously, astonishingly, I was able to get on every dress I had my eye on — with a bit of finagling, of course. They were barely able to zip up at all, so the bodices were basically left totally open in the back and all had to be pinned/clamped on. But! I was able to get a real idea of how the dresses would look… with just a little of imagination needed to reassure my mom that my boobs will (hopefully) not be spilling out of my dress once it’s in my size. Heh.

Now, I do think that it just happened to be good fortune that the silhouette I loved was also the easiest for me to try on (since the size of my hips/butt doesn’t really matter with ballgowns), but if I had been looking for a more fitted style, I would probably have been SOL.

Anyway, from there on out, it was basically just a matter of trying on the, um, not small number of dresses that I had my greedy eyes on, hahaha.

Clockwise from top: Lazaro 3108, Hayley Paige Londyn, Monique Lhullier Bliss ballgown, Hayley Paige Dori (white), Jim Hjelm 8500, Hayley Paige Dori (alabaster)

And I did also try on additional dresses that the consultants recommended, some of which I also really liked:

Clockwise from top: Lazaro 3018, Watters Carina bodice and Ahsan skirt, Hayley Paige Lennon (omg this sample was so small), Lazaro 3100

So yeah, as if I hadn’t been annoying enough throughout the dress-buying process, as it turned out, I basically loved every single dress I tried on. Oops. So trying on dresses turned out to be more like a process of elimination rather than a “This is the one!” kind of experience.

I was able to say goodbye to some because they were too expensive (the easiest way to eliminate options, haha), some because they didn’t feel quite “bridal” enough (though I still looooved the gowns), and some just didn’t have quite the “unique” factor that I was looking for. And eventually I narrowed down my choices to just two dresses!

I actually ended up trying on both of my final contenders multiple times because I was so enamoured with them both, and had a pretty difficult time deciding between the two of them because they were so different. Which, I know, sounds super cliche, but it’s true! They have totally different aesthetics and general feel, even if the silhouette is similar.

We did do our own little version of “jacking me up” (as Monty from SYTTD Atlanta puts it, haha), with the whole veil/belt/hairpiece reveal and, I am happy to report, that I did finally have my tearful reaction (hooray!) to one dress in particular. But I was still torn because while I did have that visceral reaction to one dress, I kept thinking that the other dress was more in-keeping with the overall theme and vision for the wedding.

So I left the final bridal appointment having decided not to decide just yet. I wanted to take the weekend to think about it, and I’m definitely glad that I did because…

… as you probably already suspected, eventually a decision was made! Turns out that over the weekend, I couldn’t get one dress out of my mind (the one I ended up crying for), and I knew that was probably a pretty good sign. So, I headed back to the salon and officially made my purchase!

I won’t be revealing my dress here on the blog on the off-chance that Sean suddenly decides to start reading here (he doesn’t normally follow my blog, but you never know…), but I will share with you what the runner-up was:

Hayley Paige Josie

The Hayley Paige Josie was in close, close contention for being my wedding dress, due to it’s incredible fully beaded bodice (these pictures really don’t do it justice) and beautiful color (it comes in both white and moonstone.) I also thought it had a really glamorous feel, which fit very well with the overall wedding vibe I was thinking of.

Ultimately, though, I decided that this dress had so much wow-factor, it was almost overwhelming. I also thought it would be harder to accessorize with, since the bodice of the dress is already so blingy. And when it came down to it, the dress I chose just felt entirely more “me,” which definitely makes it feel like the right choice.

So, I put my deposit down and couldn’t be happier with my decision! The agonizing part now is going to be waiting for it to come in! Designer dresses can take anywhere from three to six months to come in, and then have another month or two of alterations after that. Whew!

It does bear mentioning that I had to pay a “size surcharge” on top of the cost of the dress, which, let me tell you, didn’t feel super great. Apparently with Hayley Paige any dress over a bridal size 18 come with an extra fee. Which, I gotta say, does kind of feel like BS to me, because you could be a street size 10 or 12 and still have to order a bridal size 18 depending on your measurements.

See, to be safe, wedding dresses are usually ordered based on the size that matches your largest measurement (since it is infinitely easier to take in a dress over letting it out.) Actually, that was a bit of a dilemma in and of itself, because my hips measured several sizes above my waist, but the consultant said that it should be fine to order the dress based on the smaller size because of the silhouette. Anyway, what’s done is done with regard to paying the fat tax surcharge, and I’m still happy with my choice. It just wasn’t the most self-esteem boosting part of the experience, haha.

