Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dress Shops and Ethics

There's a lot of talk in this corner of the wedding blogosphere about values-driven weddings. We talk about supporting local shops and economies. We talk about environmental sustainability. We talk about wanting to know and like our vendors, oftentimes prioritizing artist-vendors who have focused their craft on weddings. We talk about the politics of weddings and how to recognize those who can't yet legally marry. We spend endless amounts of energy crafting egalitarian weddings or weddings that otherwise reflect our personal values as partners. We talk about the ethics of spending $X on a wedding (or not) and on developing budgets that reflect our true desires and true limitations.

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.
This is hard stuff, especially when many supposedly lower-cost options a) aren't always that low cost and b) mean forgoing local, ethical shops. From Foxy Wedding, who used to own a bridal salon,
"Most bridal salons are privately owned small businesses whose practices are fair and ethical, deserving a shot at earning your business.

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. "
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.

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. 


  1. I am a street size 12-14 and the best dress shopping experience I had was at David's Bridal, for the exact reason that you stated. For almost all of their samples, they had every size. I could try on the dresses and actually see how they fit. And I know that other brides have had bad experiences at David's, but the woman who helped me was polite, helpful, and positive. No complaints. Unfortunately, none of the dresses were really my style.

    I also had a woman at a smaller shop tell me that I could hold the dress up to me to see how it would look. SO insulting.

    I ended up buying my dress at another smaller shop because they had a sample in my size and I could see how I'd actually look in it. It makes me wonder how many other dresses I'd have liked if they carried samples in my size.

  2. it really goes both ways. i am always reluctant to be the 'skinny bitch' who chimes in during these conversations.

    but of the 4* salons/boutiques/whatever i visited, none carried dresses in my size. all of the samples were about 4-6 sizes too big. and then they got out those big clip-things (that look the ends of jumper cables, or something my dad uses in woodworking) and ineffectively tried to show me how it would look if it were the right size. with, oh, half of the design missing- bunched back into those damn clips.

    (*this includes david's bridal- who didn't have either of the only 2 dress i liked in my size and actually left me to my own devices with the clips, which was a mess)

  3. I love this: thank you so much for posting it. It's absolutely true - and as mentioned above, it's also an issue for the super-slim as it is for the plumper girls.

    My own dislike of bridal salons, David's Bridal, Alfred Angelo etc. have little to do with sizing - though I am totally with you on the typical samples being woefully inadequate for girls who do not fit a very narrow size has to do with my NOT WANTING a white dress, and meaning therefore that no bridal gown was available to me at all (at least none that I liked: and white with colored accents was not going to cut it).

    I really do just find that, being so close in color and only seeming to follow a few simple ideas about cut, and having most decoration be about beading, beading, beading (or sequins, or lace, but you can forget, I dunno, embroidered peonies and cranes or Indian influences etc - it all seems to be swirls and flowers)...that they all look the same. Not to knock women who've bought these dresses and who love them: if you love your dress, then it is by definition a fantastic dress because it's yours and you love it!

    But for a dress color that's only been around for 150 years and only been nearly universal for maybe 70 years...

    ...really? All white-or-shades-of-white is the best you can do, bridal shops? Can you really not offer something unique enough to attract me?

    (I designed my own dress, btw, which was easy to do and easy to get made as I live in Asia.)

  4. Thank you so much for writing this, and I think it actually extends beyond brides and into the bridal party as well. I recently took a trip to JCrew to try on a couple of things and for my bridesmaids to just take a look at what they have (they'll each end up buying their own dress from wherever they want, but it was a good opportunity to take a look at some styles). As it turns out, in store JCrew only does bridesmaid dresses in sample sizes - size 8. I mean, this is not a $3,000 investment - JCrew bridesmaid dresses run in the $100-200 range. It meant that one of my bridesmaids had to squeeze into each of the styles and the other was left to hypothesize about what the same style might look on her. It really emphasized for me the incredible sizeism that is so pervasive in the wedding industry. I think we need much, much more conversation about this; thanks, Becca, for getting us started.

