So, where do I start with the Plus Size wedding dress shopping?! I've wanted to do a proper follow-up post on this for quite a while, and as the day (hopefully) draws closer to me picking up The One, I thought I'd take a little look back at my experiences.
I was inspired to write this based on this post on the Wedding Ideas Magazine blog and even more inspired back in November when Annabel from Love My Dress posted about the 'issue'. Most of what follows is taken from 2 emails I sent to Annabel...
I was dreading looking for a dress and it took me 7 months after getting engaged to even pluck up the courage to phone a dress shop. I dread clothes shopping most of the time anyway, let alone shopping for my wedding dress, the most important dress I'll ever buy, right?! I had a rough idea of what I wanted, I knew I wanted something tea length, I had dreams of tulle skirts and bolero jackets.
So eventually I booked an appointment with a shop in Cheam Village. I had a look on their website to see what designers they stocked. I spotted a Chanticleer dress, well a few Chanticleer dresses, Babilee in particular, a gorgeous creation of polka dot tulle, amazing.
The day arrived and off I went to the shop with my mum and my sister. I asked about the Babilee and the other tea length dresses I had spotted on the Chanticleer website. The lady in the shop was very helpful but ultimately did end up pulling out a few other styles of dress for me to try. As I had no idea what was what when it came to wedding dresses I agreed. She was helpful and any I didn't fit into, she pinned me into with a false modesty panel. I couldn't fit into the Babilee and so I tried on another tea length dress. My sister immediately told me I looked like a hobbit and that the short dress made me look really short and fat.
To clarify, I'm 5'6" and a size 24. That's not that short and I like to think I'm relatively well proportioned so as not to look like a cube!
So, off came the tea length and on went a procession of long dresses. I tried on a Grecian style one and a more structured one. Pictures of all of these can be found in my previous post here.
I hated most of them, then tried on the Chanticleer Montiverdi. The One. Until I saw the price tag. At £1300 it was a little over what I had been hoping to spend and so resigned myself to the fact I wouldn't be able to have it.
I put it off even more until October when I decided to make an appointment at All That Glitters at Allders in Croydon. I cannot begin to describe how 100% unhelpful they were. They saw me as a plus size bride and instead of listening to what I wanted, they just decided what they thought I should wear and so out came all these disgusting (to me) dresses with tucks and folds and silk roses and assymetric pleats. One assistant, wouldn't stop talking and the other wouldn't stop rolling her eyes! They got out their stock book and instead of listening to what I wanted, they just went through which ones they had above a size 18. And I felt like I had to justify myself every time I said no!
Onto a second appointment on that day. Another shop local to me in Cheam. I had tried to make an appointment with this shop back in July when I started looked but had never heard from them despite messages and emails. I started to feel paranoid that it was because I was plus size that they didn't want to know! My mum eventually got hold of them and so off we went to Aurora Bride. I was met by Natalie, shoeless and slipper socks and whereas some people might find that unprofessional, it kinda put me at ease! (Plus the carpet was so plush in there, I don't blame her!) She told me to have a look through and use red tags to mark the ones I liked. (oh dear, this reminded me straight away of my awful experience at the Bridal Factory Outlet I visited in North Yorkshire, which I realise I didn't blog about.... another time!) and told me to put them on the dresses I liked.
I told her briefly that I wanted relatively plain, tulle skirt, sweetheart neck and she totally got it. Within 30 seconds she had pulled out 3 dresses that were just so spot on, I was like, "Why the fuck didn't I come here sooner!" and also I thought, "Why the fuck didn't the girls this morning get it this quick?!"
Natalie was so helpful, and didn't once make comment or pass judgement on my size. It was such a totally different experience to before. I found two dresses that day that I was quite taken with. But still, something didn't feel quite right.
Panicking, I made MORE appointments. This time with shops in Bromley. I made 3 appointments in one day!
Basically, despite my sister's original feelings about tea length dresses, after my most recent shopping trip and the cold sweats induced by it, I had decided, this was my day, my one day to look super and so I was determined to get a tea length dress. So I went with that premise.