So there you have it! My “I Found the Gown” experience from beginning to end. Well, from beginning until I get it in my hands, and then the alterations process can begin, haha. Hopefully, I was able to accurately portray my gown shopping experience. There aren’t a ton of resources out there on what dress shopping is like for a plus-size bride in general, let alone for someone who has as, ahem, particular tastes as me, so I’m hoping this will be a helpful accounting for at least one other person out there? And if not, at least I got to post a lot of pictures of gorgeous dresses, so that’s fun. 😛

What was your gown shopping experience like? And what did your wedding dress look like?

41 Comments

  1. Grace @ Grace Dishessays:

    I loved seeing your dress shopping photos 🙂

    I can’t wait to see what you decide. I love Hayley Paige – her modern and unique style that still says WEDDING!

    You looked beautiful.

    • Thanks Grace! I totally stalked your wedding pictures on Facebook just the other day — you looked incredible. And yes, I like to say that Hayley Paige is my spirit animal — dresses that still totally feel bridal but with super unique details! I love her dresses.

  2. Totally get not showing us “the” dress (I’d actually be mad if you did!) BUT, based on what you’ve tried on and loved, it’s pretty obvious your chosen dress is unique, not a traditional look and totally glamorous. I’m so excited to see wedding pics!

    P.S. Melissa Sweet was like “THE” designer I wanted when I got hitched. I rushed my dress decision, got something I didn’t love to make my mom happy, and did not feel beautiful on my wedding day. I cried about it off and on for months.

    • Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that you didn’t love your dress. I’m sure you looked absolutely incredible though!!

  3. I’ve never commented before but feel compelled to now that I saw you in that tiered tulle dress with the sweetheart neckline in the middle of the second row in the first collage (whew! That was hard.) You’ve already picked your dress and I’m sure it’s amazing, but you look like a dream in that one! Glad you found your perfect dress!

    • Thanks so much, Nikki! I did like that one, but ultimately strayed more towards natural waist vs. dropped waist ballgowns and I wasn’t in love with the beading on that particular bodice, though the skirt was pretty amazing! 🙂

  4. THOSE DRESSES THO!
    Seriously, they’re all amazing. I cannot wait to see what you picked 🙂

  5. I went to a small boutique first that everyone in my hood went to. The sample sizes were so small that I couldn’t even try them on at all. Yet they kept pushing me to order a dress – are you kidding me?! I was so frustrated that I drove to David’s Bridal and ended up finding a lovely dress that didn’t break the bank. I didn’t have an OMG, teary moment either. I kept thinking about the dress the next day, and so went back and bought it.

    • Nooooo! That sounds like the worst experience at that small salon. I did get really lucky, I was totally expecting a hard sell from places but none of the salons that I went to were pushy at all about ordering, so I really appreciated that (because I don’t do very well when put under pressure to make a purchase!)

  6. Look at us! We are twinning today because I just posted my dress shopping experience too. Hilarious. Seriously though, you look GORGEOUS in ball gowns. I found that I looked either like a 12 year old in them or a streetwalker. It was not cute lol. I seriously cannot wait to see what you picked out :). Love following your wedding stuff (probably because planning my wedding has made me OBSESSED with all things wedding and I already loved your blog to begin with lol).

  7. I LOVE the Lazaro 3108. I really really hope that’s what you chose. (not that it will make one wave of difference in my life, I just really like it). And in reality, whatever you chose is I’m sure gorgeous! I 100% see myself taking a solo trip to David’s Bridal just to get a sense of what looks good before having any family/friends around.

    • I did love the 3108 but sadly, did not choose it as The Dress. None of the ones shown on here are the one I ended up choosing. The color of 3108 was amazing (and that BELT omg so beautiful) but all the tulle in the skirt made it crazy big even for me! Super gorgeous dress though, and the top was really flattering. Le sigh, if only I could have bought them all!

  8. Glad you found your dress! I really love that 3450 – dem ruffles. Reminds me of a fancily decorated cake. xD I’m sure whatever you picked is just as lovely. 🙂

    • Ungh, right?! That might very well have been the dress if only my budget were, y’know, like, more-than-doubled, hahaha. Most beautiful $7,000 dress I ever tried on though!

  9. Jessicasays:

    I would love to know what under garments you wore to your appointment!

    • Sorry I didn’t respond to this earlier, Jessica! I wore a regular nude strapless bra and waist-high Spanx, and then a couple of salons lent me a bustier to wear instead of the strapless bra. I think I want to wear a bustier for my actual wedding day now, SO much support! Plus it feels super bridal-y to have one on.

  10. As someone who isn’t considered plus size, wedding dress shopping was NO fun for me either. Clipping dresses don’t allow you to often get a good idea and what I HOPED and DREAMED would look good fit horribly. I’m so glad you found something! Now, how are those workouts coming? 🙂

  11. I love how many dresses you tried on! The first dress I tried on I knew was the one. I tried a couple more on afterwards just to make sure, but my wedding dress was definitely going to be that one. I was a little gutted that it was all over and done with in one quick swoop! I actually tried the dress on in my size as well, and it needed no alterations either. Clearly a sign it was meant to be!