  5. @Liz - The clip thing is frustrating for anyone. I've been clipped in too (which did no favors to the dresses) and then the next salon the sample was almost too tight. It makes you think you're "fat" because there's no standard sizing or a range of options. (Also, you know I respect everyone's voice here. Small women have their own set of weird societal assumptions put on them and their own challenges, but the key for this discussion is that I don't think it's as often about a lack of *respect*.)

    @Jenna - While I agree with you (my own wedding dress adventures and search for something "different" show that), what you're talking about is a very different set of issues associated with bridal assumptions. The salons cater to this supposed niche demand for a one time dress in a certain narrow range of styles. While I agree there's space to question the typical white dress and the ubiquity of certain cuts (because they don't suit the real personal style options of a lot of women) we can shop elsewhere. We can buy fancy colored dresses from department stores or prom stores (yeah, weird but true) or look at bridesmaid dresses or get custom options. While bridal salons are definitely limiting, it's not really about respect.

  6. I ended up purchasing my dress from a family-owned salon in small town Iowa. However, my dress is Alfred Angelo ... and honestly, it was the first gown within my price range that made me feel like a bride. It was just enough lace, just enough satin, and 100% me.

    I couldn't have had a better experience there (and truthfully, I had wonderful experiences at David's Bridal, too).

    I made my gown selection based on the gown, not the company...and truthfully, I fully believe that it's possible to do so.

  7. Thank you for this post. I wrote about being being a plus size bride on my blog. I also commented on A Practical Wedding about the disdain for David's Bridal. I bought my dress there and didn't even bother going to an independent salon because I knew they weren't going to have my size (street size 18-20). I don't have time to spend my money where I'm going to be insulted and the clothing won't fit.

    So basically I decided that I was going to do what I needed to do for me. And if others didn't like it, so be it. To paraphrase that great philosopher Jay-Z: "What you eat, don't make me shit."

  8. I got my dress through Dolly Couture. One thing that really impresses me about her is that her real brides are all different sizes and her dresses look great on both rail thin girls and plus size ones. Though her inventory is on the smaller side and depends on whether someone just bought one of her samples, every time I've been there they've had at least 1-2 dresses in size 16 and dresses that ran the gamut between 2 and 16.

  9. @ Tamar - Dolly Couture (and most custom options) are such wonderful choices for plus size brides. Though they many not have options to try on in stock, they can make the dress to your exact size and specifications. From photos and reviews, I know Dolly has real respect for brides of all sizes and her prices are surprisingly VERY reasonable for custom work. But, if you don't want a vintage-inspired tea-length dress or want to try things on and don't live in LA, it's less useful (though one great option for a lot of women) and I have no qualms recommending shops like David's Bridal and Alfred Angelo for women who want that traditional bride experience or dress.

  10. Thank you for this. I ended up buying an off-the-rack over-priced evening dress from Saks. It's pretty, I love the color, but I hate that I had such a negative experience at the two bridal salons that I went to (and don't get me started about my not-good fleecing from an etsy dressmaker). I didn't go to David's Bridal or Alfred Angelo because I had looked at their catalogs online and felt like the dresses were all so bland and cookie-cutter. I do wonder if I would have walked out of one of those stores with a dress I actually liked if I had given them a shot. But after two really bad bridal salon experiences, the naysayers got to me. I, frankly, just gave up.

  11. Yes! I got my dress at David's Bridal precisely because I could try the dresses on and see how they actually looked on me. Before going to David's Bridal I went to a small boutique and the lady helping me was so insistent on trying to cram me into the too small dresses that she actually ripped one of them trying to pull it off of me. I was so embarrassed. I think I would understand the samples not fitting if I was a size that was uncommon, but I'm 5'9" and a size 16.

    P.S. Thanks for noting that weight and health are not one and the same. I may be overweight but I run regularly, eat (mostly) healthy foods, and have great cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. I know my weight does have some impact on my health, but it really gets me mad when people think all overweight people are overweight because they just don't take care of themselves!

  12. Thank you so much for this post, and for your thorough linkage. Dress shopping really is rife with ethical problems, and as with many such considerations, being able to do the most ethical thing often requires certain privileges (often, moolah, in this case, having a certain body type). I don't plan on shopping at David's Bridal, but if I were bigger than a sample size, it would be my first and last stop.

