“I Felt Like A Monster”

This is a true story that disturbs me. A beautiful young woman, a friend, is getting married. Like most brides-to-be, finding a dreamy dress is an exhilarating part of her plan.

This friend, let’s call her Jen, is a gorgeous, curvy woman with long dark hair and dark brown eyes. She’s smart, funny as hell, and talented – tops in her creative field. She’s about a dress size 12, or roughly the average American woman’s size.

Anything here for a gorgeous size 12????

She’s a true hourglass, with a small waist and larger bust/hips. This woman rocks vintage 50’s – 60’s dresses and hair like you wouldn’t believe. She’s got an eye for color and shape and lives to accessorize. Sometimes we go on for an hour about shoes and belts.

Being fashion-minded, she wants a special dress for her wedding day. Nothing too “little princess” (she’s about 30), but not too casual. A vintage feel, with gorgeous lace, maybe tea length, then accessorized to make it even more personal.

Something like this would be wonderful.

So she’s been looking online, and naturally, hitting up the bridal salons. Now begins the outrage. Bridal shops carry sample dresses to try on, in a range of sizes. Remember, bridal “sizes” are one-two sizes smaller than your usual dress. So if you wear a size 6, like me, you’d be trying on 8’s and 10’s at the Emporium des Brides.

Jen found that most salons carry sample sizes only up to size 12 (equal to about an 8/10). No way her curvy figure was fitting into an 8/10. Neverheless, the (very nice) bridal salon staff tugged and squeezed and yanked a few dresses over her head. They had to stop at the shoulders. “My head was covered with heavy satin and lace. I couldn’t move,” she told me. Then this fabulous woman said, “I felt like a monster.” My beautiful Jen!

This isn’t Jen, but this is similar to her size/shape. Fabulous. source

She and I understand that smaller salons cannot afford to carry lots of sample dresses, too costly. But they do know that the average American woman is about 5’4′ and weighs 164 pounds? And that she wants to feel beautiful and authentic as she shops for her gown? And not just told to “hold it up against yourself to get an idea”.

I’m far from an expert in retail practices, and I am fortunate to be an easy-fit. But can’t we do a little better, bridal business?? You already have unbelievable mark-ups on a garment that’s worn one time. Get a little smarter, more understanding, something! And take better care of the Jens in this world. Oh, she’s buying her dress from a designer via Etsy, and the designer is thrilled to be working with such a fashion-forward customer.

Have any of you had similar experiences? Share, please, if you care to; I love to hear from you.

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  1. A couple of years ago I was going to be the maid of honor, and I can tell you that it was the exact same experience for me. I am a size twelve too, which is not that uncommon in Sweden either! I have to say that it took away some of the joy from the experience. Luckily the bride was slimmer and she could fit into all the dresses.

  2. With my height, and my shoulders, and the fact that I was several sizes larger than my current US 8/10, it was just a nightmare to find a dress when I got married fifteen years ago. I got something that did (mostly) fit, but I had to order it, because no way did they have a sample size I could even begin to squeeze into. I was hoping things got better, but alas, it seems not.

  3. I eloped the first time and was able to buy a sale dress for not too much the second time. I do remember wanting to feel utterly gorgeous and it's completely ridiculous that anyone (!!!) tiny, medium, zaftig, tall, short, animal/vegetable/mineral should have to have an agonizing experience, period. Crazy. I'm glad she's been able to find someone to do something just for her. That makes it really special.

  4. That was my story 20 years ago. At the time, I was 5'2" and about 145-150. There was literally NOTHING for me to try on. I had to order a dress that I liked from a catalog and have a dressmaker totally alter it for me. At that time, I couldn't even order a petite dress, so she had to take the dress completely apart to shorten every piece. My alterations cost almost as much as the dress. Luckily, the dressmaker did a wonderful job and it looked beautiful in the end, but I do wish my dress trying on experience had been a little more fun.

