A beginner’s guide to wedding dress sizes (Or, “Are you SURE this is a size 12?”)
by Ailsa Munro Dressmaker, Cornwall
It seems like it’s fairly common knowledge that wedding dresses “run small” compared to high street shops.
If shopping for the most important dress of your life wasn’t stressful enough, a lot of brides are then also faced with the horror of being squeezed into too small samples, pinned at the back with your bra showing, and having to show your bridesmaids and Mum while trying to imagine what it’ll look like in the right size.
As a dress designer, I wanted to explain why this is so common, and what you can do to avoid getting overwhelmed by it.
Sizes are just numbers
First of all- it’s important to remember that sizes are just numbers. They help the industry codify bodies, which come in all shapes and sizes and heights and proportions, into roughly 6 standard sizes. The system is imperfect, not least because it appeals to the side of our brain that wants to put things in boxes and say “okay so if I’m a size X I must look like Y“, or worse “I can only be happy if I’m a size X” This brings about what is often referred to as “vanity sizing”, where high street shops make their sizes fit a slightly bigger body in order to make them feel good and therefore buy the product.
Of course, once one shop does this there’s a lot of pressure on their competitors to do the same- why buy size 14 jeans from here when you fitted into the 12s next door. The lower end of the fashion market, the fast fashion we wear most days, is more guilty of this than higher end fashion. This is why Zara is such a horror show for girls who eat carbs. Similarly, within the wedding industry the high street dresses like Monsoon bridal or Phase 8 run truer to their casual fashion equivalents, while the bigger designers often work to vintage patterns, before the gradual growth of vanity sizing.
Why wedding dress samples start small
I think small sample sizes are one of the areas the wedding industry really let’s itself down. Quite often very normal sized women will say to me that they haven’t been able to try on a single dress that does up. When I first started my collection I made all my dresses a size 12 or 14 sample, and over my years in business I’ve had to slowly tailor them down to size 8s so often for models there is no longer any point in me making samples in any other size.
This is pretty common for any designer who gets involved in editorial bridal content- i.e. doing photo shoots on models to promote their business. The way this works in the wedding industry is generally the photographer will organise a shoot, and then offer it to blogs and magazines who choose the ones they like the best, and it’s a wonderful collaborative effort that is often a lot of fun to do. But the models are almost always size 8-10, and there’s a lot of work to be done before that changes.
One of the main reasons the corseted look is so in fashion right now is that it’s one of the easiest styles to adjust the sizing of, by lacing it tighter, saving the designers a lot of time doing fittings on models and then ultimately brides.
How to keep your sanity while being manhandled into a very tight dress by a sales assistant
- Ignore the sizing.
If possible, don’t even look at the number in the back of the dress. If the sales assistant says the number out loud, pretend it is American or European sizing and that it means nothing to you. It bares so little resemblance to the sizing you’re used to that this shouldn’t be hard. Focus on the dress not the size.
- Be kind to yourself.
Don’t say anything about yourself, your body, or the way you look in a dress that you wouldn’t say to your friend if she was trying wedding dresses on. I stole this trick from Amy Poehler and I think it’s brilliant. Don’t say the word fat. Don’t point out your bingo wings. Focus on the positives, but be honest about what’s not working. I use this in every area of my life.
- Go bespoke, so you never have to assign a number to your size!
Obviously my favourite tip is to have something tailored to you so that it’s never a “size 12”, it’s a size YOU.You are not a number. You are beautiful.