For the Fall 2018 collections that just passed, four bridal designers/brands — Theia, Alexandra Grecco, Rebecca Schoneveld and David's Bridal — included at least one plus-size model on their runway or in a presentation, which admittedly seems colossally minuscule compared to a record 90 walking in 12 NYFW shows (up from just 26 from the season prior). But for the very traditional (read: resistant to change) bridal industry, this marks a significant shift in attitudes toward addressing size-diversity and body-positivity and thereby (hopefully) making wedding dress shopping a much more inclusive experience.
"I'm designing these gowns for a range of women and the women who buy my gowns are a full range of sizes," said New York-based bridal and ready-to-wear designer Alexandra Grecco. She made her New York Bridal Week debut with a size-inclusive presentation of her '20s-meets-French island resort-themed collection. "I wanted to show [the clients that] we don't just make our gowns for a size two." Grecco's line runs from 00 to 20, but can create custom, too — "we can really make any size."
"I think up until now they haven't really addressed it," said Lanie List, founder of Lovely Bride, about the industry's attitudes toward size inclusivity, on- and off-the runway. Looking for more "cool, chic, bohemian, sexy and different" options to offer her size-diverse clientele, she reached out to Don O'Neill, founder and designer of bridal and evening-wear label Theia, to collaborate on a capsule of six dresses, available in sizes 20 to 24.
"We continued to see very cool, hip brides of all sizes coming in and, at a certain point, we didn't have anything available to them, oftentimes beyond a UK size 16 — which is a 12 US — which is crazy," she said. Theia's ethos has always been about inclusivity, which made the collab a great fit. O'Neill looked to six of Theia's best-selling gowns, which seamlessly meshed in with the full-on sexy, body-hugging, romance-in-Italy inspired Fall 2018 runway show.
"At Theia, we have been dressing women of all shapes and sizes since we launched the brand," O'Neill explained via email. "For years we have proudly dressed gorgeous curvaceous stars like Oprah Winfrey and Rebel Wilson on international red carpets. The time felt right to kick the catwalk stereotype and affirm our belief that sexy has no size." The collection, which retails between $2,000 and $2,495 (accessible in wedding dress terms) will be available for a full year starting January 2018, and List hopes this is the first of many collaborations going forward.
Along with sending a body-positive message to the industry, buyers and editors, a size inclusive show also helps the brand connect with prospective shoppers, who may have previously felt ignored. "I felt really strongly about [size inclusivity at bridal week] and I wanted to show that if you're this size, this could be what you might look like in this gown," added Grecco, whose self-named brand is also carried at Lovely Bride. "It's just easier for real brides to visualize themselves wearing a gown when they see someone who might look more like them [wearing it]."
For its Spring 2018 presentation last week, David's Bridal — which offers dresses from sizes 0 to 26, with specific styles available through 30W — has been including plus-size models in its presentations since April 2015. Brooklyn-based Rebecca Schoneveld also held a size-inclusive runway show for her indie-cool and versatile mix-and-match collection.
Of course, seeing oneself in a gown is important, but actually being able to try on a sample of a prospective dream dress is even more important — and therein lies a major hurdle of plus-size wedding dress shopping. A bride who is shopping in-store at a multi-brand salon or retailer will try on dress samples, which typically come in a wedding size 8 or 10 (usually a US size 6 or 8) — limiting, to say the least. Wedding Trends Expert for WeddingWire, Anne Chertoff, points out that a bride outside of the sample size range can call ahead and ask the salon to order samples in their size, straight from the designer. Stores typically don't have a diverse range of samples available because of the increased financial investment, although Chertoff adds individual designer ateliers should have additional sample sizes on-hand.
Otherwise, shoppers have to deal with extenders or clips might help adjust the fit, known as the "paper doll dress" technique. "It's a term for holding up a dress so the plus-size bride can see what it looks like on her," List explained. "That is never going to happen again at a Lovely." Because Lovely Bride is rolling out an "All Sizes" initiative, which includes adding additional space in the New York flagship to house a diverse range of sample sizes, between 40 and 50 styles and adding to its lineup of size-inclusive brands, like with Israeli label Studio Levana.
Lovely is also committing to actually carrying plus-size samples — usually salons and retailers don't have additional sizing in-store, but can pre-order for a bride, leading to additional hassle and wait-time. Some brides also suffer the indignity of a higher cost for "extra material" for dresses above a certain size, which is something designers like Leanne Marshall and Grecco will not do.
"When [a bride is] celebrating that she found her gown, she shouldn't be told there's an additional fee because she's beyond a certain size," the designer said. "It's just important to me that it is inclusive." Inclusive-minded salons like Lovely will eat the additional wholesale cost when pricing plus-size dresses. "It's not about every last dime," said List, who's dedicated to finding more size-inclusive style offerings to meet her clients' taste preferences, from classic to boho to sexy.
"I think the biggest change is that brides aren't being pigeonholed into a certain look," she said. Hopefully, that's a signal to more bridal designers to add to their size options and to show the efforts on the runway. As with the ready-to-wear market, runway show images live on long after the house lights go down — especially for prospective brides Pinterest-ing and online researching for hours on end. "Designers are really trying to show —because these photos are going to be put up on all the websites, all the blogs, and all the magazines and on Instagram and social media — that they really can work with everybody," Chertoff said about the changes on the bridal week runways.
The show of support also sends a message to salons, retailers and designers about offering more sample sizes on the ground, too. "It's like everybody has plus-size samples, just nobody was promoting them," added Chertoff. "And now they are." She's also observed brands increasingly embracing body positivity in their offerings and marketing as part of the "authenticity" movement, along the lines of "anti-photoshopping" and cultural diversity, to reflect their customer base in general. "Because it'll sell," she adds. (Yeah, to a tune of about $20 billion.)