    @elizabeth, I agree those plastic clip things are annoying and it can be almost absurd to try to judge a size ten dress clipped to fit a smaller body. But at least we get to put the dress on, right? No one condescendingly tells us to just hold it up in front of us, and we are free from wondering if the salesperson is silently judging us for daring to shop while fat. (And don't worry about being a "skinny bitch." Bitchiness is as unrelated to size as health is.)

  13. OK, girl. You know I love you and I love your blog and I love this post and it has a lot of good things to say. HOWEVER, what Foxy is saying about designer dresses and J.Crew dresses regarding where/how they are made is BULLSHIT. Does J.Crew manufacture all over the world? Yes they do. Why? Lower wages, lower cost of raw materials. That does NOT mean that the materials used are poor quality. Sometimes materials can be made in India (they rock at textiles), imported to China and assembled there. All of that is cheaper than making it in the US, en masse. Just to make sure I can walk my talk, I called the Jenny Yoo showroom in LA and found out that with her growth and success - guess what? She's making gowns overseas now! *GASP* Not all, but some (mostly the chiffon numbers, I was told). And as someone who spends time overseas and sees mass production of products, I can guarantee you that the work a person puts into a garment there is going to be equal to the time spent here, depending on the QUALITY. J.Crew has decent quality. They do. I shop there from time to time, mostly in the sale bins. Is it part of a lifestyle? Yes. Are you paying for that? Yes. But you can't tell me the same doesn't hold true for David's Bridal or Vera Wang.
    Ooooh, I'm just a tear right now. I'm so mad at that Foxy lady I could just spit. But instead, I'm going to go home and drink a glass of wine and watch Lost on Netflix with The Candyman.

  14. @ Thirty Something Bride - Aw, don't be mad at Foxy. I specifically linked to her discussion about locally owned shops because I think THAT'S the most important point. $1000 at J Crew is not the same as $1000 at Jenny Yoo. You DO get more service at the local Jenny Yoo. You DO work with a local shop that keeps the money local (well, I don't know how franchising works with Jenny, but with Bella Bridesmaid or any other local salon local wins.) And yeah, J Crew is a pretty blatant ripoff of higher end designers and various Vogue spreads in their styling.

    Most everyone these days does their textile sourcing and garment construction overseas - high fashion, low fashion, couture or otherwise. It's not price competitive not to. Some design houses DO have local labor (I believe Alix and Kelly and a few others I can't recall.) And, frankly, the J Crew textiles are nice but I've had so many questionable experiences with the workmanship that yeah, $3000 from J Crew isn't a bargain. $450 isn't even a bargain.

    I should have clarified that most wedding dress brands do their textile and labor sourcing overseas. Some do not, and there's a real value to some people in supporting that. I used Foxy's own language regarding J Crew but should have been more explicit in my own post that it's pretty common for everyone. But the local shop, personal service, pricing considerations and knockoff criticisms still fly.

  15. I went into David's Bridal just for fun, but I was surprised by the language used by the woman helping me. She NEVER made me feel bad about things being too snug. If something didn't fit, she problem solved in jiff and got the correct size. That's the thing- she never said bigger or smaller... she emphasized that a certain size was better for my body and would say, "I have the perfect size for you." And when I tried on the corset in my size she said to me, "This 14W looks much better on you. Look how it accentuates this part and this part." I felt comfortable because she was comfortable with me. I ended up not getting a dress there because the ones I tried on weren't my style (or price- I'm cheap.).

    Even nicer about David's- I was trying on dresses around size 2-6 girls looking for prom dresses, other curvy women looking for wedding dresses, their sisters, mother's, and friends- and everyone was really happy. Everyone gave each other good feedback. There were lots of, "Ooh, girl you look good." And it was a cherry atmosphere. I may have lucked out in my experience, but it left me feeling really good about David's. I recommened it to other brides.

