Is the Bridal Industry Sizeist? In Conversation with Ian Stuart, Charlie Brear, Phillipa Lepley and Wilden London

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.

Dive in! 

Do you think the wedding industry can be sizeist?

Charlie Brear for The White Closet Curve Collection | Nicola Thompson PhotographyCharlie Brear for The White Closet Curve Collection | Nicola Thompson Photography

Ian Stuart: Unfortunately Yes!… (Nu Bride: Keeping it real as usual Ian. Thank you!) some boutiques only have samples available in sizes 10-14, which makes it very difficult for a bride of a bigger size to try on samples.
A good bridal boutique will have a wide range of sizes and be able to demonstrate and pin a smaller dress onto an existing dress, to give the bride the impression of how her dress will look, once its been made in her size.
Wilden London: Ooh, straight in with the tough question! (Nu Bride: Naturally!) I don’t believe size-ism in the industry comes from a place of discrimination to be cruel, but perhaps from a place of business survival. This is formed in two separate strands – PR risk and production complications.
Charlie Brear: – Happily we are seeing positive changes in the wedding industry. Offering more and more for brides of all shapes and sizes each year. I do hope to contribute to this and see it continue to develop. As a new bride it can be very demoralising if gowns don’t fit or they can’t be put on at all. It can ruin a day that should otherwise be magical. We don’t want this for any bride. We try to offer a wide range of sizes in our showroom so that we don’t have to disappoint anybody.

Are different processes involved with making the same design for a size 8 and a size 20 for example ?

Real bride wearing ian stuart wedding dress Ian Stuart in action at one of his wedding dress workshops

Charlie Brear: No matter what size you go for, from the top or the bottom of the scale, the process of making a design is not in any way different. There are however some slight tweaks made throughout the fittings process to make the perfect gown for any size.
Real Bride wearing Ian Stuart 
Ian Stuart:  For me, the design process is basically the same, however, I have to be mindful that a lot of brides regardless of size want to enhance, as well as hide, certain parts of their body…. It is the job of the designer to create a gown that fits well, and is in proportion, to what ever size they may be.

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?

Wilden London bride and her groom 
Charlie Brear: We believe that all women are the same and should not be made to feel different. However we have all heard horror stories where this has not been the case. (Nu Bride: Sadly, yes) To make it easier for girls to find retailers that will be welcoming, one of our stockists The White Closet in Manchester and Liverpool have just launched their Curve Collection which features our gowns along side a couple of other designers: watch their social media for updates. In house we offer a wide range of sizes and hope to show this through aspirational imagery.
Ian Stuart:  Boutiques and designers need to understand that the average day wear size in the UK is size 16, this national statistic needs to be reflected in sample availability throughout our bridal boutiques, you could be missing a sale, if you don’t have a wide size selection! (Nu Bride: This makes common sense to me)
Phillipa Lepley: – We hold sample sizes 8-18 in our shop for brides to try on which is incredibly helpful. We have specific shapes that we think work better on our curvy brides. For example, our corset is amazing and really defines a curvy bride’s waist giving definition in just the right place. (The key is to flare the dress from the right place on the hip).

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?

Charlie Brear for The White Closet Curve Collection | Nicola Thompson PhotographyCharlie Brear; for The White Closet Curve Collection | Nicola Thompson Photography

Ian Stuart: Firstly, before visiting any boutiques, call them and ask how many samples they have in larger sizes for you to try… doing this will eliminate your time and embarrassment if they don’t…… you may want to consider a made to measure service, which most designers offer… we like to see our brides on a one by one basis, which means the overall appointment is much more private, and this gives more reassurance to brides who are not body confident. (Nu Bride: Can attest having witnessed your service first hand it is brilliant)
Phillipa Lepley: Go to your first appointment alone and go to a reputable shop. Nothing will flatter your body as beautifully as a completely couture dress, made to your measurements precisely from scratch. As a designer I have always loved looking after larger brides. They are so pleased and happy with how we can transform their shape!
Charlie Brear: My advice is to do your research. Call or email boutiques that offer gowns you like. Discuss your needs and concerns with the stylist in store. Find out if they have sample and a comfortable atmosphere that will work for you. They are there to make sure you look and feel your most beautiful.
Wilden London: Research inclusive boutiques and designers! When we think of ‘plus sized bridal boutiques’, there’s a very traditional style that springs to mind, and that’s not for everybody. Pinterest and Instagram can be great tools to research where other brides are shopping. Search keywords and hashtags like #curvybride and #plussizedbridal to help.  Of course I suggest going bespoke too!  A bespoke dress is the design you want, and it is tailored to your body proportion to be the most flattering, unique to you!
Wilden London real bride and her groom | Noel Deasington 

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.
Thank you so much Ian, Charlie, Phillipa and Charlotte for sharing your honest and thoughtful insights with Nu bride readers.
I would love to hear from you too. Has your size had an impact on your wedding dress shopping experience ? Would love to hear more – reach out or join the conversation on Nu Bride instagram

The Talent

Header Image: Phillipa Lepley


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