So this little hot topic has been on my mind for a while, but was brought to the surface last year at a bridal shopping experience I had with my gorgeous cousin who wears a size 14, standing half-naked, vulnerable with a dress held up to her in a fitting room because there were no dresses in the entire store to go past her hips. None and she was simply just a size 14. If I’m honest it was a real eye opener. As a bride to be, though my size was negatively commented on for being at the petite end of the spectrum, I was still able to rock into any bridal boutique and try on ANY sample dress (with the aid of pegs), I wanted. It was a privilege I had been afforded that I didn’t realise was not the same for every gorgeous bride to be, including my cousin and I did not feel good about it. Not one bit. It was the point at which she cried and felt pressured to lose weight to simply try on a sample dress that I felt pretty upset.
So in my quest to find out why it’s so tricky for average size women, (or equally women below or above average), to try on bridal dresses in the UK without being made to feel like they are completely abnormal.
I mean, in my cousins case, size 14 is hardly plus size is it and it made me wonder why, as a minimum, the average size of a UK woman (16) is struggling to be catered for in bridal boutiques. So it got me thinking – how can we be more inclusive and make women feel more included in the bridal shopping experience. After receiving many contrasting views from industry peers, it was a question that I realised wasn’t as straight forward as I had hoped to answer.
So I asked some of my favourite colleagues, the designers themselves, the people who are making your dresses for their honest views.
Today we are joined by one of my favourite inclusive designers, 2016-17 Nu Bride Ambassador and hugely popular Ian Stuart, luxury couture designer Phillipa Lepley, multi-talented bespoke designer Wilden London . I also grabbed Queen of contemporary, the delightful Charlie Brear; who in association with a few other leading designers and The White Closet , in Manchester and Liverpool have just launched the Curve Collection for this very reason – more on that soon.
I got so many insightful responses, I’m turning this into a two-part series with a second interview to follow with an eye-opening insight from Wilden London on the business side of buying, selling and making dresses on a variety of body shapes and why this question isn’t as straight forward to answer as I had hoped! Here’s the first instalment.
Do you think the wedding industry can be sizeist?
Are different processes involved with making the same design for a size 8 and a size 20 for example ?
Ian Stuart in action at one of his wedding dress workshops
Bust this myth: Do dresses for curvier women cost more or take longer to make?
Phillipa Lepley hard at work
Ian Stuart: Dresses for a curvy bride should not cost any more to make, nor should they take any longer… only if custom changes have been requested, or the bride is measuring over a few sizes, this will add some time to the final production of the dress.
Phillipa Lepley: Naturally, you will use quite a lot more material, so if it is a very high quality, more expensive fabric it can make a difference to cost.
Charlie Brear: There can be extra work involved in creating some very intricate gowns involving a lot of hand work. If there is extra beading, hand work or fabric needed this can cost more and take a little longer but it should never be by much!
Wilden London: In theory it should only really cost a little extra in fabrics, (if anything) depending on the fabrics and design. To give an example, a slim A-line dress may take 2-3 extra meters in fabric between a size 8 and 20 for example, fabric prices could range from £20-£100 per meter (sometimes more). So you can do the Math’s. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much extra. I was quite surprised that some brands are charging extra for plus sizes, rather than averaging prices across the sizing bands. But I fear that, given that business can be tough and from experience, the difference of even just £100 over a budget can be the deciding factor of a bride purchasing a dress, or not.
What can be done to improve accessibility to women of different body shapes searching for their wedding dress?
How can designers be more inclusive with how they communicate with women of various body shapes from petite to curvy?
Image courtesy of Phillipa Lepley
Ian Stuart: Most good designers will have a consultation with their bride, whether they are petite or curvy, they will get to know them and know how they want to portray their mood, body, and feeling on their special day. Everyone can be made to look beautiful, no matter the shape or size! It’s just understanding body shapes and trying to help the bride make the best out what we have to play with!
Phillipa Lepley: Simply by having samples available that fit the bride, and by the consultant being very well-educated with a deep understanding of the best shapes for different people and body shapes.
Charlie Brear: We actively promote our real brides through our Friday bride feature, this is sent through to our mailing list and can be found on our website. We hope this helps to make sure all women feel comfortable to contact us to talk about their personal needs. As every woman has their own unique look and shape. Seeing real girls on their big day is a great way to get a real feel for the dresses and the brand they chose to wear. (Nu Bride: Beautiful idea)
Wilden London: I think that it’s really important that boutiques and designers communicate very clearly before a bride arrives. That they communicate the sizes available to try on, and the sizes that are available in different designs and what the process of trying on might be. This can be communicated either on their websites, or when taking a booking on the telephone or via email. It can’t be assumed that a bride is happy to hold a dress up in front of her as her ‘try-on’. Staff should know how to talk respectfully to all clients, I think Nova, you have spoken about how somebody told you that you need to put weight on? – How rude! (Sad but true – the boutique not long after closed down….)
Its worth noting – a boutique owner buys samples from designers to stock in their shops, these can cost in excess of £1000, and they have a lot of them to purchase to fill their shop. It’s not feasible to buy 4 sizes in one dress design, the cost would be huge and the return potentially little and a decision has to be made on which sizes to stock and this is most likely to come from research about their previous clients and their sizes, and what size they sell most of. (Nu Bride: And so I can see how the cycle continues…)
What advice would you give women who are not body confident or are genuinely struggling to be accommodated, due to their size?
So you can see the general consensus is that we should all be doing better to make the wedding dress shopping experience more inclusive than it currently is, but that many boutiques and designers are already paving the way.
I couldn’t get black and white answers for all of my questions, but the overall opinion is that in general it shouldn’t cost more to make a dress in a larger size.
I’ve been sitting on these fabulous answers for quite some time, but I thought it would be pertinent to publish the article to coincide with the Curve collection inspired by The White Closet which includes two of my favourite inclusive designers including Charlie Brear and Halfpenny London, who have always catered to brides of various sizes in store to provide more fashionable options for a variety of body shapes.
I grabbed the gorgeous ladies at The White Closet mid-launch to provide the perfect comment to close this article:
The ladies here at The White Closet and White Closet Studios have loved female bodies in all their glory for the past 8 years of trading and have always catered for brides of varying size, character and sexuality. We are firm believers that nothing should obstruct your experience of finding a fabulous dress to wear on your big day which is why we have launched our Curve Collection ranging in sample sizes 16-24.“Plus Size” is a term we hate and do not feel brides with gorgeous bumps should be restricted to a certain type of bridal boutique which doesn’t have the same luxurious or celebratory feel to it. We have produced the same dress for a size 2 bride and a size 32 bride, this shows the versatility of our designs and are proud to have our many moons of experience in this area which is how we have come up with this capsule collection which we know looks fab on ladies with boobs, bums and tums.
Header Image: Phillipa Lepley