    I have mixed feelings about JCrew. We got my fiance's suit there. He enjoyed his experience with the shopper and really liked the suit. I was happy his wedding outfit hunting experience was so good for him and I didn't want to take that joy away with my opinions. I may end up wearing a JCrew dress I found on OnceWed, but I can't help feeling guilty about it. (Going to suck to admit this, but) It has no indie-cred. It's not sustainable. And it's not "unique." I'd love to buy vintage, but my waist is not a 26. I haven't set foot into a salon because I'm afraid of being the big girl in the store... bleh.

    Thanks for the post and Plumage.

    And I not to offend anyone, but I don't want to be called "a plumper girl." Plump reminds me of a sausage being cooked until it's skin is scored and bursting with meaty filling. Maybe it's just me being over sensitive, but I think there needs to be something better than "plump" or "plus size." Curvy? Full figured? I don't know....

  16. @Angie - Thank you for sharing. I had the same experience at Alfred Angelo (haven't been to DB myself) and I think it's really important to talk about. And as for J Crew... whatever. None of this is sustainable if you buy it new (unless you go for $$$ eco-fabrics) and buying it used is inherently better for the environment. And the best part about simple dresses is that you can rock the accessories. Eff the indie cred and find something that's flattering and affordable. No one at the wedding will care where you got it if you feel great in it and OWN it.

    And dang, I didn't even notice that in the comments. You're right, using the term "plump" is really uncomfortable (Ok commenters?!) But I don't like curvy either, because I know slim girls with curves and larger girls with pretty all-around bodies without specific curves. The language about size is so hard and loaded. I use "plus size" because it feels slightly less loaded? Bah. In other words, I feel your pain and don't have a great answer.

  17. Wow. I have never, ever, ever been quoted on someone else’s blog before. Thanks!

    Ok. Now on to dresses….

    One of the things that bothered me most during my bridal shop days was the fact that we could only afford to buy one sample. In a size 10. That fit more like a 6 or an 8 . Depending. One or two designers were actually true to size, but that was always far and few between, no more helpful in equally accommodating women in all shapes and sizes.

    It always made me cringe when a girl either swam in the sample size, or was unable to try it on. As someone who has also struggled with weight (the last time I was anywhere near lean was when I was playing My Little Ponies in the backyard) the sample dress issue was always a point of contention.

    My own gown I only tried in muslin form, choosing it from a sketch, since no sample gown that gave me an accurate idea of what it would look like was available.

    When I opened, I made a point of carrying designers that would make whatever size or shape was needed. That didn’t solve the sample issue though.

    I wish it were different. Just as a small bridal shop can’t afford more than one sample, a small designer can’t afford to give size runs or price samples more affordably so that any girl can try any dress. The way the bridal industry is set up is all messed up like a soup sandwich. The sizing is a throwback, and the necessity of samples from an era when most women chose their garments from patterns instead of off the rack.

    Now that I am no longer fighting David’s Bridal and Alfred Angelo for every dollar, I have to agree with you. The fact that they offer every sample size, allowing every customer of every size to try any gown she likes is irreproachable.

    So, amen sister.

  18. Ps...I forgot to mention, that it is true a lot of wedding gown manufacturers source their fabrics from India and Asia. I wasnt saying they dont. Just not all.

    All of my bridal designers imported textiles from Europe, South America and even right here in the US and manufactured in the US.

    Just as I was closing, Jenny Yoo began producing some of her bridesmaid dresses in Poland, and several designers have closed, unable to compete.

    That said, strictly within the designers I worked with, fabrics and workmanship were far superior to anything found at Jcrew for the same price.

    Just had to defend myself a little! As always, your posts are thought provoking and insightful.

  19. Wow. This post opened my eyes to how incredibly fortunate I've been. For all that I've whined about the dress search process, I've never had the experience of being unable to zip up a sample dress. I can't imagine that trauma.

    There are no perfect answers. As HitchDied pointed out, money and ethics often go hand in hand. Each of us is left to wade through our own budgets, our own ability to support local shops, our own morals, and our own dress sample size limitations. I'm surprised any of us ever come out with actual wedding dresses. There's always a compromise somewhere. As for my own compromises, well. I'm ordering a dress from a franchise shop owner who isn't local and I don't know what the working conditions are of the factory it's made at. It's simply the best option I found.