  12. I love all of those dresses! It makes me want to go try on wedding dresses just for fun 🙂 When I went dress shopping, I just went to DB–I tried on a bunch, none really felt like “the one”.. then I saw a poster with THE DRESS on it, and it had just come in and they didn’t have it on the racks yet (which would be why I didn’t see it!). Anyway, tried it on, felt like a princess, and was very upset that I couldn’t just wear it home.

  13. Jennysays:

    I got married over 20 years ago, so styles were different. But I knew in advance the dress I wanted. I only went to one place to get it, and when it fit (I was plus size back then, though not as plus size as I am now, ha ha) I bought it. If you look at this link, mine is the first one, the one on the cover, and you can see all the other ones in the catalog too. I haven’t seen sleeves on wedding dresses for yonks!

    http://spriggsflorist.blogspot.com/2011/06/wedding-flowers-for-laura-ashley-circa.html

  14. Jennysays:

    p.s. I’m sorry Gretchen, I published before I finished. I meant to say how absolutely lovely you look in those dresses. And not just lovely but truly happy.

  15. Laurasays:

    Dude, you look SO good in the Jim Hjelm 8500, and I also actually really love two of the David’s Bridal dresses on you (I have never been there but always – wrongly apparently – assumed their dresses weren’t great): the upper right-hand and lower left-hand corner ones.

    Thanks for sharing this! I also am a curvy gal and while I’m far from getting married, thoughts of sample sizes haunt my dreams. Lots of my friends are getting married right now too, so I know all too well the clamps of death when squeezing into a “bridal” sample 8. Blegh.

    You look gorgeous! Can’t wait to see what you chose.

  16. Congrats on finding your dress! You look beautiful in all of your choices. I know it can be hard to decide! I didn’t have one of those “blow me over, break down in tears moments” either, but I did get teary and choked up when I realized I had found the dress I really wanted. I’m excited for you!

  17. Daniellesays:

    OMG! I’m so relieved that I read this. I thought I was going to experience the magical say yes to the dress moment. BS!! I literally had this exact same experience and tried on some of the exact same dresses. In one boutique I had to have two ladies help me out of the dress. I left frustrated, sad, disappointed, and could not stop shaming my body. I am going to retry this weekend and hopefully will have a better experience because right now I just want to get married in a white jogging suit!

  18. I LOVE your story and can only imagine how beautiful you will look (and feel) in THE dress! I purchased my dress through Brides Against Breast Cancer, which I love for many reasons, but it did mean that I didn’t get the same ‘Say Yes To The Dress’ experience (sad face!!) I found your blog through Wedding Bee and am looking forward to following your adventures 🙂

  19. The “fat surcharge” is because of the extra fabric required to cut out those larger sizes. I know it seems like it wouldn’t be that much of a difference in yardage, but as a seamstress who makes all my own clothes, I can tell you it does! Depending on the style of dress, smaller sizes might use up to several yards less fabric than larger sizes. And wedding dress fabrics can get pretty pricey (we’re talking $50+ yard at minimum). So hopefully that makes you feel a little better–the price hike isn’t just arbitrary!

    And regarding the sizing–your hips measuring several sizes larger than your waist should not be an issue in the types of gowns you’ve shown here, as they have a lot of ease in the hips. (BTW, it’s actually super common to measure different sizes, especially in the hips.) What I would be concerned about is the bust, because letting out a too-tight bust is really not ideal (even if you can let out the side seams to accommodate the width of the bust, a too-small size can come up short in the torso because of the extra length required to go over a larger bust). Were your bust and waist in the same measurements? If not, did you order the larger of those two?

    • Yep, my bust and waist also measured one size different (I guess my bust was in-between the two sizes, but they always size up?). Anyway, we did indeed pick the dress size based on my bust measurement, so of the three sizes I measured (waist – smallest, bust – middle, and hips – largest), we went with the middle measurement. I’m definitely hopeful that everything will fit well enough when the dress comes in… as long as I don’t actively GAIN weight before the first fitting I should hopefully be okay!

      • Okay, you should totally be fine then! Yeah, it’s always better to size up because taking is really is easier than letting out. But don’t worry, even if you do end up gaining some weight, letting out is not the end of the world! Dresses typically have at least 1/2″ seam allowance. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you let out the seams by just 1/4″, you’d gain a total of an inch, which makes a big difference in fit (that’s several sizes). And if it STILL wasn’t enough, you could try minimizing bras/shapewear, and sometimes even panels can be added to extend the seam. So I wouldn’t worry at all if I was you!

