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Body-positive wedding dress shopping: confessions of a feminist bride-to-be

08 May 2017

In the second instalment of this bride-to-be blog, Sophie Elliott talks about her wedding dress shopping experience

Image gallery

Image gallery

So… I went wedding dress shopping. It wasn’t as painful as I’d built it up to be, and the anxieties I had were definitely put to rest by one of the bridal stores I visited. What was I anxious about? Well, there were two things specifically. The first was that my budget was super low for a wedding dress: I was looking for something below £500, though realistically I could have stretched to £700 if a gown had really caught my eye.

The second thing was my size. I’m currently a size 12, the biggest I’ve ever been. I used to be one of those tiny girls who could easily fit into a size 6, but now that I’m 25, work in an office, and am basically a bit of a Liz Lemon (from 30 Rock – if you haven’t seen it, stop, drop everything you’re doing, and go and watch it NOW), I’m a bit bigger.


That’s not a bad thing. Trust me, I’m all about body positivity, and I love my hourglass figure. But certain things feel a little bit more difficult when you’re not a Skinny Minnie. For example, wedding dress shopping. The photographs used on most bridal shop’s websites are sent directly from manufacturers, so they’re usually models wearing sample gowns. Sample sizes are generally a US size 0-4 which equates to a UK size 4-8, so the photographs typically show models that are, to put it lightly, tiny.

When I was looking online at dress styles I might like, the only photos available were of women who definitely fell into the supermodel-skinny category. Add to that the pressures piled onto women due to the voyeuristic nature of social media, and it’s easy to feel self-conscious. To be honest, I was initially planning on just purchasing a dress off the internet: I could choose exactly what I wanted, and save quite a bit of money. However my friends and family all talked me around into trying out a few bridal boutiques, even if I didn’t end up buying anything. So I decided to give it ago with my mum, her partner, and my maid of honour Becca.

I spoke to several bridal stores in Norwich, and booked appointments with two of them. The first one we visited was La Belle Angèle, which, coincidentally, is where my older sister bought her dress from too. Our appointment was in the sale lounge, which I was expecting to be a sad little room with a minuscule selection of reject dresses. To my surprise, it was totally the opposite. I was attended to by not one, not two, but THREE members of staff, who were all incredibly helpful and positive. The room was big and bright and full to the brim with dresses of all sizes, prices, and styles.

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The first one I picked off the rack was a stunning off-white tea-length dress with an embroidered top, sweetheart neckline, and big beautiful tulle skirt on which small strands of embroidery trailed down from the top. Basically, it was perfect. And in my size. And in my price bracket. And to cut a long story short, I bought it. Not straight away, don’t worry. We picked out a couple of other dresses to try on first, and the staff members also chose a few for me. But that one was ‘the one’, and I knew it as soon as I saw it. We also got a gorgeous veil to go with it, which is medium-length and features almost-identical embroidery around the edge.

My mum’s partner was kind enough to pay for that dress for me, and my mum paid for the veil, so we decided to go to our second appointment as well just to have a look. Because the dress we’d purchased was tea-length, the thought process was that we could look at some longer ones and get separate day and evening dresses.

All I can say is that I’m glad I went to La Belle Angèle before I went to this other shop (which I’m not going to name). Not only did they make me feel self-conscious about my size by constantly making comments about it, they also didn’t listen to anything I said about the types of dresses I wanted to avoid. When they finally found one that I kind of liked, they pushed incessantly for me to buy it despite me being unsure. We didn’t spend very long there.

Instead, we had some lunch and went to the pub to celebrate buying the perfect dress. Then, we headed back to La Belle Angèle to pick up my dress, and try it on again so we could get some photographs to send to my sisters and fiancé’s mum. However, because I’d been for some food and had a cheeky pint, the dress would no longer zip up.

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Yes, seriously. In the few hours in between me first trying it on and then coming back, my body had changed so much that I could no longer fit into my perfect dress. I actually wasn’t surprised: most women are aware that their figures will look a lot different after lunch than they did before breakfast (I should probably point out that I hadn’t even had my morning coffee when we first went in, let alone any kind of food).

It just means that I need to tone up a little bit before the wedding, to make sure there are no worries whatsoever that the dress will zip up smoothly and easily on the day. I loathe the idea of going to a gym, but that’s not going to stop me from getting fit, so I’ve bought myself a two-in-one cross trainer and cycling machine, and have also been doing a 15-minute abs workout everyday. It’s already paying off a little bit, so if I can keep up with it for the next year then I’m sure I’ll be fine. Hopefully I won’t lose so much weight that the dress is too big for me, because that’s not the point. I’m not trying to change my body – just make it a bit less unpredictable.

I’ve since searched on the internet for my particular dress, and have perused a multitude of real wedding photos of other women wearing it. And it’s made me feel so good. Not only has it reiterated to me that my dress is exactly what I wanted, it’s shown me that there are a great deal of other brides out there with the exact same body type as me.

If you’re self-conscious of your body and you’re planning a wedding, I’d seriously recommend looking through some real weddings such as the ones on bridemagazine.co.uk. You’ll get to see brides of all shapes and sizes, a huge variety of wedding themes and styles, and, best of all, you’ll see what an actual wedding looks like. Ignore the posed photographs and check out the real ones. You’ll soon realise that every bride looks beautiful on their wedding day as long as they are happy and surrounded by their loved ones.

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What else have I done since my last blog post? Well, I’ve finally sent out (most of) our save the date cards. Turns out not everyone quite understands what a save the date card is, because my mum keeps telling me my relatives are confused as to why there’s no RSVP card. Sigh.

I’ve also created a schedule for tasks that need to be done, using the to-do list on bridemagazine.co.uk. According to pretty much every single one, I’m way ahead of schedule, so I’m going to relax for a bit and stop stressing out about little things. I’ve added the schedule to my wedding spreadsheet, which is an impressive little thing that’s filled with formulas and calculations that work out my budget, savings, and what’s left over. In fact, it’s so impressive it deserves its own blog post… so more on that another time.