I had the pleasure of visiting White Gallery London last week during bridal fashion week in London, to get an exclusive snoop from some of the […]
Putting the lack of ethnic diversity issue to one side for a moment, I’ve seen a side to the wedding industry I hadn’t seen before and I can’t say I am a fan.
Now, I’m not naive. I went through the bridal shopping experience myself and it was nothing like the movies, or those reality wedding shows that like to grace our screens. My mum didn’t cry, neither did I and after about 50 dresses later I wanted to throw in the towel. lol! Luckily I didn’t and found my dress at brilliant BOA Boutique, which made up for all the prior bizarre ongoings and despair previously.
What I can say is this, the wedding dress experience is not the same for everyone.
Sometimes its magical, sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes its great fun, others times disappointing. Sometimes it brings out a number of insecurities, but more recently I’m hearing it’s pretty poor and worst still, soul-destroying for some and that to me is completely unacceptable.
I recorded an episode for Bridechlla Podcast which highlights a few more terrors.
A newlywed contacted me recounting being a size 12 and being made to feel like a hippo when she started her dress search, standing half-naked in the boutique because she wasn’t able to do the zip up and being pushed to make a decision on a dress she couldn’t even get past her hips.
More wedding dress disappointments if you don’t conform to the standard sample dress size were also highlighted with a real bride on Smashing the Glass!
A friend, due to marry next week, contacted me in a state left without a wedding dress due to the company going into liquidation and not having the decency to contact brides with outstanding orders to let them know they would not be able to fulfil their orders.
And then take my lovely cousin for instance.
Her planning was all plain sailing until 5 weeks before she was due to get married, she went to pick up her wedding dress from someone who claimed to be a couture designer…
It was a disaster.
So many mistakes. The wrong colour, it didn’t fit, one cup was bigger than the other. Yellow instead of ivory. Cheap lace. No structure. No toile fittings, dress made in China.
Hideous. But that’s a whole other article.
Needless to say, my cousins experience left her in bits and with an unfinished dress just 5 weeks away from the wedding, in a real panic and had to start her search from scratch.
So I stepped in to do what I could to help…
Four weeks before your wedding day in the middle of peak season and starting your dress search from scratch, is nowhere near ideal. Especially as we soon learned if you are a gorgeous curvy size 14 with shapely hips and generous boobs! Unless a designer is able to work exceptionally quickly, your only real options are to buy something off the peg, so I soon discovered this limits your choices even further. My cousin had a solid idea of the dress she wanted which is why she originally wanted a bespoke design. However, she found a potential dress online she loved the look of and with that in mind, I specifically searched for bridal boutiques who stocked this particular designer.
Now it’s worth mentioning again, my cousin is a size 14. The AVERAGE size of a UK woman. Even so, because I knew we were looking for a particular design, I called the boutique which until then, I hadn’t heard of. I gave them her measurements and asked them to confirm if they had a number of designs to try on in the boutique. They said “absolutely YES come on in, we are sure we can help”.
So when we entered their London boutique, with an extensive array of dresses on display, we were hopeful. But it didn’t take long to realise they didn’t have one single dress in a size for her to try on. I was a little perplexed. Especially after the “absolutely yes” comment.
I sat in horror as I watched them try to squeeze her gorgeous curvaceous body into a size 10 sample dress. Why on earth were they doing this??
It then got worse.
When they realised they didn’t have a single dress in their entire store for her to try on, they then made her stand half-naked in a dressing room with a dress held up against her body and proceeded to tell her how gorgeous it was and that they could order one in her nearest size… but she would have to pay for it in full, NOW.
I’m sorry, what?
I watched in amazement and utter embarrassment. I had taken my cousin to this boutique. I felt 100% responsible for what was unfolding. Had I have known they would treat her in this way, I would never have taken her.
This “stand and hold the dress up against your body” tactic reduced my cousin to tears, so much so she seriously contemplated buying a smaller size and going on a liquid diet in an attempt to fast and fit into it in a few weeks time.
That I found totally unacceptable.
1. Because she is gorgeous and one of the things she wanted to do was show off her beautiful curvaceous figure.
2. Because one of the things her husband loves about her is her curves!
What a sad state of affairs that this size-ism indirectly or otherwise, exists within our industry and it is contributing to women feeling their size is inadequate. It’s no wonder we have problems with bridalrexia and a multitude of weight loss hashtags like #sheddingforthewedding continuing to pop up.
After this boutique experience, I made so many phone-calls and social media callouts thereafter to try to find other boutiques and we kept stumbling across the same hurdle;
“Yes we’d love to help, lets book an appointment”
Quickly turned into,
“Sorry we don’t actually have any sample dresses to try on above a size 10/12”.
Being a skinny mini, I guess I have always taken it for granted that I would be able to have a basic need met; to be able to try on a garment before purchasing it. ESPECIALLY a wedding dress. Yes on the flip side, the wedding dresses were falling off of me, so they ALWAYS had to use bull-dog clips to secure me, meaning I had a nice Quasimodo effect going on at the back, but at least I could get the bloody thing on to gauge some form of an idea as to whether the style suited me or not.
