Shopping for and finding your dream wedding dress is supposed to be a magical, feel-good experience. However, wedding dress sizes don’t always make it one. If you have tried on a few gowns already, you probably very quickly learned that bridal sizing is vastly different from sizing for everyday clothes. And if you haven’t yet tried on a wedding dresses, this is something you should learn now so that you aren’t surprised later. Wedding dress sizing is not rooted in reality, as our friend Hannah, the owner of Bridal Maven tells every soonlywed who comes into her shop. Many brides become discouraged and feel downright badly about themselves when trying on wedding dresses simply because the number on the tag or the size for which they are measuring are typically much higher than they are used to. Hannah is guest posting today and sharing a brief explanation of why that is, and what is important to remember about bridal sizing as you shop and purchase a wedding gown!
1.) Trying on a wedding dress is like traveling back in time.
Wedding dress size charts are based on those that were designed as the ready-to-wear clothing industry was getting its start. Prior to women entering the workforce after World War II, they were expected to make their clothes and the clothes of their families. There was no need for standard sizes. At the behest of new mail-order clothing retailers like Sears, the Works Progress Administration did a nationwide voluntary study of women’s measurements. In the study, participants were mostly working class white women. The study systematically excluded the measurements of women of color. The military also chipped in with their data taken from women in the Army, who were relatively fit. Thus, the data was skewed toward smaller bodies even for the era, but “standard” size charts were derived from the data anyway. While updates happened over time, “size standards” were officially abandoned 40 years ago to allow retail to evolve into the current melee that is today’s every-brand-for-itself sizing strategy.
Wondering why we haven’t done better in the 2020s, I have checked in with indie bridal designer friends about our current bridal size charts. Most of them are taught to draft, drape, pattern and sew for the size 6 model, assuming an hourglass figure, and use the big brand size charts as a basis for patterning even when launching new brands. Fashion schools have been slow to add inclusivity to their technical design classes, which would teach designers the skills to create for a range of sizes and body types. Until the education of future designers and existing brands catch up with modern times, we will be dealing with the influence of these outdated charts in wedding dress sizing.
2.) Wedding dress sizes are inconsistent from designer to designer.
Just like with jeans, right? Each design label makes its own chart. For example, the Stella York size chart runs almost an entire size smaller than the Maggie Sottero size chart.
3.) You will probably measure different sizes in your bust, waist, and hips.
All wedding dress size charts revolve around these trio of measurements: bust, waist, and hip. Here are some definitions:
The fullest body measurement around your bust. Note that this is NOT your bra band size.
The narrowest part of your midsection. If you don’t have a noticeable waist or are unsure where exactly your narrowest part is, try bending side-to-side and see where your body creases. That’s your waist.
The fullest part of your hips and/or butt. We all carry weight differently in our midsection. Some people will be fullest around the butt; some people have curvaceous hips that are fullest above where the butt starts. For a good fit, you want the largest number you get in either place.
It is EXTREMELY COMMON to be different or “split” sizes across these three measurements, depending on your particular features.
4.) The silhouette of the dress may determine the size needed.
When considering what size gown to order (or what size gown would fit you off the rack), you want to account for the fit of the gown, in addition to your measurements. For example, let’s say you have a size 8 bust, size 6 waist, and size 12 hip. In an a-line or ball gown style where the hip is free in the skirt, you could order a size 8 gown and tailor the waist. The hip measurement don’t matter in this type of silhouette. Alternatively, in a fit to flare or mermaid style, you would need to order a size 12 to accommodate the hip measurement and tailor the top to fit. The gown size you need is a function of both your measurements and the cut of the dress.
5.) No matter what size you are or how your measurements line up, you will need alterations.
How the gown fits you at the time of purchase is called the “initial fit.” Ninety nine percent of soonlyweds need to alter their chosen gown to elevate it to the next level of fitting them beautifully. Alterations are the norm, not the exception, and you should plan and budget for them. It is where the true magic and art of fitting the gown comes in.
BONUS: 6.) You are more than a number on a tag!
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about wedding dress sizing is that the number on the tag is irrelevant. The human body is wonderfully diverse in proportions and sizing, and the narrow categorization of your bust/waist/hip measurements on a size chart can no more define who you are than an iPhone camera can define how luminous the moon is. Size is merely neutral information that informs the first step of the fitting process. You will look amazing if you are happy in the dress, if it fits you, if you are comfortable, if you are confident, if you love the style and how you feel while wearing it. So, when searching for your dream wedding dress, don’t let size interfere with the joy you can have in the discovery of what style makes you light up from the inside.