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Photo: Jupiterimages/Getty
Photo: Jupiterimages/Getty

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What Does the Wedding Industry Have Against Big Boobs?

One busty woman's harrowing adventures in wedding-dress shopping

It is nobody's fault but my own that I've ended up three months out from my wedding with a dress that just won't work. It's currently in production somewhere, already paid for in full. I fell in love with it —€” a beautiful gown that fit my aspirational aesthetic —€” and bought it, despite the fact that it didn't meet the primary criterion I'd originally set for myself when I started dress shopping: to find something that would accommodate and flatter my boobs.


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I knew I had big boobs before I started wedding-dress shopping. I figured it out when I was 13 or 14, or whenever I sized out of everything Victoria's Secret had to offer. Oh, what the hell: My bra size is 30FF. It's not a secret to friends or family or my future mother-in-law, or to anyone who has tried to take me bathing-suit or sports-bra or summer-dress shopping without fully recognizing the degree of difficulty such endeavors would entail.

So I've been prepared for the uphill battle of wedding-dress shopping since long before I got engaged. When I finally did start to look for a dress for my upcoming wedding, I called salons ahead of time to warn them and skipped to the "busty" section of any slideshow promising gowns for every body type.

What I found was that the slideshows offered tips on how to minimize my curves for the sake of modesty, while consultants waved away any concerns, insisting that I could go braless and rely on nipple tape to hold up what is certainly several pounds of flesh. That's how I ended up with a stunning satin gown with a high neck, a low back, and the perfect Art Deco feel — ideal for someone taller, and smaller up top.

My bra size is 30FF. I've been prepared for the uphill battle of wedding-dress shopping since long before I got engaged.

I take full responsibility for my dilemma, which means I'll probably have to spend more time and money finding a second dress in the final months of what has already been a time- and cash-strapped planning process. But I was genuinely surprised and disheartened to discover just how difficult it was to find a dress that provides sufficient support for my breasts without completely covering them, and just how easy it was to get steamrolled into thinking that it didn't matter.

If you've seen Say Yes to the Dress —€” if, for instance, you binged the show in its entirety immediately after getting engaged —€” you know that there's a certain hefty, forgiving fabric and corset style that can mold every body into an appealing shape with just enough tension that no part of you will jiggle an inch. Perhaps that would have been the solution to my wedding dress woes.

But I wanted something simple and slinky, a blend of 1930s vintage glamor with the effortless sexiness of a '90s slip dress. So, though I did try a wide range of styles that didn't work for me, I also didn't consider any of those more structured dresses —€” because I didn't want to. And to be honest, the fashion industry didn't really want me to either.

It's not that it hasn't embraced more revealing wedding attire. Last year, the New York Times wrote about crop-top wedding dresses, a sure sign that the trend is almost played out. And with that, it appears, women have reclaimed the flaunting and flattering of every part of our bodies as part of our bridal style statement — except for boobs. Got a toned tummy and a tiny waist? The crop-top trend might eventually lose steam, but for now, belly-baring dresses are everywhere. Got great legs? Go short; fitted styles designed to accentuate a certain posterior curve dominate the racks. Meanwhile, a bare back has become the ultimate symbol of a bride who is a princess but not a prude.

Even the Grey Lady's style section has come to accept that the modern bride wants to be sexy on her big day. But in shopping for a wedding dress, I've begun to feel like the adage, "If you've got it, flaunt it," only applies to a visible sternum.


There's never been a better time to be an educated, professional, feminist, and fashionable woman getting married. And that's a wonderful thing. Boutiques catering to the so-called "reluctant bride" (as the designer of my ill-fated dress described her ideal client) really do represent progress in the face of a surprisingly stilted wedding industrial complex.

But apparently, I'm still a product of the culture I'm railing against, because when I think of effortless chic, urban sophistication, or sultry glamour — all descriptive phrases I'd love to have applied to me on my wedding day —€” I picture the sorts of strappy sheaths, lacy illusion necklines, barely-there backs, or plunging V's that would never work on my body type. And those styles, proliferated by brands such as Stone Fox Bride, Houghton, Sarah Seven, or Reformation, operate largely in opposition to the structured style that might allow me to wear a bra, or get away without one.

