Shopping for a wedding dress should be fun! Even if you've not been into that whole “fairytale wedding” thing your entire life, you still want the shopping experience to be fun, and to have that bridal moment where you realize you've found THE dress. The reality for many plus size brides, however, is really different.
Why is it so hard for boutiques to offer plus size wedding dresses? What can a plus bride expect at a bridal appointment? What if I'm self-conscious? Keep reading for answers to these questions, straight from the mouths of boutique owners.
One of the biggest worries about planning my wedding was being able to find a wedding dress that fit, flattered, and expressed my personal style. Traditional bridal samples are in smaller sizes. This means as a size 26, I couldn't simply walk into a store and try on gowns. Even if a store had brands that were available in plus sizes, the likelihood of having a sample in-store that I could squeeze into was small. There was no way I was going to buy a gown by staring at it on a hanger. The excitement of going dress shopping can turn to dread for many curvy brides.
It's difficult when many wedding blogs, vendor social media accounts, and websites show very few plus size brides. I wrote about this frustration a while back as I was planning my October wedding. I did find a good selection of samples in my size at David's Bridal (read about my experience here), but I didn't find exactly what I was looking for there. Right before I started dress shopping, I met two women who own The Couture Closet Boutique in La Grange, KY (about 15 miles outside of Louisville) who said they had plus samples. I was a little leery: would the selection be tiny? Would the dresses look like every other dress I've seen already? Did they consider a “plus” sample to be a size 14? Not only did they prove my skepticism completely unwarranted, but they have also continued to blow me away with their commitment to their brides of all sizes:
- They had gorgeous samples of all sizes in store, and I found my gown within 45 minutes
- They have continued to expand their plus samples over the past year
- They have consistently posted brides of all sizes on their social channels (their Instagram is swoon-worthy)
- They put together a styled shoot with several of their curvy brides from the past year, so they would have more beautiful images to share with people. This is no small feat and requires a lot of coordination, time, and money to execute. All of the images in this post are from the styled shoot – vendor credits at the end.
- When they went to see the collection of the designer of my dress, Ashley & Justin, I had asked if they'd pass along the message that they needed plus size brides on their social channels. When I bought my dress, there wasn't a single plus bride on their site or social channels, despite offering dresses up to a size 30. Part of me was frustrated for not supporting a designer that embraced plus more, but I loved the dress so much. Guess what? They passed along the message, and Ashley & Justin have since featured 3 of my photos. Not that the goal was to get my photos in particular shared, but having never seen a visibly plus person on their feed, I am thankful and hopeful they'll feature even more!
- 2 weeks ago, they told me they've updated their styled shoot guidelines. If a vendor requests more than 1 dress for a shoot, they have to also include a plus size dress and model! Talk about a way to push the industry as a whole forward, at least locally!
I found my gown in under 45 minutes and knew it was the right decision. I didn't feel stressed during the shopping experience and didn't compromise on exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately for many brides-to-be that have reached out since I started sharing my experience, this isn't the case. I asked Lauren and Tera, owners of The Couture Closet Boutique if they'd answer some questions for me about plus gowns in particular: what do brides-to-be need to know about shopping? Why don't more stores have plus samples? What can a bride expect at an appointment?
Q: Tell us a brief history of The Couture Closet – when did
you all open, why wedding dresses, what do you like most about the bridal business?
A: We opened our
We opened our doors wanting to provide exceptional customer service, in a space that is exceptionally beautiful and comfortable. We want to give a high-end experience without a high-end price tag. We are advocates for body positivity, a judgement free boutique, we respect all love, and enjoy having a role in supporting or encouraging the brides gut feeling and her inner voice. NOT the voice of her entourage, but HER inner voice.
Tera: What I love is being a place our brides can trust and know we are going to taken care of them. From the start of an appointment we may have no clear idea of what will work, and then by the end find a dress that lights the bride up. Sometimes, we listen and watch the body language of a bride, and then sometimes it's obvious. Each story is different, every bride is unique in her own way. Being a part of this occasion definitely makes this a rewarding job.
