Sarah Velasquez is one of our favorite consultants from "Say Yes to the Dress." She's approachable and laid-back enough to make brides feel at home in the Kleinfeld Bridal salon, but she's also savvy enough to get the job done right!
One quality that makes Sarah such a professional is that she doesn't bat an eye when dressing brides who have fuller figures. It's fair to say that the bridal fashion industry doesn't exactly cater to plus-size women, but an expert like Sarah can help brides find the right silhouette and fabric for their unique shapes.
If you've ever dreamed of working with Sarah to find your perfect gown, look no further than our list of tips for dress shopping! We're bringing the Kleinfeld experience directly to you with Sarah's tried-and-true advice. Up first, Sarah demystifies the term "plus size."
A Numbers Game
At one store, a size 14 fits perfectly. And at another, you're trading up to a size 18. What gives? Sizing is different everywhere, and streetwear sizes that you find at your favorite department store or boutique don't apply to bridal fashion. It's all a numbers game -- and a confusing one at that!
According to Sarah, a plus-size bride is one who wears a streetwear size 14 or higher. In the bridal industry, that's a size 16 or higher. As a rule of thumb, your bridal size will be about two sizes higher than your regular size. So, if you typically wear an 18, you'll be wearing a size 20 in bridal fashion.
But you're not limited to bridal gowns that are made specifically for plus-size women. Sarah assures us that most bridal gowns can be ordered in any size. However, the majority of samples that you'll find in a bridal boutique (Kleinfeld included) come in sizes 8, 10 and 12. You may fall in love with a dress that you can't try on.
If you've got to have that dress, it can be ordered in your size for you to purchase. The risk? It just might be a little hard to visualize what it will look like on you. Should you have the opportunity to shop at Kleinfeld, you'll find an extensive collection of plus-size gowns to try on that begin at size 16 and go up to size 24. Two bridal designers in particular who design for plus-size brides are Alita Graham and Pnina Tornai, so keep those names in mind as you're looking for gowns.
Next, Sarah levels with us about body-image issues.
Banishing Body-image Issues
"A girl is a girl, and she's always going to have little issues about her body," Sarah says. That goes for sample-size brides and plus-size brides. Most women, she divulges, are image-conscious to some extent and need some gentle counseling and affirmation as they're trying on wedding gowns.
Sarah's biggest challenge in dressing plus-size brides is trying to find the gown to match the bride's image of her perfect gown. A bride envisions herself in a certain look, Sarah explains, and "if there's a look she's going for and we don't have it in her size … it makes it difficult for the bride to see how it will look on her body and her shape."
Every woman's body has a certain shape to it. She might be a cone, pear or hourglass -- and that's the same whether she's a size 2 or size 22. The trick is to find a dress that plays up the bride's shape. Gowns will fall differently on every woman's body, but certain silhouettes flatter certain body types. Sarah reveals which silhouettes work for which shapes next.
Flaunt It If You've Got It
Believe it: Fitted wedding gowns work for plus-size brides! You've got the curves to fill out a clingy trumpet silhouette, Sarah says. The key to working this style is determining the right proportion. Where the gown flares out -- whether that's at the waist, the hips or the knees -- will help balance your shape. If you're heavier in the bust but have an hourglass shape, a trumpet silhouette will play up those curves. Bottom-heavy brides always look great in a classic A-line silhouette. And consider gowns made with satin and taffeta, Sarah advises. These fabrics have a lot of structure and pull in your shape nicely.
To get smooth lines under your gown, Sarah recommends wearing a long-line bra or a bustier that ends above your hip bones. These undergarments offer support for your bust and smooth the midsection -- they're "perfect for a girl who's chesty," Sarah says. If you want to tame any areas below the waist, you can't go wrong with Spanx, which brides of all shapes and sizes wear to avoid panty lines.
Next, Sarah's got two important reminders for plus-size brides.
Keeping an Open Mind
Every bride should determine her budget for a gown before she goes shopping. And plus-size brides need to consider that their gowns may be more expensive than the average wedding dress. The manufacturer charges a certain percentage for plus-size gowns, Sarah says. There's more material, beading and lace required for the dress, and the designer may have to create a new dress pattern, too.
Sarah's final piece of advice? Go shopping with an open mind! "Let the consultant guide you into a different silhouette that you wouldn't think would look good on you," Sarah recommends. That doesn't mean you don't have a say in your bridal style -- have an idea of what body parts you want to emphasize and which ones you want to downplay. Your consultant will use this information to find the right dress.
"Be confident knowing that you'll walk out [of the bridal salon] looking beautiful!" Sarah says. "Girls get very self-conscious of body and shape, and that doesn't create a positive atmosphere for the bride -- she's so focused on parts she doesn't like." Stay positive, and the right dress will find you.
- Velasquez, Sarah. Kleinfeld Bridal consultant. Personal interview conducted by Candace Keener. Sept. 2, 2010.