But if you can’t even try a dress on?
I mentioned earlier, at the start, I had a pretty underwhelming wedding dress shopping experience. Being put into dresses that did not suit my body shape, purely for the purposes of trying to push a designer that needed selling.
Being asked to wear gloves as if I was some kind of dirty fiend.
Not being allowed to look or choose the dresses I wanted as they were all in plastic sleeves and having styles picked out for me.
To pushy and uninviting sales calls.
One sales assistant felt the need to offer unwanted advice whilst standing in the dressing room with me, with nothing but my underwear. She told me I was too skinny and would need to put weight on. Well gee, thank you my love. I didn’t take her lack of common decency to heart, instead let my feet and mouth do the talking, that boutique in particular I am happy to say not long after closed down.
The point is, my experience was not isolated and I am hearing from more and more people who are still having a less than positive experiences wedding dress shopping, 4.5 years later.
I know the ‘holding the dress up in front of you’ sales technique is not isolated to this particular bridal boutique my cousin and I visited either. I discovered through colleagues the lack of diverse sizes may be due to the fact that for a boutique to buy a smaller sample size from a designer, it may cost them considerably less than buying a size 18 for example. OR more commonly, simply not feeling like they can afford to invest in a number of designs in a variety of sizes.
I understand the barriers and potential financial business constraints, but regardless, it does not feel good being part of an industry that can make women feel so inadequate about their body shape.
So how do we move forward? How do we improve this little situation?
I thought we were taking a positive leap forward, when Jenny Packham rocked her 2014 catwalk show and included plus-sized (and ethnic diverse) models. I hoped it would be repeated and also catch on with other designers. Sadly it didn’t and here I am 2016 writing yet another blog post about the lack of inclusive diversity in the industry.
I opened up this conversation on social and it was like Pandora’s box. So many stories of others having poor experiences; from sales assistants either with no tact, or just a real difficulty getting wedding / bridesmaids sample dresses to fit both curvy and petite women and feeling humiliated in public.
Some also recounting that this happened 15 years ago when they were getting married. So why have we not moved further forward?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand there are many intricate layers of running a mainstream business. We cannot always include everyone, let’s be realistic, that’s not what the mainstream is for. Plus if purchasing a designer sample dress in a larger size truly does come at a premium in comparison to smaller sizes, then of course that adds another unhelpful dimension. However, weddings are universal and everyone has the right to be able to try on a wedding dress / outfit and not be labelled as plus size when they really are far from it. Of course it is impossible to accommodate every dress size on the rack in every boutique, but, at the bare minimum shouldn’t we be able to accommodate for the average size woman in the UK?
It also poses the question, do boutique owners and sales consultants need to be mindful of the fact that not everyone is confident about their body shape and image? Do we need to think more about the psychology of buying a wedding dress. About our role in this? About the overall experience. About hiring staff who are able to deploy some level of tact and thinking about the language we choose and how we communicate with brides who don’t currently fit into a standard size dress? Do we need to be respectfully managing expectations before an appointment to avoid disappointment or during a shopping experience itself? Absolutely yes! If it means we are not contributing to making gorgeous women feel like they are inadequate, when they are not.
Beatrici Photography | My gorgeous cousin Rochelle and handsome hubby Kyle
To end on a positive, so I’m happy to say, thanks to the power of the internet, some resilience and my industry friends; my cousin did find another dress that she felt gorgeous in and that she did not have to diet for! So many designer friends and boutiques bent over backwards to offer to help (including Ritva Westenius, Ian Stuart, BOA Boutique, Rita Colson, Olga Andersen, Courtyard Bridal, Kate Edmondson and many, many more) to swoop into the rescue and redeem the bridal industries reputation. Their kindness put a huge smile on my cousins face and mine also.
After my amazing cousin Nova swooping to the rescue, we did face some unexpected problems! But I cannot thank the staff at the shops at Ian stuart bridal (if a woman wants to feel like a special bride definitely visit this shop) and Ritva Westenius absolute dream designer! I wish I had contacted her sooner after the supposed bespoke dressmaker i went to royally cocked up! But its true when buying a wedding dress the experience of finding “the” dress sometimes isn’t the dream experience you expect” Rochelle
So how do we forward? How do we improve this little situation and make the wedding dress shopping experience far more positive and inclusive for women of a wider range of body shapes?
To all my colleagues in boutiques and designers who are already doing a great job to be inclusive where possible, who are mindful and respectful, giving women a positive shopping experience, popping the champagne, making sure brides have their modesty before bringing them onto a shop floor, ensuring dresses in stock are in a wide variety of sizes, and ultimately making your customers feel like human beings rather than a commodity, I salute you and I truly hope more will follow in your footsteps!
I would love to hear more from both boutiques and brides about your experiences!