  5. Oh I am happy she has found a designer to work with her and her unique, beautiful self. How you describe her is almost exactly my shape (to the dress size) and it is brutal out there shopping for clothes that fit…can't imagine doing it for a wedding.

    I was excited for a moment reading this because I found a gorgeous, strapless gown just last week that would have fit her (because it fits me). It is vintage and a lovely champagne color…so not true white…but it could work as a bridal dress. : )

  6. It sounds like Jen and I are similarly shaped and I have encountered this same problem while shopping for a bridesmaid dress for a friend's wedding. Not a single salon in a 100 mile radius has the dress the bride chose over a size 8…yes I said it…8! AND we are attempting to get our dresses at one of largest (maybe the largest) bridal retailer in the country. I'm just glad some one else is also raging about this!

  7. I don't think it's cheap not to waste thousands if you don't have to – but then I would say that as I got my dress made by a lady from church for a quarter of the cost of buying it from a shop. And I got exactly what I wanted in terms of style, although she did make the corsety bit nearly a size too big. It was okay laced in tight…

  8. Ooh, that's horrible customer service and horribly thoughtless of them. But I agree with Amber – the whole 'starving yourself for six months to get married' frenzy over one very expensive day is a bit messed up.

  9. Not in a bridal shop but yes, boutiques regularly stop at size 8 and I'm a 12 minimum. It'll never change until we start pushing back – hard!

    Spashionista (Alicia)

  10. oh awful as a curvy 5ft 4 i know the feeling, i was a super skinny bride but still struggled, one assistant informed me 'not to worry she could sew a panel up the back of a dress!' not what you want on your wedding day! patti i added a button to my blog this morning for visible monday, i have linked a few times and totally forgot to add a badge. xxxxxx

  11. Dearest Patti,

    Hats off for you! Indeed, the statistics show the reality but they still are thinking they cater to the fairy tale public?! Get real. And you are so right about the unbelievable mark-ups on such one-day-wear garments. Good for you.



  12. I'm not sure what the answer to this is. Here the small bridal shops seem to only carry a limited sample size in each dress (sometimes only one) because the dresses are so expensive and they are all made to order. I guess they have to pay a deposit to have each one from the suppliers or it is just not cost effective for the supplier to provide several sizes. My sister and girlfriend are both getting married, my sister in Australia and my girlfriend in England. They are both tiny and had the opposite problem, they were swimming in all the samples in the bridal shops. And I don't think that pinning it in always gives a true representation of what it will look like after altered. I'd expect larger retail chains in this business to be able to carry more than one size though.

  13. I read this with interest because for a very short time I worked at BHLDN, the weddings/special occasions branch of the Anthropologie brand. There are only two stores in the country (Houston and Chicago), but the online business is significant. In the store we had gowns in a range of sizes (2,8 and 12 I believe), but the best part was that the gowns are already made and residing in a warehouse waiting for the order. Not only did that mean the bride-to-be got a pretty good idea of the dress on her, she was able to receive it quickly and have the alterations made as needed (no waiting six months for that first fitting). The website likewise delivers post haste and features personal shoppers who will work with you all the way via the internet. I can't say enough good things about such a reasonable concept, plus the gowns are gorgeous. It's a shame the wedding industry is rife with so many pitfalls and potholes, but I'm glad your friend's story has a happy ending!

  14. What a terrible experience for your friend, I'm so glad she's gone to an etsy seller instead.

  15. I don't understand why they don't carry a larger size as the sample… they can always cinch it in with clips on the smaller clients. Instead they make it impossible for the majority of women to try on a wedding dress. Sorry, but I'm not paying that kind of money if I can't even try the damn thing on.

  16. That's mad! I've never set foot in a bridal shop but one would have thought they'd have made the experience as seductive as possible in order to get as much money out of a potential bride-to-be and not to scare them to death. x

  17. Oh that's horrid, poor jen. I haven't really gone to the traditional bridal shops but worry I'd feel inadequate in there!

