Dresses are one of the first emotional battlegrounds in ethical wedding planning. It's one of the first places where our budgets run smack into our aesthetics and values and we're left with some hard choices.
- We may explore vintage shops because they're more sustainable, cost-effective, and aesthetically pleasing to buy a unique tea-length dress than a current collection Priscilla of Boston tea-length dress.
- We might consider custom options to support independent designers and have one-of-a-kind, made-to-our-body dresses.
- We may grapple with loving very expensive dresses and turning to Chinese or Etsy reproductions, since fashion doesn't have effective copyright protection and it feels sooooo excessive to pay for a brand name dress.
- We may actually explore wedding dress salons, but look for "Bridal Alternatives" or bridesmaid dresses instead.
- Some of us look into pre-loved dresses at sites like Recycled Bride.
- Some folks consider J Crew because it initially seems "affordable," but only if you look at their - ha - $400ish options and ignore the $3000 options. Of course, these dresses are usually designer knockoffs made in low-wage factories.
- Department stores may offer more value for simple white dress options (without the blatant knock-off factor), but you're still sending your money to a far-off corporation and dresses that are probably made in factories.
- Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are capitalizing on the popularity of so-called "Anthropologie weddings" and will be entering the wedding dress market within the year with options in the $500-$5000 range, but you're still forgoing the small business owners and killing the local salon economy. And yeah, like most places, you're still paying for overseas labor.
- UPDATE: I made a few small changes to clarify some valuable points that Thirty-Something Bride and I discussed in the comment section regarding overseas textile and labor practices. Most dress companies, even many high-end couture shops, rely on textiles and labor from elsewhere. There are designer lines that explicitly promote their use of American labor and you should ask, if that's important to your dress values.
"Most bridal salons are privately owned small businesses whose practices are fair and ethical, deserving a shot at earning your business.
Why?This dress shopping thing is a really hard balancing act. Budgets and ethics and local support are all important issues to consider and publicly discuss. But I've found one question about dresses and ethics sorely lacking in all the mainstream discussions I've come across: the ethics of respect for all women and all body types. And interconnected with that is the fact that the cheaper, designer knockoff mega stores like David's Bridal that incite near-universal "indie" scorn are some of the few places that actually get size acceptance right.
The personal service and investment when working with a small business is unparalleled. I can't tell you how many times I opened when we were closed, gave out my personal mobile number (call anytime), stayed well past closing, and made personal deliveries to customers.
Each gown was treated as if it were my own. I was accountable if there were errors, crises, or unhappy customers, and I was proud and delighted when things were perfect. I stopped at nothing and did everything I could in my power to make my customers happy. I know I am not the only one with that kind of conviction.
At a small bridal shop, brides are able to choose a gown that will be custom made, with changes and specifications unique to each customer. While garments cannot be purchased off the rack, as at Anthro and J. Crew, they are well worth the wait and your consideration.
It seems like flawed reasoning to believe you are getting a deal and sticking it to the (bridal) man when dresses will be in the same price range as the local bridal shop and you are actually buying from the man. "
Although I have no respect for bridal lines that don't carry larger sizes, I understand the challenges for independent shop owners who work with very low margins and yet have to invest upfront in every single $3000+ sample dress on their floor. With this business structure, it's obviously more cost-effective to have only one or two sizes. Or even just one. Yeah, one. I'm not a large girl - anymore - and as I was tying to squeeze myself into the single sample size at a local Bridal Alternative salon it hit me how insane and wrong this dress buying system can be. I generally fit the sample sizes now, but this development is pretty new for me and I'm still really sensitive about size issues. I spent most of my 30 years significantly overweight and was forced into lifestyle changes because of health scares unrelated to my weight.* But if the wrong time of the month and an indulgent weekend were enough for me to barely fit into one designer's samples, it highlights the fact that there's something wrong with designer lines and a salon system that exclude the majority of women. For example, one of my girlfriends was told to just hold the dress up against her so she could see how she might look in a larger size.
What. The. F*ck.
If 60% of American women are a size 12 or larger, and one third of those are a size 16 or larger, then many salons are very explicitly leaving out a large segment of the shopping public when they don't carry a size 12 or 16 sample, because "plus-size" doesn't fit with their "image" or "branding." And that is complete crap. And we should be talking about this more often when we talk about dress shopping ethics.
I have a ton of issues with David's Bridal and Alfred Angelo, but I have zero issues with the way they treat women who happen to be larger as respected customers who deserve the full salon and bride experience. Yes, their mega-store inventories are large enough to support multiple sample sizes and their costs are low enough to support multiple dresses because they use synthetic materials and offshore labor, but hell, at least they respect their clientele. My girlfriend finally found a way to feel pretty, respected, and not like an afterthought bride at Alfred Angelo. She could actually try on the dresses and have an "oh my gosh, I'm a bride" moment.
Even if I don't particularly want the "I'm a bride" moment myself, the thought of being actively excluded from participating in this major societal wedding ritual makes me furious. So for people on a tight budget who really want the ballgown or sparkle wedding gown experience, I'm no longer going to knock David's Bridal and its ilk. Because at least they treat their customers with human dignity. Their workers are another issue but, for anyone who shops at H&M or Target, we can't really claim moral high ground.
Like I said, these issues are complicated and those of us who don't fit the broader societal definition of sizist beauty and who don't have enough money for custom dresses don't have many great options. Vintage isn't a great option (darn tiny vintage sizing), pre-loved dresses are hit-or-miss, and J Crew and department stores have the same labor issues and generally only carry wedding dresses online (and only up to size 14ish, most of the time). So I think it's about time to stop with knee-jerk reactions against David's Bridal and the women who choose to shop there. Because we're all dealing with our own specific circumstances, and we all deserve respect for the wedding dress conclusions we've worked through.
This post has been sitting in draft form for quite a while now. But I was finally inspired to finish it by the launch of Plumage Blog: Fashion and Beauty for the Plus Size Bride. The amazing Khris Cochran, founder of DIY Bride, has finally started a mainstream blog devoted to resources and respect for women of all sizes. Thank goodness, because respect for brides who don't fit the mainstream concept of slender attractiveness has been sorely lacking. I can't believe it's taken this long, and I'm thrilled to see these questions and style options tackled by a thoughtful veteran of the wedding blogging world and a former plus size bride herself.
*I am absolutely NOT equating weight with health. In my case, it was a few health issues that forced me to really change my diet and focus on specific and consistent strength exercises. But I know a lot of larger people who eat wholesome foods and exercise regularly and whose doctors are thrilled with their blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin levels, and other markers of health. Heavier weights are not incompatible with health.