The largely female-driven bridal gown industry treats breasts like they're an embarrassing secret.

It's not a matter of whether or not you want to look chaste or alluring. There are options for both. Rather, it's that stylish clothes, or at least, clothes in my preferred style, are designed for women without breasts. And that's doubly true for wedding dresses.

Look, I know that complaining about finding a wedding dress to fit my boobs, not to mention one that fits my aesthetic and my budget, is fairly self-indulgent. But maybe there's something to the fact that the largely female-driven bridal gown industry treats breasts like they're an embarrassing secret. And that our culture treats a woman's body type like a form of phrenology in which you can tell how trashy or classy someone is by the size of their mammary glands, and that the only way to combat this is to cover them up.

My boobs are a fact and a factor every time I go shopping. But with a wedding dress, a single garment meant not just to fit or flatter but also to encapsulate and articulate how I long to see myself, simply finding something isn't the biggest hurdle. Because my boobs are big and in the middle of my body and sometimes I don't want to just begrudgingly accommodate them —€” I want to appreciate them and feel that there's fashion that allows me to do so.

It doesn't help that in some circles of modern women, it has become au courant to complain about big boobs for being not just cumbersome (which they can be) or difficult to dress (which they are), but also aesthetically undesirable. Boobs are guy-pretty in an age of tastemakers proclaiming the self-actualizing power of man-repelling.

It's easy for me to get caught up in this sort of thinking: to feel that the only empowered kind of sex appeal is androgynous and nonchalant. So I wear plenty of baggy button-downs and have a slight voyeuristic obsession with fashion that highlights the space between a woman's breasts, a space that for me is consumed by cleavage. But as anyone else with non-model proportions can tell you, that's not really a lifestyle —€” and neither is looking good in fitted fabrics. I shouldn't feel like a bad feminist for thinking I look best in something that flatters my boobs.

More than once when I told bridal consultant my bra size, they cooed conspiratorially about how I "hide it so well" or how "you can hardly tell." They meant it as a compliment. They meant I look slim, or even stylish. I don't blame them: In all likelihood, they were reacting to something in the way I delivered the news, an embarrassment that belies genuine ambivalence. Sure, big boobs don't always suit my style but they're hardly my least favorite feature, and on my wedding day, I want them to look fantastic.

I want to appreciate my boobs and feel that there's fashion that allows me to do so.

But I don't say that at the bridal boutiques, because wanting to showcases your boobs isn't just basic, it's downright unfeminist. A quick Google search for "wedding dresses and boobs" offers such helpful advice as "24 Shockingly Naked Wedding Looks You Won't Believe," "The 10 Trashiest Wedding Dresses," and "Top 10 Sluttiest Wedding Dresses!" It often seems like there's no way to flatter breasts without dressing for the male gaze. And for those of us who do have big boobs — in addition to an entirely variable range of other physical attributes and personality quirks — that can feel really unfair.


Recently, while attempting to nail down a game plan for finding myself a new dress in three months, my mom sighed audibly through the phone and said, "How much time can we really spend dress shopping?"

For the first time since I started planning a wedding, I sobbed. I have no misconceptions about being easygoing and I had no problem insisting my fiancé and I tour close to two dozen venues only to end up at a restaurant we've eaten at many times. But for some reason, I thought I could avoid any negative stereotyping about brides if only my dress search were easy. I knew I didn't want anything too big or too white or too expensive, so I hoped I could just waltz into any marginally non-traditional boutique and find a sleek, simple look to help me embrace my curves.

My fiancé is probably right when he says, with the best of intent, that I should put a little less pressure on this one dress. But then again, it's the most time, effort, and money I'll ever sink into a single look. And everywhere I turn there are wedding tales sending me the message that this is my one chance to be, for one day, the best, most beautiful version of myself.

I wish I were the kind of girl who could effortlessly wear the strappy, silk-satin slip dress of my dreams. But it's not. The best, most beautiful version of myself is a girl who needs a bra with straps, so I don't have to spend my wedding day worrying about my boobs sagging. I just wish I knew what she was supposed to wear.

Hannah Keyser is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer.

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