Choosing the Right Dress for your Body Type: My Wedding Dress Journey

Let me first start off by saying that I am not in any way a fashionista nor am I a professional bridal fashion consultant.  I do; however, have experience both in front of and behind the camera – as a wedding photographer and a *gasp* plus-size bride.  Choosing the right wedding dress for your body type is so critically important if you want to look your best in your wedding photos!  I’ve all too often seen ill-fitting dresses that result in uncomfortable and self-conscious brides.

Whether you’re tall, skinny, fat or have a boyish figure, there are wedding dresses out there that will work for you!  Although most plus-size brides generally have a harder time shopping for gowns in a sample-size wedding world, dress stress can happen to anyone regardless of their shape.

Let’s get personal for a moment.  I want to share with you my first experience shopping for a bridal gown.  This experience is what lead me towards hours of research into learning about dress shapes and body sizes seeing as I felt like there wasn’t a salesperson out there who would help me.  But before I give too much away…

I had been engaged for about three months, we had set out date for about 22-months down the road, and I didn’t even want to entertain the idea of dress shopping yet.  Like many brides, I contemplated potential workout plans and fad diets and tried to calculate exactly how much weight I needed to lose in order to be at a goal weight for the wedding.  That didn’t last for long.  I won’t lie – I simply love food.  I decided that the best thing to do was to try to stay as healthy as possible and maybe try to shed 15 or so pounds, but I also intended on learning to love me for who I am even if I didn’t lose any weight at all.  After all, my husband loves me for who I am, why shouldn’t I?  So with this new outlook on life and my confidence sky high, I walked into a bridal store with my two girlfriends.  The conversation with the saleslady went something like this:

Her:  So who’s the lucky lady to be wed?

Me:  I am!

Her:  Oh.  *she looks me up and down*  Yeah… Um…. I don’t think we have anything to fit you in this store.  You need to… I don’t know… try going to the united states or something.  They’ve got more there.

Me:  I….see…… *trying not to scream and/or cry*

I walked out of the store absolutely heartbroken and with my confidence shattered.  My first-ever dress shopping experience lasted a mere 20 seconds.  I walked through the door and was basically told I was too fat for wedding dresses in my country.

Needless to say, I started doing some research.  I decided to learn about different dresses, cuts and materials and which combinations thereof would compliment my apparently ghastly figure.

So this is what I learned:

Hourglass figures look best in A-line gowns or even mermaid/trumpet style dresses.  You want to accentuate that tiny waist so don’t choose a dress with too much volume or you might make yourself look disproportionate.

Short waisted brides should opt for gowns with a dropped waist, to make your torso appear longer.  The skirt portion of the dress should gradually flare out so as to not take away from the smaller torso you’re trying to emphasize.

Those with no-figure (ie: no curves at all) should opt for an Empire-waist gown – this will add the curves where you need them.  They should also stray from slinky, thin gowns.

Fuller figure brides come in two categories: the apples and the pears.  Apple-brides should opt for a ballgown style dress with an A-line cut.  This will help tuck in the torso while adding volume to the lower half – evening out the proportions.  Beware, however, of the evil spaghetti-straps and awkward fitting corsets.  This can cause additional bumps and lumps that you really don’t want.

Pear shaped brides, on the other hand, have a bit more room to play with in terms of style compared to their apple counterparts.  Pear shaped brides look stunning in an Empire waist dress, especially strapless ones!  This adds that extra “oomph” to the top half while a fuller skirt can work with the curves you have in your lower half.  Stay away from ballroom style dresses, though!  Extra material, crinoline and hoops will just add volume to an area of extra curve and will make you appear bottom-heavy.

Thin brides can wear almost anything although if you’re too thin, halter style dresses (or even those with straps) can accentuate your collar bones and take attention away from the rest of you.

Finally, busty brides, regardless of their shape, should make sure that they choose a dress with enough support for a 12+ hour wedding day!  If you find your dress is slipping off your bust in the change room of the bridal store, there’s no way you’ll get through an entire wedding without a wardrobe malfunction!

So I figured out which category I generally fit into and took a few other things into consideration (you know, those tiny little “flaws” that you don’t necessarily want to cover up but you want to make sure you don’t accentuate either).

After finally finding a bridal salon who didn’t ask me to leave the country, I tried on a variety of dresses with silhouettes and shapes that were flattering to my apple figure.  I was really surprised to learn how so many dresses with generally similar shapes can fit someone so differently!

 

Here are some of the things that I learned as I tried on dresses and took the journey towards choosing my perfect gown:

  • Two dresses can look fairly similar from the front but depending on how high the back of the dress goes, it may flatter you or give you an extra set of boobs back there!  No matter how much you love a dress from the front, make sure the back of it fits you appropriately!
  • Don’t feel like you have to do a strapless gown just because it’s the majority of what’s on display.  Stay open to halter dresses and straps of varying widths and styles.  (I thought I wanted to avoid halter dresses – turns out it ended up being the most flattering fit!)
  • Spanx, although perfect for fancy parties or under a bridesmaids dress, have no place under a wedding gown!  They are slipper and often cut people in the wrong places or roll down during the day – creating additional bulk just a few inches up or down from where it’s tucking you in.
  • Spend the extra money on a properly fitting corset or under-dress support.
  • Don’t cheap out on the alterations!  Hire a talented seamstress that can nip and tuck the dress to fit you like a glove!
  • The “built-in” bras that some dresses are built with are no match for breasts larger than a C-cup!  Get additional support…. for the love of god… get additional support!
  • Talented seamstresses can add in little hooks into your dress that attach your undergarments (ie: corset) to the dress – that way as your dress begins to fall and slip under it’s own weight during the course of your wedding day, you won’t end up with the top half of your undergarments showing. (Can we say TACKY?)
  • If your dress consultants lets you order a dress one-size smaller for the weight you “plan” on losing, get a new dress consultant!  Order the dress for the size you are at the time and then take it in if you ended up losing weight.  Consider paying to have your dress taken in as a ‘reward’ for the hard work you’ve done losing some weight.
  • Even if you think a dress is horrible and ugly in a catalogue, try it on anyways!  Who knows… you may end up finding the dress of your dreams!  (I know I did…)

So what does this all have to do with photography?  EVERYTHING!  Like the talented Bree Rody-Mantha wrote in our article about self-consciousness and wedding photos, having a photographer around on your wedding day is like stepping into a 360-degree mirror.  You will be captured from every angle and you want to look your best at all of them.  When a bride has an ill-fitting gown, she knows it!  She feels uncomfortable and self-conscious all day and this shows in her photos.  Whether you’re tall, slim, curvy or fat – if you find a dress that hugs you in all the right places, you’ll be able to enjoy your wedding day with confidence and that makes for great photos!

Even if it means that you have to pay a little extra for alternations to make sure your dress is the perfect fit, it will be money well spent!

So how did my dress journey end?  Well, I found my dream dress and got married as a size 18-bride.  My dress did not hide the fact that I’m a big girl, it simply showcased all the wonderful things about my figure.  In a way, I feel like I need to thank that blunt and disrespectful salesperson at the first bridal store – if nothing else, they truly motivated me to learn to love me for who I am!

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