The Fat Girl’s Guide to Being a Bridesmaid
How to look and feel your best -- even if taffeta is involved
Even for weddings, my brothers and I don’t really do “traditional”
Chances are it’s happened to you already. Perhaps it was your sister, your best friend or your college roommate. You may have been over-the-moon excited, or you may have agreed with a pasted-on smile and a sinking stomach. Regardless of the circumstances, almost every fat girl will eventually face the question, “Will you stand up in our wedding?”
Having answered “yes” three times so far (2002, 2005 & 2008), I found myself saying “I wish I’d known back then…” several times as this Guide came together. Weddings can bring all kinds of emotions — both happy and bittersweet — to the surface, but for fat girls they also bring the potential stresses of conforming to a dress code, standing for long hours, and appearing in photos that will be kept forever. If that last sentence has you wanting to throw in the taffeta, hold onto your garters and see if our Guide gives you other ideas.
Make the best of your dress
Let’s get this out of the way: Unless you’re attending the Coolest, Most Laid-Back Bride in the History of Time, you’ll likely be asked to wear a dress that wouldn’t be your first choice, or possibly even something you’d wish on your worst enemy. For better or worse, brides sometimes begin planning their weddings with very specific mental images about how everything will look, and bridal party attire often plays a large role. Accept that fact. The sooner you do, the less painful everything else will be.
So, while you may not be determining fashions for the entire wedding party (more power to you if you are – go buy that awesome bride a drink!), some brides will be amenable to a request or suggestion if it’s approached just right. We recommend whittling your bridesmaid dress wish list (Remember: Not. Your. Wedding.) to the one item that’s your absolute deal breaker–and then avoiding the phrase “deal breaker” when you offer feedback. Maybe you know from experience that you’re too busty to pull off strapless without an NC-17 rating. Maybe skirt-and-top separates don’t provide enough coverage in back for you to move comfortably without exposing skin. Or maybe you’re just hoping and praying for a cut that doesn’t wrap your tummy or hips in a death grip. Part of signing on for bridesmaid duty is agreeing to be flexible, but your bride likely wants her ‘maids not to hate her — or at least to look good in photos.
Although the rule of thumb is to begin with a style that flatters the largest bridal party member(s), if your bride’s not a fat girl herself, she may not be hip to this idea… yet. Try to be as honest as possible with her while respecting her role as decision maker. (This part is especially important if she’s leaning toward a dress that doesn’t come in your size.) Offer to shop or pore over endless bridal mags with her (either in person or online). Show her some fabulous options that are fat-girl friendly and non-frumpy (see below). Share photos from a gorgeous wedding you attended where each bridesmaid selected her own dress in a color of the bride’s choosing.
If, despite your best efforts, the mandate is a dress you just can’t live with, the decision becomes yours. You can grin and bear it (and never, ever look at the photos) or politely decline. Both choices have their repercussions; follow your gut to decide which one is right for you in the long run.
Beyond the butt bow
Let’s assume that you’ve snagged some level of control over your fashion fate — where do you turn now? Fortunately, the world of plus-sized fashion continues to expand by the season, giving prospective bridal parties more flattering options than ever before. Superstores like David’s Bridal offer many dress styles (including separates, which allow you to mix different sizes for top and bottom) in sizes to 26, with some options extending to size 30. Sizes at online retailer Sydney’s Closet range from 0-44, though you’ll pay extra for sizes above 26. Other suggestions include inweddingdress.com (creative styles in sizes 2-26W), PS Bridal (discount online retailer specializing in plus-sized dresses and guaranteed fits, sizes 0-32+), designer Alfred Angelo (carries sizes 0-30W) and TheRoseDress.com (sizes ranging from 0-28 or small-6X, depending on designer). When my brother got married in 2008, my sister-in-law gave us free reign on dress selection. I thanked her profusely, then fell in love with a tea-length green number from IGIGI (see photo), although their bridal party pickings are currently a little slim.
When it comes to fabrics and cuts, remember that stiffer fabrics (satin, taffeta, velvet) don’t drape as nicely as more fluid options (crepe, chiffon, silk) and may add the illusion of more weight to your hips, waistline, etc. Ruffles and excessive pleating will do the same thing. A-line cuts generally flatter most figures and are more forgiving of larger hips and thighs, while interesting necklines or details draw the eye upward and away from your lower half. If you’re busty, be sure the top and straps offer enough support to keep you from spilling out.