        Can’t wait to see the final dress! I’m pretty partial to the Watters Carina bodice and Ahsan skirt.

  20. Rachelsays:

    Thank you so much for this post, I myself will need to go dress shopping soon as my wedding is in February and I have not been able to find the courage because I’m too scared none of the sample dresses will fit! So your post made me feel a lot better about setting up my first appointment. If you don’t mind me asking what was the price of the Lazaro 3450? I’m scared to know but it is beautiful and I think it just moved to the top of my list!

    • Alas, the 3450 was far outside my budget at $6,900. But if I’d had the budget for it, it would have probably been the one — I LOVED it!!

      • Abbysays:

        I just said yes to the Lazaro 3450 dress a couple months ago- it is stunning but it is so expensive…. but with that being said, ALWAYS NEGOTIATE!!

        I got mine 15 percent off, plus a free additional eyelash lace raise all around the top.

        XO 🙂 happy dress hunting

  21. brittneysays:

    Thanks for sharing so many details of your wedding planning experience! I just got engaged and am planning on taking tips from you! Please keep posting about all things wedding! And congratulations! What are you doing for breast support in your dress? I never thought I could wear a strapless bc of lack of support but you are giving me hope!

  22. What a great post, and what beautiful photos! You look simply gorgeous.

    My wedding-dress-hunt is kind of a good story. When I became engaged, I expected to wear my mom’s old wedding dress. We’re built differently (she’s smaller, and at 22, when she was married, she was TINY), but I was very slim myself then and close enough to her size that it seemed a good bet. I found a seamstress who was willing to make the alterations and everything seemed fine. Then I herniated a disk in my cervical spine.

    I was pretty young for a herniated disk, but years of treatment with prednisone for systemic lupus had left my bones vulnerable, so there I was.

    The herniated disk meant several months of inactivity, plus (ironically) yet more prednisone. Which ended up translating into an additional 40 pounds. (And I’m only 5’1″) When I went to my second fitting, it was clear that my mom’s old dress would never work.

    I ended up buying a dress online. It was sold by an outfit specializing in “modest” wedding gowns, which meant I didn’t have to reveal more of my newly zaftig body than was comfortable. I loved it.

    I hope you have as much joy wearing yours as I did wearing mine!

  23. Wow. Wow. Wow. You have incredibly, incredibly similar taste to mine! Loved your share about it. I’m in the beginning phase of trying a few on and pinning about a gagillion dresses on Pinterest for “research.” Obsessed, indeed. Hailey Paige is one of my top favorite designers, along with Lazaro and Anne Barge.
    So, I’m itching to know… What dress did you end up going with?? Can you share it yet? When is the wedding?
    I rarely comment on blogs, but your was so compelling. Thanks for posting your experience. I’m glad to have gone on your ride. So helpful and fun!
    Jenn

  24. Firstly, I want to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog. I got engaged on Christmas Day and am planning an amazing wedding in New Orleans.

    I have so many questions for you! I have a weird, weird body shape. I’m a B-Cup, curved waist and size 16 hips. I am terrified to start wedding dress shopping because I keep hearing that bridal boutiques are not friendly to women with big asses.

    I guess I’d just like to know where you went to try on dresses and if you called in advance to see if they had your sizes. Also, did they put these dresses over your head? I know that lots of dresses fit me if I put them on over my head as opposed to stepping into them and pulling them over my hips.

    Any help or advice would be appreciated. Thank you. God bless you. I know you must have looked beautiful on your wedding day 🙂

    • Yep! I put every single dress on over my head, and pretty much the only reason I was able to try them on was because I was solely interested in ballgown-type gowns anyway that weren’t fitted to my hips. So as long as they went over my head, the backs could remain open/unzipped, and they just kind of clipped/tied/held the dresses in place so I could get a good idea.

      I didn’t visit any plus-size bridal salons, so no salons had dresses available in my size except for David’s Bridal. But it just worked out that bc I wanted a ballgown anyway, I was able to try on every gown. If you’re more interested in fitted styles, I would suggest going to a bigger box retailer like David’s or find a plus-size bridal retailer in your area because it’d be really hard to tell how a dress really looks without being able to put it on at all. Good luck! And congratulations!!

  25. Kristysays:

    Just wondering if anyone knows nj dress shops that carry plus size hayley paige…or ny or CT or pa lol ill go anywhere …

    • Jody E Kitchersays:

      I know its a bit late on this but I tried my Guindon Gown at Nordstrom Roosevelt Field in NY. It was a size 12 and I’m a street size 18 and I didn’t feel too stuffed into it.

      Hope this helps.

      Jody

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