The first shop had nothing tea length and was full of really very fluffy, humongous dresses!! I did find something nice in there but it was a size 14 sample size and therefore, I couldn't get into it. The lady did promise she could get me a size 18 sample but I left it, knowing I had two more shops to visit. I will probably still dream of that dress, a gorgeous 1930's Art Deco inspired chiffon creation.
Onto the second one. I had high hopes for this shop. Marianne Jessica in Bromley. I'm happy to name them as Michelle was SO helpful, it was such a breath of fresh air! I was reassured when I made the call to book the appointment. Michelle promised that she would help me as she was plus size herself and knew how stressful it can be. I quickly realised that probably nothing would be within my price range but I vowed to try stuff on nonetheless. I picked out all the tulle Chanticleer dresses. First was the full length Rosita which was lovely. The second was the Aurora which was tea length but a bit short. Then came the Babilee. Oh, oh, the Babilee. The dress I had first coveted when I looked at the Chanticleer website and which I was unable to fit into on my first dress shopping experience. It was amazing, I was totally in love. Michelle measured me but she did hint that the overall price would be around £1400. Oh. Oh dear. I suggested to my mum that perhaps I would go half with my dad to be able to afford it.
The one thing I did learn from Michelle, is that dress shops will quite often see a larger bride and assume we want to wear something frumpy/frilly/assymetric! She put me in something frumpy, frilly and assymetric to prove her point and it was like a bolt of lightning! I suddenly realised that this is what every other shop had been trying to do! And it did make me laugh and helpfully shut my mum up because she realised how stupid that kind of dress looks!
We headed on to the third shop and stood outside for a minute deciding whether or not to go in and that maybe we'd send my sister in instead of me to try dresses on for a laugh. We got up there and it was RAMMED! It was really really offputting. The shop assistants were busy putting all the dresses away and the changing rooms were all tiny! There were brides in there with 5 people in tow plus brothers and the prescence of men I found particularly offputting. I'm not saying, ban them completely, but, I dunno, I expect wedding dress shops to be havens of female dominated serenity. This was not and I hated it. I asked to go round the corner to a quieter part of the shop but after another 15 minutes of waiting, the shop had emptied until I was more or less the only one in there.
The assistant seemed VERY reluctant to let me try on the tea length dress, despite me telling her quite clearly it was my desire to have a tea length dress. She put me in two other dresses, both of which I said I didn't like and I didn't even step out of the changing room. The third was quite nice and I was almost, ALMOST tempted. The other assistant was bringing over various dresses and when I said I really didn't like it she just rolled her eyes at me and walked away. I did find The One that day. However, I decided to buy it from Aurora in Cheam (bare feet Natalie, who I loved so much, and spent most of my appointment sitting on the floor talking babies with!)
I won't divulge whether I went tea length or not (I'll keep you guessing until the big day, as I know some of my readers are actual guests at my wedding!!)
However, in a further disheartening move, my usual size 24 figure was rated as a size 30 by the designers size chart. It's meant that I've had to order a size 28, and which kinda doesn't give me much to aim for (I had been hoping I could order a '22' and have something to aim for!!)
I've rambled and I promised I wouldn't but the moral of the story is this:
- Know what you want!
- Don't let them put you in frilly dresses that, 'hide your bulk' if that's not what you want!
- Be prepared that most shops only carry samples in a size 12/14. Some will do larger samples but I've found they're never in the ones I liked!
- Stand your ground - You are there to pay them ridiculous money for a few yards of fabric, You tell Them what you WANT! (without being too Bridezilla!)
- Seek out the shops with larger samples - they're few and far between but they do exist. I know a few in Yorkshire, one in Datchett and one in Catford.
- See if the shop can order a larger sample.
- Go armed with pictures.
- Stick to your budget
- If all else fails - prepare for bespoke...! I was on the verge of bespoke, crying into my bank statement, but bespoke doesn't always mean expensive (I say this, even though I know it ain't true!)
The whole experience has made me want to start my own plus size dress shop because I think we get a rough end of the deal (and I realise, that extends beyond wedding dresses, but I won't get into my fat activism here!) I know very petite brides get a rough deal too, but, oh woe is me, plus size brides get a harder time of it. Oh and the other thing. We have to pay extra for being plus size....