A few months ago, when Who What Wear photographed the wardrobe of broadcaster and journalist, Caryn Franklin, we talked of many things but in particular body diversity and the severe lack of bridal options for the plus-size markets. I've always struggled to find really great curve wedding dress options to include in our wedding content—sure, if you have a whole heap of cash to spare and oodles of confidence, you could order yourself something bespoke, but what if you simply have options to peruse and actually try on? The fact is, even a size 12 is going to struggle in some bridal stores to give the samples a spin—let alone feel self-assured enough to order something in your desired size, should it even exist. You can feel as fabulous as can be 365 days of the year, but even the most positive women out there can feel less-than-adequate when it comes to this major style decision.
Put aside the tremendously hideous emotional journey that might be attached to this for one second; surely the missed revenue opportunity alone would be enough to persuade the wedding fashion industry to wake up, smell the coffee and start producing something that fits the bill? When the UK curve market can be estimated at a whopping £754m and the average size reported to be a 16 in our country, there are countless women out there looking for that wedding dress that feels just like the "one" and probably not finding it.
"Anything that is slightly marketed towards weddings doesn’t include plus-size bodies," Callie Thorpe—a size 24 influencer who got married in 2016—explained to Cosmopolitan. "The standard traditional wedding magazines are just filled with white, slim, blonde models, there's barely any diversity. It's off-putting because it sets this standard for weddings, that shouldn't be the case." Even the most cursory search on Google and Pinterest confirms it, there are really very few decent, chic reference points in comparison to other bridal search terms.
Caryn kindly hooked me up with someone who is on a quest for change in this realm, which can help us shine a light on the problem but also share the moves that are being made to improve upon it. Introducing Marisa Rooney, the founder of Liverpool-based bridal boutique Beautiful Brides, a store which offers big day-worthy gowns from a size 16-32. Described by one of her customers as the "bridal fairy godmother" Marisa moved into the field after working for some time at another bridal store ten years ago whilst studying fashion at university. She was fast promoted to manager and then went on to look after all of the buying. After a short time she identified a need for curvy bridal gowns, and with the encouragement of Caryn following a guest lecturing session, she started to pivot her career towards filling this gap in the market.
Marisa helped answer some salient questions, so if you're a curvy bride looking for the perfect wedding dress, it will be well worth catching her advice below… and maybe booking a train ticket to Liverpool!
So, here's what you need to know about the current plus-size bridal market…
The sizing conversion in bridalwear often makes the offering even smaller.
When Marisa first realised the need for better and more plus-size bridalwear it was because she could see the stock on offer was "mostly the standard size 8-18—which actually converts to size 4-14," she tells me. "As a curvy girl myself I always felt so disheartened when curvy girls would come to see me and I had little or nothing to offer them. After lengthy discussions with the owners I was able to introduce more 'plus-size' gowns, but back then the biggest size I was able to bring in was a size 22 which was equivalent to a size 18."
Marketing, lookbooks and campaigns don't talk to plus-size brides.
Although Marisa thinks this sector has improved a great deal since she started back in 2009, she admits there's still a long way to go. "I feel the brands' marketing campaigns need to correctly represent our brides—we need to see more plus-size bodies and by plus size I don’t mean your standard size 16 or 18, I mean 24+ and also more racially diverse inclusion. It was so refreshing to see Maggie Sottero's recent campaign featuring Liris Crosse this season."
It's not just about the dress, it's the experience and confidence-building too.
The feedback Marisa has shared with me from some of clients is overwhelming—the care and attention, and her drive for inclusivity and diversity, has done more than just give them a boost pre-wedding, she has genuinely changed the lives of many. "When my brides come to see me, I'd say 80% of them all have body confidence struggles, telling me they want to cover their arms their tummies or their chests, and some telling me they don’t want to be centre of attention! It is wonderful getting feed back from brides telling me how great they feel about their bodies after they have worked with me… my greatest achievement to date? One of my brides removing herself from the waiting list for gastric surgery after building her body confidence with me!" This year Marisa is looking to enhance and expand the confidence building work she does with her brides—so stay tuned.
Surprise: Not all curvy women want the same dress!
Designers have to think outside of the box. Whilst some brides-to-be may want to cover arms and have corsetry, others might not—just like any other bride and her unique vision. Added to that, every body-shape is different so a one-style- or one-size-fits-all approach simply isn't going to work. "It's about listening to what the bride wants but also understanding the construction of a dress so you can get the style lines to work beautifully on her body—it helps I have a background in design and so as a pattern cutter I can see what changes can be made to give her the look she wants," explains Marisa, who evaluates how existing creations can be adapted to suit.
There are more brands stepping up to the bar, but sample sizes need to be more varied.
"Designers do create the most wonderful gowns but the samples we look at when we go to the trade shows are created in a small size, and it's up to the buyers to bring them into store," says Marisa. "It is a bit easier for me as I am able to visualise what a size 8 sample bridal gown would look like on a size 20 woman… this is where my expertise enables me to place the style lines on the correct area of a bride's body to enhance and sculpt her figure to showcase her curves."
What's interesting is that brands and designers are taking Marisa's feedback seriously: "I’m honoured that my suppliers actively respond to the information I provide them with including—Phoenix Plus rebranding to Envy by Phoenix and White Rose increasing the size of the samples they produce. My favourite moment happened with an international designer opening up his label and introducing plus size after he discovered the work I’m doing for inclusion in our industry—it's top secret at the moment as he will be arriving exclusively at my boutique later on this year. My ultimate goal is to design and produce my own collection which is currently in the works and will be available in store later on this year!"
Boho wedding dresses are few and far between in plus sizes.
"Girls are liking relaxed bohemian styles but it is hard to find these with good construction and internal support. I was quite lucky as I was approached by Studio Levana this season—their corsets are some of the best on the market," says Marisa, who is one of only four stockists for this key bridal brand in the UK.
The biggest threat to the plus size bridal market? Marisa think's it is "fast fashion bridal" explaining the high street stores offering mass-produced gowns at a low is shifting the perception of brides for decent wedding gowns being available at the drop of a hat: "This type of fast, take-away-on-the-day culture is causing problems as brides think they can come in to boutiques like mine a few months before their wedding and order a dress—when in fact it takes between 16-24 weeks to produce designer gowns we stock in boutiques. We can do a rush cut but then that has cost implications."
"The rise of off-the-peg and outlet retailers also causes major issues surrounding pricing—brides look at price point in these places and then expect to be able to find brand-new gowns from current collections, in designer boutiques like mine, for the prices they have seen in other stores."
You need to make informed bridal underwear decisions to maximise the impact of your chosen gown. "I have a friend Linz (her insta handle is @fairyboobmother) and she’s good with underwear, so if I need help I always refer my girls to her. My brides look at me in amazement when I 'ban the bra!' No matter the bra size I always try to fit the bridal gown without the bra first, because the construction in my dresses is specifically for curves the busts have additional support to enable the dreaded bra shop to be ditched—it is a big worry for brides when it comes to bras- they tell me finding a strapless bra in plus size is very difficult. Also, chafing is another concern but I direct my brides to The Big Bloomers Company who offer a range of shorts that work well under the bridal gown."
See our favourite curve wedding gowns
If you want something a little more unusual, I'd suggest this floral-embellished beauty from White Rose. They have so many pretty options but WP347 from their plus size range, Graceful, gets my vote.