Lauren: What I love is the ability to create memories for the bride and her family. When the bride thinks back to her time planning her wedding I want her to remember picking out her dress and feeling supported by our staff, being heard by us, and being loved by us throughout this season in her life.
Q: So many bridal salons still have limited plus size samples. What made you all decide to bring plus samples in?
A: We always had a handful of plus size samples, but when we decided to “go all in” and invest in the collection, it was late 2015. What made us take the leap was opening up retail floor space and finances when we let go of the bridesmaid dresses. We could add 50-75 more bridal gowns so we decided that those gowns should be Plus Size because it had been on our hearts for so long. After years of having Plus Size brides in our store we felt sad, disappointed and, sometimes, down right flustered because we knew we didn't have that many options. Yet, even with a handful of Plus Size gowns, the Curvy brides would cry HAPPY tears and share their previous shopping experience and how our boutique was so different, caring, and made them feel good about themselves. Even with their positive feedback, we still felt we were not providing an ideal appointment for them, it just wasn't up to our expectations. If we felt disappointed, how were they feeling?!
Choosing to pick up any designer has a large price tag no matter the size of the samples. Deciding to invest in new lines cost thousands and thousands of dollars. We want to see that season after season the designer produces styles we want, so as store owners, we feel confident investing and expanding in our purchases. That means buying beyond the minimum and/or purchasing two sizes in certain gowns. We do not get these gowns free from designers, so of course there is a risk on our end. If the designer is a flop, we can take a huge financial hit. Deciding to invest in the any line is a big gamble. So over a year we accumulated enough gowns that we finally felt confident to announce that “we carried plus size gowns”. In our case our magic number was about 30 gowns in sizes 18-30. In October of 2017, we debuted the collection and made it official! To date we have about 50 plus size gowns and the number keeps growing!
Q: I think many brides assume it's easy to have samples of all sizes in a store, which is why it's frustrating. Why don't more stores have plus samples?
A: You are totally right, it seems like it should be simple but it is not an easy feat, especially being a small business. We have to buy each and every dress that is shown on the floor with no discounts at all. They are not on loan from the designer.
AWARENESS + COST plays a big role: One thing that's a struggle for small boutiques is actually getting enough Plus Size brides through the door to justify the cost. Throughout the course of bridal boutique history, the Plus Size brides have learned to stay away from small boutiques. In the past, smaller boutiques gave the great experiences, but they didn't carry their size. A safe guess is that boutiques can't afford to add Plus Size and if they can, it's still hard to get the word out. Even with the recent addition, debut, and advertising of Plus Size Wedding Gowns at our shop, it took almost a year before we saw a (somewhat) consistent flow of brides over a size 18 make appointments. So for a year we’ve seen increase in sales, but not where we wish. But of course, we weren't giving up! We knew it would take time to get the word out and get photos from real brides weddings to share on our social media to bring more awareness that we are a place to shop! The very real and unfortunate part that looms over us, is that without the steady traffic of brides over a size 18 in the shop, it’s hard to see why we use our floor space and/or investment. Over these past few years we have seen an increase. We are sure the internet searches and social media has helped. We still are working on getting the word out and are devoted to it! So we would love it if you’d please help spread the word!!!! Special thank you to Emily for helping us with that!!! You've been a leader in this for us and we greatly appreciate it!
Q: How do you choose which samples you bring into the store?
In the bridal industry you are not able to carry a designer just because you love it. It has to be available in your “territory” and/or make sense financially for the store. We could have a designer that requires us to purchase 18 new sample gowns a year, while another one may require 10. That could be a several thousand dollar difference between those two designers! We need to have terms that fit us, because in the end we want to stay in business so we can continue serving our brides. We have to look for designers that are consistent on their style throughout the seasons. We can't choose designers that have beautiful gowns one season and horrible gowns the next. Once we invest in a designer it isn't smart business to get the gowns in the shop only to part ways with them the next season because the line isn't strong.