    Thank you for putting these issues into words.

  20. as far as david's bridal- i've never heard so many positive stories! the one i went to was pure rubbish. and i had heard the hissed rumors indicating that to be the case- so i wasn't looking forward to some "bride experience." i just wanted a cheap dress. and i ended up walking out, because noone was helpful, the other shoppers were rude, and it was a train wreck.

    as far as j.crew, they're everyday lines are loaded with quality- i don't think anyone will argue that. but their formal wear pales, to me. it just doesn't have the same textures, weight, something. it seems to be that way across the board- a nice brand always just lowers their standards for the fancy stuff (maybe because we won't wear it as much?)

    i'm an odd one. i like the words "round" and "thick." when josh tells me i'm lookin thick, i know i'm having a voluptuous-in-a-good-way day.

    and round... i mean, come on. ladies are supposed to be round at parts, right?

    (but i would never ever ever call anyone else these two words, dontyouworry)

  21. their* good grief, i frickin teach english.

  22. i'm adding to the david's bridal love here. i went and had an awesome experience. they had a dress in my size and made me feel special and beautiful and not like a fattie. the woman kept saying how nice i looked in the dress and i really felt she was genuine about it. i went to a tiny boutique before david's and it was awful. this tiny competitive body builder-ish man told me what i wanted which i found odd since we weren't old friends. also it was hella expensive and i didn't like most of his selection.

    conclusion, yay davids, boo marias

  23. Thank you so much for this post. I've been lurking here for a while & I'm inspired to comment on this. I worked at David's Bridal. And at a smaller private shop. The experience at David's was so much better for the very reason you (and so many of the comments) mention -- greater variety of sizes = greater variety of happy brides. Sure the company has its flaws, but the near-universal scorn and derision from the "indie" sector is undeserved. And it makes me sad! Thanks for speaking up!

  24. Yikes, so many issues to deal with when dress shopping. I think this is one of the biggest reasons why I am so adamant about making my dress, so that I don't have to deal with many of them.

    I think this post was incredibly thorough. You covered it all. I think it'll be very helpful and I'm going to bookmark it for friends who are thinking about the wedding dress choices.

  25. Thing is, I do think it is in some way about respect (but then I feel this way about the entire fashion industry) - the women who don't look so good in those gowns (especially strapless) are the ones who, well, aren't sticks or hourglasses. Wedding dress designs as well as sizing cater to women of a certain shape (maybe 2 certain shapes) and nobody else, which is just as much of a blow-off as the sizing issue. On the white thing, I agree with you.

    When 99% of everything comes in strapless in a cut that doesn't flatter a pear, a rectangle, an upside-down triangle, a too-large or too-small boobed shape, it totally shows a lack of respect or desire to cater to for women of those shapes (and sizes).

    As for sizes - which I only skimmed in my last post because I never went to a bridal salon, and anyway I totally agree with you - I've always thought it would be better to have a salon that carried the sample size of that gown, if they could only afford one, in the size that it would flatter the most. So, for example, a deep V-cut with defined waist and flared skirt would best flatter a no-waist-wonder like myself, so it would be better carried in a size 12 or 14 (which is where you usually see that shape). A sheath or slip dress could have a sample in a smaller, slimmer size because it flatters the petite and slim. A sweetheart neckline could come in a sample size with a large bust, because sweethearts do a lot for voluptuous cleavage that they don't do quite as well for slender, small-boobed girls. Halters would come in a relatively tall yet slim size as they flatter the tall and thin. Mermaids...depends on the cut.

    A bridal shop that knows their ins-and-outs of fashion, bodies and flattering forms would be able to discern what to order in which sample size, and advertise themselves as specifically catering to their clients in this way.

    They could also take dresses known to look good (or known to be popular) among plus size brides and carry one of each *cut* in a sample size that will fit - other dresses with similar cuts will look similarly on peoples' bodies.

    Not a perfect solution, but an idea. And it may work better than the "all our sample sizes are 6" thing they've got going on now.