Alter before altar
As we learned previously here at FGG, tailors can do wonders for your finished silhouette with a few nips and tucks. Consider enlisting a professional to help you look your best in bridesmaid couture — whether it’s a simple hem job for short girls or something more elaborate like contouring the waist, moving the straps or taking in the bust. The second time I was a bridesmaid (2005), the bride and all three of her attendants were plus-sized. Sizing for the burgundy dress she selected stopped at 24 back then, so we three ‘maids took our gowns to a local seamstress to have them sized more appropriately. In addition to hiking up the skirt a solid five inches for the shortest bridesmaid (yours truly), for two of us that meant adding a panel of fabric to the skirt, which we had wisely included with our purchase. It’s always better to purchase extra fabric at the same time you buy the dress; the odds are better that the color and sheen will more closely match your existing palette. Fair warning: The additional fabric and alterations tacked about $100 onto the price of the dress (thankfully, ours were purchased on sale).
A strong foundation
All the gown-selection care in the world won’t matter if you don’t dress the part underneath. For big girls like us, that may well mean taking one for the team and making peace with your Spanx. In addition to smoothing the line of your hips, tummy and thighs (which will help the fabric drape more smoothly and improve your silhouette for photos), the control provided by shapewear can give you a bit more confidence as you move down the aisle or shake it on the dance floor. I’ve fought a lifelong battle with shapewear but have had genuinely good results with the Spanx Super Power Panties. The top portion comes high enough to enclose my tummy without rolling down, and the legs don’t pinch, chafe or leave impressions, which is a huge relief. They’re pricey ($32) but they smooth the lumps that show on my hips otherwise.
Equally important is a good bra, especially if your dress is strapless or sleeveless. Both Lane Bryant and The Avenue offer convertible bras that can accommodate numerous strap configurations. If you plan to have your dress fitted, be sure to take and wear your convertible bra for the fitting so the tailor can adjust accordingly.
Accessorize your assets
If you get to select your own shoes for the big day, choose a pair that work with your dress but also won’t lead you to cursing under your breath two minutes into the ceremony. Chunkier heels provide more support and stability but don’t always look as cute with formal dresses. Heels make your legs look great, of course, but they also increase the weight-bearing pressure on the balls of your feet and the toes (good time as any to try gel inserts?). Even if you’ve hand-picked your shoes (and especially if you haven’t and are wearing bride-issued heels, sandals, etc.) consider packing a pair of ballet flats to change into for the dancing portion of the reception.
Some brides choose wedding jewelry as the “thank you” gift for their attendants; this is another area where it pays to be respectful but open with your bride; standard necklaces or bracelets may not fit a plus-sized girl’s neck, wrist, etc. My sister-in-law gave us knockoff pashmina shawls in 2008, which I loved. Even if your bridesmaid dress doesn’t include a wrap or shrug, arm-conscious girls can always bring one of their own to don after pictures (or before, with bride’s blessing).
Finally, if you’ve got the cash for it, say “yes” to any pre-wedding mani/pedi or massage pampering. It’s a great way to bond with the other members of the wedding party and the bride (especially if you live far apart), and it will help make you feel pretty, primped and sexy for the day of the wedding. Hair and makeup can be another glamorous treat (sometimes the bride pays, sometimes you do), but be sure you’re using a stylist that your group trusts. I’ll never be able to create the amazing makeup job done by the stylist from my Bridesmaid ’05 stint, but I’ve also seen friends horrified and bawling after a pro makeup job produced drag queen results.
Through it all, a little perspective
Years ago, I was the maid of honor in the wedding of one of my best high school friends. Things were chaotic from the start: She lived in Denver, I lived in Chicago, and the wedding was in Detroit. Truthfully, I had no business holding the MOH title, since her sister did most (okay, all) of the work. I was young, broke, recently un-engaged, and a train wreck of epic proportions. On the morning of the wedding, we all had our hair done at a local salon, and I foolishly turned myself (and my ultra-long, willful hair) over to the care of the stylist without much direction. She suggested an updo that involved knots of some sort; I deferred to her and zoned out. Ninety minutes later, I was sobbing on my mother’s shoulder because my lifeless hair was skinned back from my head, emphasizing all the wrong things about my heaviest-weight-ever features.
Looking back on it now, I wish I could relive that day. Not because I’d do my own hair (though I have ever since) or because I’d ditch the ridiculous white nylons I wore under the dress (yeah, I don’t know), but because my attitude was all wrong. Being asked to stand with someone as they take their vows is an honor and a privilege. True, it often costs us an arm, a leg and a few shreds of our dignity, but it means we’re loved and cherished enough to be in the innermost circle. We’re flattering ourselves if we think all of those eyes are on us during the wedding instead of on the bride and groom. And as a bridesmaid, you only have to “ooh” and “aah” over the photos once or twice, not mount them on your wall.
So I had knots on my head for one day out of my life…who cares? When I look at the one photo I hung from that day, I don’t see the stupid knots or the remains of my tear stains — I see how much Rebekah cared about me and wanted me to be by her side. I’m reminded about how much she still means to me. And I see a friendship worth wearing Spanx for. Hopefully, each of us is lucky enough to have at least one of those friendships in our lifetime.
What are your best bridal party tips and tricks, or your “oh, hell — never again!” bridesmaid stories? Share all the juicy details in comments.