We attend bridal market twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. Each time we purchase the minimums from our designers, or if we are head over heels with a season, we will purchase more than the minimums!!! We pick styles that we know “fits a need” or know our brides love. Sometimes we are more focused on specific necklines, or maybe its a skirt or a material we are lacking in the shop. The main thing is, we are shopping for the type of bride that come to Couture Closet, and that is the bride we build our inventory around. Sometimes our bride changes but for the most part we are shopping for the romantic, whimsical, modern, and boho bride.
Sometimes we come across a gown we ordered in traditional bridal sizing and learn pretty quickly that a certain bust line would be great for our plus size ladies. A certain fabric would be great for our curvy clients or a certain cut would be helpful for a fuller waist, or hip. Then we might purchase that dress (again, because we already bought it in a sample size 12) for our plus size collection.
Q: I know one thing you all have worked on a lot, and we've talked about extensively, is lack of representation of plus brides across the industry: from vendor websites to styled shoots. Why do you think representation is important, and what are you doing to help with that?
A: The lack of representation is very real and
Thankfully it seems that 2018 was the year that we have noticed designers hearing the comments and starting their plan of action on how to address this for their models, gown options, and offerings. We have seen high profile designers like Hayley Paige adding Plus Size models to her social media and tweaking her designs to fit a fuller figure. We have seen designers like Lillian West add on Plus Size packages to make it less expensive for boutiques to add Plus Size gowns to their inventory (and Lillian West doesn't charge an UP SIZE charges to ANY of their gowns!!!!!). We have seen Plus Size designers popping up who ONLY cater to brides size 12-32 instead of size 0-20. We are seeing more and more brides owning their curves and embracing them! 2018 looks like it was a pivotal point and we hope the momentum doesn't stop!!!
Q: For the nervous curvy bride-to-be, can you describe what an appointment looks like?
A: First of all brides of EVERY size are nervous about trying on wedding gowns. And for every Plus Size bride that is worried about her curves, there is a teeny tiny thin bride who is worried about not filling out a dress properly. Most brides are worried and nervous about some part of their body being exposed, or on display. As a bridal consultant, we are here to LISTEN and HEAR what you are worried about OR heck
Q: To expand on the question above, what should a bride wear, or bring to her appointment? What if she's
self conscious about getting undressed with others – any tips or words of wisdom for her?
A: We always encourage brides to wear what they are comfortable wearing. So if that means full shape wear, that is fine. If she wants to wear a bra that's fine too. Of course, underwear is required, but if she wants to go bra-less, we are fine with that as well. There will not be any judging. Promise! There will be a consultant in the fitting room helping you into the gowns but we have been doing this a long time and NOTHING surprises us. We have a fan in our fitting rooms in case you get too warm, and chances are we will turn it on (but if we don’t feel free to turn it on yourself) …..it's a little workout trying on gowns!!! All of our brides nerves fade away within the first dress or two. We promise. You can do this! You deserve an incredible experience, and you don't need to change or be anything else than what you are.
Q: Can you give me some names of designers that you have plus samples of? Best way to make an appointment?
A: We carry Callista Bridal that is exclusively Plus Size, and we have Plus Size gowns from Lillian West, Jasmine, Lis Simon, Ashley and Justin, and a Private Label that is exclusive to our shop. Hayley Paige just launched her size inclusive line so you may start seeing a few of those in the coming the next months as well! The best and easiest was to make an appointment is online via this link.After you submit your appointment you will get a confirmation. One thing we added to the bottom of that confirmation email is a “Wedding Dress Details” tab. There you can let us know anything you want. Anything that is helpful! Tell us you are Plus Size, or Curvy, or Full Figured. Or just use the check boxes to describe what you like. You can also include your Pinterest page so we can see what styles you gravitate to. We can’t wait to hear from you soon!!
Thank you so much to Lauren & Tera for answering all of my questions about this. I think it's important for brides to remember that they have a choice where they take their business, and also for everyone to understand why it's not so simple for boutiques to simply add more plus sizes.