  26. Oh man. I have dreaded the trying-on experience for fear of spark plugs holding the back of a beautiful dress together, perhaps not fitting into it and some bitchy saleswoman telling me maybe I should try somewhere else.

    My fiance and I are changing our lifestyle, becoming more healthy (not crash dieting by any means), but I still feel like I need to lose a size more before I go try on dresses. (What!?) The whole experience makes me feel like I'm going to walk into a bridal shop saying "Who the f*ck are you!?"

    Great post, really touched on some real issues of weddings...because it's not always flowers and lace and pretties.

  27. excellent post, and i appreciate the various experiences we can have with david's bridal.
    and sometimes david's needs an ally- they are making thousands of brides feel like a million bucks.

    i wanted to mention one dress designer who makes pretty affordable lovely dresses located in nyc. Saja.

  28. Holy crap, I love this post! I'm that "average" sized bride and David's Bridal (and their ungodly crappy mirrors) made me feel ten times bigger than I am! Not to mention I can barely squeeze into a 14 there and I'm a street size 10/12 and their service leaves much to be desired.

    I had much better experiences at small shops - loved the attention, better mirrors and lighting regardless of what sizes they carried. I bought a sample gown (size 12 - haha DB!) from a small, local shop that was closing. I paid cash and she exempted me from taxes. Great deal, great service and sorry to see her close.

  29. Here's what I liked about J. Crew for my girls:

    Not that they're cheaper (because they're not, though the odds they'll have to have alterations are much, much lower (almost nil, actually), which WILL save money, and more importantly aggravation);

    Not that they're OMG JCREW! (though admittedly, that was one bridesmaid's reaction), because I could give a flip;

    Not that they're all that nice or wonderful (I find them kind of meh, to be honest).

    No, no. I chose JCrew for my girls for one reason and one reason only:


    My girls can wait up to a week before the wedding to buy their dresses, if they choose. Granted, in a perfect world, I would rather they have them in hand a bit sooner than that, for obvious reasons, but I have one bm who is struggling with her weight and wants to try and lose weight ... not necessarily "for my wedding," but in general.

    Let's face it - having to buy a dress 6 months in advance, for a woman, can be stressful. A LOT can happen with a woman's body in 6 months. For example, you could buy your dress, and then a week later get pregnant, and boom, your dress DOES NOT FIT ANYMORE, not even close. Granted, it's HIGHLY unlikely that will happen with my BMs, but even less drastic things can happen. You can gain ten lbs. You can lose ten lbs. And, sure, you can alter ... but considering I just spent $70 to get my bridemaid's dress (for another wedding) hemmed and have straps added, this isn't exactly a cost-effective option.

    So, now, my BM who is trying to lose weight can wait it out before she buys her dress, and be ensured that it will FIT her on the day of the wedding, not six months before the wedding.

  30. I had my heart set on a Saja dress for a long time. I thought I couldn't go wrong with a small, {then)not well-known designer. I was really surprised when I found out that her dresses were actually made in China and then shipped over here. So if ethical, eco-friendly practices are important to you it does help to do a little research. However, even though designers like Saja and Jenny Yoo have their products made oversees, I do believe in supporting the local businessperson and typically these designers and the like are only carried by small, private boutiques. And those boutiques are usually pretty rad and more personal than anywhere else (I loved the Vegas Bella Bridesmaid and White Flower in SD). If only a boutique would start carrying Sarah Seven. Then I would be in heaven.

  31. I am very, very lucky enough to be average enough size (8-10) to try on sample size dresses, so I can't really say anything except GOD, WHAT THE HELL. Trying on dresses was stressful enough without someone saying "oh, just hold it up to see". Yeah, I'm going to buy a dress that costs as much as my rent on how it looks when I hold it up. Ugh.

    I do want to say a quick note about ethics and buying local. I did buy a relatively inexpensive dress, and it is a name brand that I doubt is ethical about a lot of their practices, but I bought it in a local shop. I was so, so thrilled to support and patronize a local shop. It's a family owned little shop, and the owner was there when we purchased the dress. They gave us 10% off because they thought I looked good in it. It felt like family. I bought through a traditional bridal shop, and I DID stick it to the man-- I was buying it from women, running their own little shop, and I was glad to buy through them.

