Going into the wedding-dress shopping experience, I knew that not everything was going to be fun for me. At the time, I was around a size 14 — just big enough to qualify as plus-size. And I knew from reading about other plus-size brides' experiences that I'd probably have to try on dresses in sample sizes way too small for me. Still, I wasn't fully prepared for just how mortifying the experience would be.
My mom and I had a complicated relationship with dress shopping, but it ended in my parents generously buying me a wedding dress that I loved. But before my mom arrived in New York to go shopping with me, I visited one local store without her — and the experience was a disaster.
I was shopping at a department store with my now-husband. We had our wedding registry there, and we loved browsing the housewares. We passed by the bridal salon while looking at kitchen items, and we decided to stop in, just for fun. (I didn't care if he saw me in the dresses, because I didn't think I was actually going to find one I loved on the first go.)
It turned out that the bridal salon wasn't technically a part of the department store but an independent salon within it. And it didn't take long after we walked in for me to realize that this would not be "just for fun" at all. The entire time we were there, I felt like a second-class customer because of my size.
While the shopping experience may be uncomfortable, a wedding dress will likely be made to order based on your custom measurements if you're at a place where you have to try on a sample size. So theoretically, it should not have mattered that I was a 14, because the store would be taking my measurements anyway. But the saleswoman who was attending to me made me feel like I didn't deserve to be shopping at her salon.
At first, I tried to tell her which styles I liked, based on the dresses that were on display in the showroom. But she quickly told me that all of the ones I preferred wouldn't look good on my figure — and she wouldn't let me try them on. Instead, she made my try on styles that weren't my taste at all. I'd pointed to understated gowns, and she had me trying on things covered in feathers. My feedback didn't matter to her, because she was convinced that this was what I needed to hide my body. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw myself in the over-the-top dresses.
The worst parts of the experience, though, were her efforts to make sure I knew how difficult it was for her to stuff me into the sample sizes. Struggling with each zipper, she made exasperated grunting noises that my then-fiancé told me he could hear all the way from the showroom. I have never felt less beautiful than I did in that fitting room.
I know that I am fat. So do the people in my life. Wedding guests are friends and family you've known for years — they know what you look like. I'd much rather be in a dress that I feel beautiful in and one that is my style; I could care less if it's "flattering." I was insulted and surprised that this saleswoman didn't care what my preferences were, considering it was my wedding.
If I had been able to try on the styles I liked — "flattering" cuts be damned — maybe I would have brought my mom back to the salon with me. Instead, we took our business elsewhere. And I never felt body shamed at the fittings I had at the salon where we did get my dress. I hope that if that saleswoman encounters other plus-size brides in the future, she'll be more sensitive to their shopping experience.