Top 5 for Wedding Dress Shopping (when your body image isn’t the best)

Part of my purpose here at ABT5 is to start conversations around wedding topics so many people deal with, yet so very few seem to (publicly) talk about. Mostly because those topics don’t really jive with a lot of the “perfection” standards out there that surround weddings and the wedding planning experience on a social level.

So, here we are. Let’s talk about body image and wedding dress shopping.

For all our sakes, I’m going to skip over the standard complaints about fashion design industry, size zero models, airbrushing, etc., because, c’mon, we’ve all read enough of those articles. I don’t want to talk about social theory – I want to talk about you and your wedding dress.

Let’s dig in.

As someone who has gained weight, lost weight, gained it back, lost it again, gained it back again, lost it again (you see where I’m going here)… I have decent authority to weigh in (haha) on trying to buy clothes when you’re not entirely happy with the state of your body. I’ve avoided clothes shopping like the plague, cried in dressing rooms when the shopping could be avoided no more, bought clothes I didn’t like just because they fit well, bought clothes I loved that didn’t really fit because I was “definitely going to lose the weight”… you know, you’ve been there.

But wedding dress shopping isn’t like regular ol’ clothes shopping – it’s a beast of a totally different color.

What is supposed to be a champagne-popping, sisterhood-bonding, fashionista’s dream can quickly turn into your worst nightmare. This isn’t just fighting back tears in the dressing room when you’re trying on jeans at the mall. You are on DISPLAY, in front of a sales associate you barely know and maybe your mom/sister/best friend (if you even decided to bring anyone with you). You are searching for one of the most important pieces of clothing you’ll purchase in your lifetime that will be worn on a day where you’ll be the center of attention ALL DAY and heavily photographed by a pretty pricey photographer.

Anxiety attack, anyone?

Take a deep breath…

Here are your Top 5s:

1) Bring only the best of your tribe. You definitely don’t want to bring a whole entourage (especially for the first shopping trip), but going along isn’t the best move either. Take the one or two people who love you the most, understand the reservations you have and why, and will be honest about what does and does not look good on you. The support and honest feedback will make a world of difference in this experience.

2) Make it a lovely day. Make appointments ahead of time at two different bridal shops (two is a good starting number for your first time out), and make a day of it. Go have coffee and catch up. Go see a movie. Go have brunch and have champagne (Yes, I am suggesting to eating and consuming alcohol before going dress shopping – c’mon, let’s live a little.) Do whatever it is that makes you your most content self. You may be nervous and anxious, but treating wedding dress shopping like going in for a root canal isn’t going to help. This can be a fun experience if you put the effort into making it one.

3) Shop with an open mind. Last week I visited Juno Bridal, a new lovely little boutique bridal shop in St. Louis’ Central West End. I was talking to the owner, Claire Ketterer, about this post and asked if she had any insight to share from the perspective of a shop owner. She said, “The best advice I can give is to keep an open mind. I had a woman come in the other day saying she definitely didn’t want a fitted-style dress. After trying on styles she thought she wanted, she ended up going with a fitted style. She loves it and looks fantastic in it!”

I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more! While you should definitely have a general idea of what fits do and do not compliment your body type, as well as what styles you prefer or dislike, always keep an open mind. Let the sales associates off suggestions and don’t be afraid of trying on dresses you’re not sure about. You never know what you might end up loving (and what makes you look stunning).

4) If you feel you’re not being respected, leave. I hope this never happens to anyone, but especially with this subject matter, I feel it’s worth mentioning. If you find yourself in a shop where the associate helping you is not listening to you, seems annoyed with having to deal with you, or is just straight up disrespectful as you try to find a dress that fits your body and personal style, leave. Do not drag out a bad experience any longer than necessary. You are the customer, you don’t owe them anything. Don’t be rude about it, but simply say you’d like to stop the appointment and leave to think more about what you’re looking for before trying on more dresses.

5) Buy a dress you look fabulous in, NOW. Most shops won’t let you do this anyway, but do not, under any circumstances, order a dress that doesn’t fit right or is too small a size to use as motivation to lose weight or get in shape before your wedding. I could list you another whole five reasons why this is a bad idea, but put simply, it will backfire. Even if you do manage to reach your fitness goals, there’s no guarantee the dress will look on you then. You just don’t know for sure, and bridal shops do not do returns or exchanges.

The best thing you can do for yourself is buy a dress you look good in that day. Dresses can always be taken in and altered if needed. If you plan on wearing any kind of shapewear, be sure to wear it to your dress appointments to get a good feel for how a dress will lay and move with you. Granted, the limited amount of samples sizes available at most shops may make it difficult to really get a feel for how a dress will fit, but listen to the sales associates’ explanations and trust your instincts.

Happy dress shopping!


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