Plus-Size Brides, Slim Pickings on Dresses

For some brides-to-be, finding perfect dress not so easy.

ByANDREA CANNING via via logo

May 5, 2007 — -- The smell of spring and the warmer weather marks the beginning of another wedding season as couples across the country prepare to say their "I do's."

But before that walk down the aisle, one of the most important parts of the preparation is finding the perfect dress for the big day. But for some brides-to-be, that's not so easy.

An estimated 30 percent of the nation is now obese and nearly 70 percent of women wear a size 12 or larger, so it's no surprise more and more brides are saying it's OK to be curvy on their wedding day. But is the bridal industry keeping up with America's weight gain?

At size 22, Crystal Kavallieros of Fort Collins, Colo., tells ABC News, "In my mind I was thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I am going to look horrible on my wedding day.'"

Preparing for her wedding was something she had dreamed of her whole life. But she says, "I was snubbed at a half dozen bridal boutiques. I didn't get a lot of attention as a bride. I guess I went in there thinking that I should feel special like a princess and I didn't. I felt like I was treated differently because I was bigger. I wasn't given a lot of attention.

"The experience made me feel that because I was heavier, I didn't deserve a wedding day like everybody else," she adds, "and I couldn't be beautiful, and I couldn't be special because I couldn't find a dress."

But Crystal's perfect day eventually became a reality when she spotted the dress of her dreams at David's Bridal.

"It was a gown that made me feel beautiful," she says. "I may be full figured, but I still looked pretty good."

But until that moment, Crystal says, "Everything was working against my self-esteem."

The barrage of magazines plastered with thin brides and all those prewedding diets can add to the stress of lack of dress choices for some plus-size brides like Crystal.

"When you look at the industry," she says, "and you see that the models they use and the size of the dresses they sell, if you get any kind of designer gown you're not going to find it in a plus-size size. It makes you feel that you need to be there, and if you're not there then something is wrong with you."

While some experts say the bridal industry still has a long way to go in catering to full-figured women, others say it is making progress.

Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Brides magazine, tells ABC News, "The industry is definitely adjusting to the fact that people are getting larger in America, and they're unapologetic about it -- which is great.

"They're saying, 'Here I am. Take me as I am. I'm not going to diet myself into something I'm not for my wedding day,'" she adds. "And after all, he fell in love with you the way you are. We know brides were feeling very frustrated and being unhappy, a little intimidated, so it is really great to see that there are more options available."

Along with David's Bridal, Lane Bryant recently added a wedding dress collection, offers sizes up to 32, and Kleinfeld's offers full-figured, high-end designer gowns.

Very few stores sell "off the rack" dresses to accommodate plus-size brides. And when it comes to ordering that special gown, most sample sizes come only in a size 8, which can make for a humiliating experience.

The good news may be that smaller boutiques are slowly beginning to add larger sample sizes. But Martini Bratten says people need to do their homework.

"Call ahead and find out if they carry women's sizes or plus sizes, and work with a salon that you've heard about," she says. "You need to be very cautious about trying on the dress as best you can and working with someone you really trust. One advantage to working with a store that is full service is they will take you from the beginning -- from finding the dress -- through to the fitting at the end."

Other things to remember:

As for flattering styles, Lisa Lemay, a consultant at David's Bridal in Fort Collins, says, "A-line cuts work best for many full-figured women. Sheer jackets and a higher waist can elongate the body. Longer veils and wraps can flatter arms. And the right undergarments are always key for looking your best. Bring someone you trust, and listen to your consultant when you come in. Plus-size women, depending on your shoulders … you may not look as good in a strapless gown. You really need to have an open mind and try on a number of dresses."

As for Crystal Kavallieros, who has been happily married for more than a year now to her husband Minas, she hopes the industry wakes up and grows along with the country's waistline.

"We're still women," she says, "and we're still getting married, and we still have relationships. And I think that we have a right to have amazing weddings and to look amazing on our wedding day."

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