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There’s not a sentence that’s simultaneously more exciting and more dreadful than “Will you be my bridesmaid?” We’ve all heard horror stories, but beyond the normal stress of any wedding, it’s extra fraught if you exist outside the very specific world of conventional body sizes and types.
One of my best friends got married a few years ago, and she was more aware of body issues than you might expect of the average bride, though she’s a lithe beauty herself. But even with her care and consideration, I was faced with the grim reality that most bridesmaid shopping experiences just aren’t inclusive of fat women. I sat quietly in the pretty dress salon where the bridesmaids who fit into sample sizes tried on gowns. I picked a dress that I loved in the store, but because I couldn’t try it on, I wound up with something that was a smidge too tight in the bust (though I had been professionally measured) and didn’t make me feel great about myself, my boobs, or my body.
The totally fraught nature of ‘maid-dom is complicated for almost every woman. It only seems to have gotten worse with the thorough Pinterest-ification of every aspect of the long march both to the aisle and down it. We’ve all heard (or lived) the 27 Dresses stories — a horrible dress or weird shoes or a battle over nail polish color. But everything is more complicated when you’re a bigger girl. From shapewear to shoes, there are landmines around every corner. And it turns out I’m far from the only one to struggle with taffeta gown trauma.
Erin, 32, from Toronto, shared that after buying the largest size of a particular bridesmaid dress, she had to pay extra to have a corset-back put in. “There was so much stress surrounding that dress that I had a breakdown a few weeks before the wedding and actually told my husband that I wished I would break a leg so I wouldn't have to be in the wedding anymore.”
When Carolyn, 36, from Yorba Linda, California, was in her childhood best friend’s wedding, the dress required an undergarment that could support her bust. “I went to a specialty bra store for a bridesmaid’s dress undergarment purchase. The dress was a halter with a sort of low back — perfect for my size F cups, right? At least it was available in my size. The saleswoman sold me a set-up and it took a lot of help getting everything on and attached. I asked how I was supposed to do this on the big day, and she said, ‘Honey, these are girlfriend bras, as in, you need the help of a girlfriend to get them on,’” she explained.
On the wedding day while getting ready, she had to ask the bride for help. “[We] couldn't get all of the hooks and stuff in place — there was a slimmer shaper that went and hooked onto the long line bra. So we brought in reinforcements: her mother. Now I'm decidedly not shy, but even I blushed when we decided we needed to call in the big guns, aka her dad! It took four people! Four! I spent almost $200 on underwear I never wore again. The dress was long ago donated to a thrift shop.”
Even brides who try hard to be thoughtful can miss things if they’ve never lived the plus-size bridesmaid life. Jess, 30, from Brooklyn, explained, “Straight-size girls who try still don’t get it. It’s not having dresses with sleeves, for instance, or buying from stores that go up to 16. It’s not understanding that alterations for plus-size people cost more.” She described a bridesmaid experience where “I had a dress with no structure whatsoever, with these HORRENDOUS sleeves that just made me look so fat. It was the wedding of one of my best friends, and all I could think all day was how terrible I looked, how terrible I felt, and how I didn’t want to make it about me on her wedding day.”
But there is hope for brides who have friends who don’t fit into the perfect size 8. (Never mind that formalwear often has to be sized up anywhere from one to four sizes from street size.)
What can you do if you’re a plus-size bridesmaid or a straight-size bride who doesn’t want her best friends to feel terrible? Laura, 58, from Athens, Georgia, offered up an idea: “I was in a wedding years ago... the bride was one of the most thoughtful people I've ever known. The bridesmaids were incredibly varied in size and shape. The bride went to the shop before we did and worked with them so that all of the options we were shown came in the full range of sizes needed. Still not a perfect world in that it restricted the choices, but no one was faced with a dress not being available in the right size, or having to wait awkwardly while they checked.”
Consider alternatives to bridesmaid and bridal shops. Discreetly ask a bridesmaid what her size is before you make the appointment, and find out if there are dresses available for larger women to try on. Allow folks to make the best choice for the body types — be flexible on the cut of tops. If possible, choose multiple options so that bridesmaids can make the best decisions to feel confident.
For incredible options that work on a variety of bodies, check out new retailers like Revelry, which offers on trend options in sizes from 0 to 32, or ASOS, which has a good selection of dresses in a range of sizes that could work as bridesmaid options.
Ultimately, a wedding isn’t about the bridesmaids. But there’s nothing worse than standing at the front of a church feeling like a satin sausage casing gone terribly wrong. If that’s you, just know: You’re not alone, and this too shall pass.