Your wedding is often considered to be one of the best days of your life, filled with confetti, cake, embarrassing relatives and lots of booze. And for many brides, one of the most important details of the day is their dress.
However, with the average UK dress size a size 16, and many bridal brands only stocking limited (read: smaller) size ranges, curvier brides-to-be can find themselves unable to buy their dream outfits. It's something fashion blogger Callie Thorpe has explored when recounting her own wedding dress shopping experience at various boutiques here.
Now, though, with the uptick of high street wedding dresses, there's hope that the more accessible price point offered by big brands could also result in more inclusive sizing, but this doesn't seem to be the case.
Not-so-fun fact: wedding dresses run small anyway, meaning that if you’re a size 16 in jeans, you’ll likely be a size 18 or 20 in bridal terms. The thing is, even if you do find somewhere that offers your size, plus-size wedding dresses are often 'poorly fitted' to a larger woman’s figure, or downright 'unfashionable'.
Natalie is currently planning her wedding but, as a size 24, she's struggling to find a dress that is both reasonably priced and actually suits her. “The styles offered in my size are often seem dated and as if no thought has been put into the design for plus-sized people,” explains Natalie. “For instance, sleeveless bandeau styles which, while lovely, may not be as comfortable for plus-size people because of body image issues surrounding exposed arms.”
"Every woman is different and has different levels of confidence, so it's important that dresses are available to celebrate every woman whatever her shape or size," explains Jane from Celebrating Curves bridal. What works for one bride might not work for another and so having different options is super important. "The biggest misconception about curve wedding dresses, is that they all look the same and that every woman wants to cover up," adds Jane.
This unimaginative design approach has been noted across plus-size collections on the high street, with curve ranges feeling like something of an afterthought, but the matter feels even more poignant for brides when they go wedding dress shopping.
"My store specialises in plus- size dresses (16+) so I get feedback every day from brides who have visited other stores and have been disappointed with the choice available to them and the treatment they have received," explains Jane, who started the business following her own experience with retailers that didn't cater for her size. "It amazes me that in 2021 plus-sized women are still discriminated against in this way."
While you might argue that custom made gowns are always the option, with bespoke tailoring costing a premium rate compared to off-the-rack looks, many budgets simply won't allow for it, leading brides to explore more affordable wedding dress alternatives.
Just because a high street bridal line claims to have extensive sizing, that doesn't make it so. Certain brands have described their ranges as 'size inclusive', despite only stocking straight sizes and, in some cases, stopping at size 16. This performative inclusivity is considered a form of ‘wokewashing’ and it needs to stop.
That being said, size-inclusive wokewashing isn’t unique to the high street wedding dress market, it’s an epidemic seen across the whole industry. In some cases, brands have even featured plus-size models in their campaigns when, in reality, they only stock up to size 14.
“It’s upsetting to see brands claim to be inclusive and ‘diverse’ but don't make clothing for people larger than a size 16, which I wouldn’t even consider 'plus-size'," explains Elizabeth, a postgraduate student from Belfast who recently started searching for her perfect wedding dress.
Elizabeth is a size 18, just above the average dress size of women in the UK, but still feels isolated by the industry. "It feels like they’re using the term to get eyes on their brand, but there’s nothing to back it up, just branding.”
The misuse of progressive buzzwords and false promises makes it seem like specific labels want to be seen as inclusive, but without putting in any of the effort to make positive change.
“It’s a joke, to be honest, but not surprising at all," adds Gina Tonic, freelance writer and founder of The Fat Zine, who rallies against tokenistic plus-size marketing. "Body positivity has devolved so much that the language associated with it feels meaningless and this is just another example of how capitalism and fat liberation aren't made to co-exist.”
Push for meaningful change
Let's not forget, we live in an age where the plus-sized clothing market in the UK alone is worth 5.08 billion pounds and growing, so you would think that the fashion industry would be chomping at the bit to make curvy women feel welcome and excited to spend their money on gorgeous wedding dresses, rather than stigmatised and excluded. But how can we help create change?
"It shouldn't be up to the plus-sized community to fix our feelings of isolation, instead of a society that isolates us over and over," emphasises Gina, starting that the responsibility lies with brands to close the gap in treatment between plus and straight-sized women in the bridal industry. “There is no answer to solving this feeling other than brands providing actually inclusive sizing."
While the availability of more extensive affordable wedding dress offerings might ultimately hinge on individual brands expanding their bridal ranges, there is actually something you can do.
The brands making a difference
It needs to be said that there are still some brands selling reasonably-priced curve dresses, there are just fewer of them. So, why not help support those labels doing their part, proving that stocking bridal options for those with curves is financially viable? Some of our favourite size-inclusive wedding dress brands are ASOS Curve, Celebrating Curves, True Curves, Chi Chi, Monsoon, Simply Be, Maggie Sottero, Beautiful Brides, and more.
Check out our Contributing Curve Editor's wrap-up of the best affordable plus-size wedding dresses to shop now:
So, where does that leave us? In short, fashion has come a long way in terms of inclusivity with the rise of more accessible price point bridal ranges, but the industry still has a lot of work to do to reach the point where the stigma against plus-sized people is non-existent.
We, the shoppers, need to speak up about the lack of choice available to plus-sized brides and also support the wedding dress brands (both high street and boutiques) with broad size ranges, showing that there's a market here and we refused to be ignored anymore. Let's keep pushing towards a future where everyone will be able to shop for their perfect dress no matter their size.
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