  18. This whole saga leaves me amazed and bemused. Never having been married or been to a wedding dress shop, I had no idea that this was the system. How crazy for businesses to exclude a whole bunch of customers. And very poor customer service – any woman who is made to feel crap when shopping should definitely take her money elsewhere.

    I hope "Jen" realises she is beautiful as she is and deserves so much better than this. I bet her Etsy dress will be amazing, and make her feel like a goddess. xxxx

  19. When I was getting married, I went to David's Bridal. The smallest size THEY carried was a 6/8. Back then I was about 89lbs and barely tipping the edge of a size 0. They only had two dresses in that 6/8 size. I got really upset (and later found out I was running a fever that day as I had the flu! Oops)

    But later my MIL contacted a friend who closed her bridal shop and had some dresses leftover. THE dress was a size 6, but it was perfect. I did have to visualize it smaller, but my MIL is a seamstress and took that sucker in to fit me like a glove. That is the benefit of the dress industry – they can and will tailor the shit out of a dress for you. At a price, of course.

    I do hope your friend has a good experience with the etsy designer. I do think going for a custom fit is a good idea on a wedding dress. Of course, I still kind of wish I had just bought something at a department store and got a REALLY cool pair of shoes, but ah I wasn't the person I am today back then.

  20. I believe that Jen will find a wedding dress. She's beautiful ♥

  21. Similar experience when I was a bridesmaid. (I have an hour glass shape as well.) The sales lady wouldn't even let me try on the dress. When I went for the first fitting the dress was way too big and had to be significantly altered at a substantial price. A family member, with an hour glass shape as well, went to David's Bridal and had a great experience.

  22. I looked online for a dress and special ordered it in my size to try on at a bridal shop. I understand why the average small bridal shop cannot afford to stock their dresses in every size – especially mine. I had the exact opposite problem – no size 0 dresses and the smallest ones swamped me.

  23. Friends on Facebook share photos of their daughters and granddaughters' weddings all the time and MANY of the girls, young girls are at least size 14, 16, 18. Our society is so much larger than it was even 10 years ago. It amazes me that bridal shops are simply not keeping up. It's most likely the companies that send them the dresses that at not keeping up actually. So sad, and you can bet that many gals have to order their wedding dress that they were not even able to try on properly first. Great post!

  24. That happened to me as well! i was almost 30, had to "hold up' a dress to choose from. Ordered it with the promise it would be perfectly fitted. It was horrible!!! i DEMANDED MY MONEY BACK!!! Which was no easy task, bue ended up buying off the rack (Dillard's) and looked great. I'd suggest a seamstress and sketches, or there are great dresses out there for little cash, but look devine, such as Newport News gowns/Speigel, etc…Good luck!

  25. When I went to get married (at age 59!), I decided to visit the local Wedding Wearhouse for giggles. Naturally, I focused mostly on mother-of-the bride dresses, all of which were appalling. (BTW, I am five-eleven, average body shape/size). For some reason, I decided to try on one of the fairy princess white ruffly numbers because they had one (one!) in my size, and as I struggled to put it on over my head, I stumbled over the legs of my jeans (which I hadn't yet entirely removed for some reason) and fell over in the fitting room, scraping my knee on the rug and drawing blood. It took a lot of doing to get that damn dress up and off without accidentally having various trailing parts of it graze my bleeding knee – many minutes, with the otherwise useless saleswoman querying me through the door about how I was doing (I couldn't bring myself to tell her). But at least the dress finally emerged unbloodied (if I couldn't say the same), and I got my head on straight and went to Nordstrom's and found a perfectly lovely white crepe cocktail dress that I have worn now for three anniversary dinners and formal nights on a couple of cruises. I still laugh when I think of it, though, so the experience wasn't a complete disaster (though I'm glad the cocktail dress was long enough to cover the not-quite-healed scar on my knee).

  26. That is terrible Patti! I watch "Say Yes to the Dress" and always felt horrible for those brides who went to this exorbitantly expensive bridal salon and came out feeling worse because nothing fit! I'm telling you there is a market for a "normal girls" bridal salon that caters to those of us out there that are just average and above average. Man it with caring and creative staff and it would be a money maker.