  32. Thank you so much for bringing up the issue of labor when it comes to buying a dress. Thinking globally and acting locally is really important and I find your post to be really refreshing.

  33. I'm a street size 26 and ended up with an Alfred Angelo dress, however, I tried on tons of dresses in samples ranging from 18 to 30 at three different bridal salons (two in Chicago and one in South Bend where I eventually bought my dress). I really thought I was going to order a Maggie Sottero dress sight unseen, but in the end I kept and open mind and got a dress that was nothing like the vision I had in my head.

    I was actually pleasantly surprised at the selection I was able to try on from a variety of manufacturers (Bonny, Sophia Tolli, Private Label by G, etc) w/o having to go to a David's Bridal.

    In the end, an experience I was dreading actually turned out to be quite an enjoyable one. Maybe I lucked out? Who knows, but I actually spent 2.5 hours trying on dresses in the salon in South Bend. It was mind boggling!

  34. Honestly, I came there via a link thru another blog and I must say thank you for educating me.

    First of all, I had no idea that some bridal shops didn't carry over XYZ size. I'm seriously surprised at what I've been reading. I'm even more shocked that as a street size 12 on good day, 13/14 in my plump stage that there's a good chance many NY bridal salons would have difficulty with samples because of my size. Seriously? Eye opening.

    Second, you are making me rethink my idea of purchasing a gown from a well known designer company. Do they really need my $1,500 when an independent designer would appreciate my business more and I'd feel lot better about where my spending dollars go.

    Again thank you. I'm a new found fan.

  35. OK, so I totally get what you're saying, and I agree with you, but I just have to give a shout out for change in the other direction as well. I'm a young, small bride, and I've been to over 15 bridal salons, and I still have never tried on a dress that fit me. Of course I totally understand why stores don't carry dresses in my size because most people wouldn't be able to fit in them, but it's still really frustrating to NEVER be able to really tell what the dress would look like. It would be nice for the stores to have one smaller size and one larger size for each dress just to be a little more inclusive.

    Btw, I went shopping with my plus-sized friend at David's Bridal, and they treated her like shit. As soon as the sales lady figured out that a 16 was too small for her, she basically gave up and ignored her for the rest of the appointment. I had to go pull dresses in her size (which they had plenty of), and I think my friend would have given up altogether if I hadn't. Maybe we had an abnormal experience, but I know other people with similar stories, and that is the only reason I dislike David's.

  36. Ok - Im going to chime in here even though this conversation happened a long time ago.

    1) I hate David's Bridal for none of the reasons above - Im really shy about my body and they don't have mirrors in the dressing rooms! You have to walk out in front of all of those other women to saunter over to a 3 way mirror.
    2) I just found out that if a designer is carried in a store, even if they don't have the dress, they can order it for you. I know this doesn't sound revolutionary but think about it. I found the dress I wanted in a salon that thought it was okay for me to parade around the dressing room with 40 other women with my whole back exposed - I don't even wear sleeveless shirts - NO. But, I felt really understood at a salon that didn't have a lot of plus size dresses but spent a long time trying to make me feel comfortable, even beautiful. Yes, that meant an expander and clips and all of that - but they kept the dressing room door closed. They found ways to alter the dress so I could see how it looked. Shortly, they coddled my neuroticism. I want to support respectful people not insensitive ones.
    If you want a salon level dress in the plus sizes, at this point, its the only option - Thought I would throw it out there!

  37. @Anonymous - yes, you can order the dress from any salon in any size (if that designer line carries plus sizes.) However, *I* always feel more comfortable trying on dresses to know how they'll look and I find it offputting that most salons - aside from DB and Alfred Angelo (that I know of) - don't offer that option. Most salons don't have non-sample sizes and some are downright rude about plus size shoppers. If you found a respectful salon, I applaud you and and thrilled you were able to support them if you found your dress there. Feeling beautiful is an absolute requirement, and I found respect is the baseline that enables that, whether it's respect because they stock your size or respect in how they treat you in the shop.


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