    I agree with Amber, the whole industry is a fail.


  27. Oh, shame on them! I wonder if Canada stocks the same sample sizes. I made my own wedding dress…just could not fathom spending the dollars. Yikes, I hope that's not a negative reflection on me…too cheap to go into debt over my own wedding, LOL. In the end, it sounds like a heaven made solution. Getting what she wants, working with a like-minded designer….now that sounds wonderful!

  28. I often wonder when will our culture recognize that women of all shapes,
    sizes, and ages are beautiful, vital, talented, worthy, etc, etc, etc! I am
    constantly saddened that "we" still have such a narrow definition of
    beauty…young, tall, skinny, perfect skin, luscious hair…as seen in pretty
    much every fashion magazine out there. Such a tiny portion of our population
    fits that narrow parameter, yet a huge percentage of American clothing is made
    for the tiny, young girls, and only a fraction is focused on the much curvier
    norm. I think that society as a whole will be more healthy when we embrace the
    unique and innate feminine beauty all around us. I'm so glad that your friend
    found a designer that is delighted to work with her…as she, and the rest of
    womankind…most certainly deserve!

  29. I am borrowing that phrase, with your permission (in fact I was searching my brain for something similar this morning). Thank you!

  30. I am really surprised that US shops don't offer the average size! Really sad for lovely Jen, she must have felt terrible and I am so glad she will now get her custom made dress. I hope you will share a photo of her special day, Patti!

    I have always been a smaller size but nevertheless I am following this fabulous blog which I have to share with you: Girl With Curves
    Tanesha is the most beautiful and curvy woman I know. Look at her bridal dress!

    Lady of Style

  31. Here, here! If I had to do it again, knowing what I know now, I would do a custom-made dress without a doubt. It's rough out. Try being a non-hour glass size 12! Not all of us curvy ladies are lucky enough to be shaped like Joan from Mad Men. 🙁
    Nice job calling this out.

  32. This was exactly how I felt as a size 12 (closer to 14) when I married 27 years ago. It is very degrading. But, larger women are treated badly by the majority of the fashion industry. I agree with the idea of getting a dress custom made. I also really appreciate the desginers who design for us curvy ladies. I want to support them and say thank you becuase so many put us down. I am sorry she felt so bad…I know how it feels.

  33. Yes. Bridal shops mostly suck. Although I was married 20 years ago, and things were even worse then. I was bigger then by a good bit, so I'm guessing the equivalent is a 8/10 nowadays? Then it was more like a 12…and I'm only 5'2. So, the sizes in all the shops in Dallas only went up to a bridal-10. No joke. Also, being an hour-glass, I managed to get the 50's-styled dress sample on over my head, and zipped to the waist, where I stopped. The collar was shawl collar style that I loved because it made my waist look even tinier. Well the lady in the store insisted not only would I require a SIZE 18 to fit properly, but there would be an upcharge of 20%. Shamed, I gave in and ordered that size. There was no mention of petite sizing, and I was too young and clueless. So the gown comes in and it's the most enormous mess you've ever seen – the collar that in the sample was the perfect 4" band around my shoulders? Now spanned from the bottom of my chin to a couple of inches above my navel. The waist was huge. I was devastated, ashamed, too-worried about the deposit money I'd lose if I abandoned the gown, I just took it and left. I had the gown completely re-cut and tailored to fit. It was lovely on the day, but the leftover mojo was so bad, that I never had special feelings about my dress – when the bustled-train got stepped on and ripped at the reception, I didn't really care a whit. Whole thing was a nightmare.

    Anyway – takeaway? You friend can save money, save style, save feelings and get the dress of her dreams by having it custom-made. She will feel beautiful, special, and gorgeous…no bridal shop b.s. There are reputable tailor shops, private seamstresses, and even costume shops at university theater programs who can all hire out. Best of luck to her!

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