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Has the Size-Inclusive Movement Caught Up to Bridal?

Everywhere you look there’s another apparel brand touting its size range expansion, from Third Love to 7 for All Mankind to Anthropologie’s APlus line. Amid increased awareness around the actual dress size of the average American women—14 or 16, depending on whom you ask—fashion is taking an important step toward inclusive sizing.

But does that translate to the bridal market?

When preparing for the big day, many brides have their sights set on the fairytale boutique visit dressing up in acres of mesh, satin and lace in search of The One (to go with The One she’s marrying, of course). Wedding websites and TV shows (hello, “Say Yes to the Dress”) have sprung up in celebration of the path to nuptial bliss, amplifying the hype around everything matrimonial.

But for women who wear a dress size larger than what’s considered the norm in a bridal boutique, the experience of shopping for a wedding gown can be far less magical than all the marketing would have you believe.

Just as shopping for apparel has migrated online, bridal gowns have followed suit to some extent as customers look for hassle-free budget-friendly options. Overall, U.S. retailers are carrying more plus-size bridal styles online, according to Kayla Marci, market analyst for retail analytics firm Edited, which found a 24 percent year-on-year increase in the assortment of larger-size gowns and dresses. Nordstrom, for example, carries three times the number of plus-size bridal gowns compared to a year ago, Marci added. Reformation’s size expansion includes bridal, meaning for the first time its wedding-day range includes up to a size 3XL.

In the U.K., online retailers take varying approaches to their full-figured bridal shopper. Millennial-favorite Asos has been a mainstay in selling a healthy variety of options for its Curve line since 2015 but lately its assortment has declined, Marci noted. On the other hand, Simply Be carries 24 percent more wedding attire options than it did in 2018.

Based on sales data for frocks stocked online, Edited said plus-size brides are responding to flattering midi skirt lengths, ruffle detailing and satin fabrics—a staple in the bridal world.

Kleinfeld, a leader among designer wedding salons in the U.S. and immortalized in “Say Yes to the Dress, is “very interested” in the size-inclusive conversation, said director of marketing and PR Jennette Kruszka, who believes the New York City salon is one of the few that carries more than 200 gowns in a sample size 16 or higher—representing about 20 percent of the dresses it has in stock.

“Once we know that that dress is going to perform well on any body size, we will order it in a larger [sample] size so when brides come in they have something to try on,” Kurszka explained, adding that the extended samples can run anywhere from a size 16 to a size 28, though wedding gowns tend to fit a size or two smaller than ready-to-wear. Plus-size samples are stocked separately from straight sizes and divided by designers to help associates navigate the assortment more quickly.

Kleinfeld shops globally for the latest gowns, scouring markets from Italy to Israel to Spain and adding new styles to its in-store collections just about weekly. Asked if the bridal house is encouraging individual designers to expand their size ranges, Kruszka said, “It’s something we’re actually talking to some of them about.”

Even if it’s not one of the 200 gowns carried in a larger sample size in addition to the customary size 10, most Kleinfeld dresses are available for ordering in plus sizes, some up to size 32, Kruszka noted. However, couture designers are the most likely to limit their size range to a maximum of 18.

Bridal designers take a piecemeal approach to how they serve brides larger than the standard sample size. One designer charges a flat $1,200 fee for sizes larger than 20, Kruszka said, while another requires an additional 10 percent of the retail cost for gowns above size 18. Yet another designer makes it clear that any non-standard size comes at an extra cost; brides ordering a size 18 or 20 will pay 15 percent to 20 percent more, while a diminutive size 0 to-be-wed will cough up a 10 percent premium. It all boils down to the additional time and labor needed to edit a dress pattern to accommodate outlier bodies, Kruszka said.

However, Kruszka believes some designers might eventually come around if the size-inclusive movement continues its momentum.

“At Kleinfeld, we are currently trying to influence the designers because we do not want to charge our customers more based on their size,” she explained, adding that designers such as Allure, Danielle Caprese, Randy Fenoli and Maggie Sottero don’t tack on extra fees for plus sizes. Larger size dresses featuring costly embellishments like Swarovski crystals, for example, likely will cost more than the same dress in a smaller size with comparably fewer jewels.

The 18,000 brides flowing through Kleinfeld every year wear an average dress size of 14, Kruszka said. The salon trains associates to be sensitive to brides’ issues around body image and style; they’re encouraged to avoid terms like “plus size,” which some shoppers might find to be negative. And their fashion guidance comes into play as well; if a bride says she hates her arms and wants to cover them, consultants know which fabrics might actually call more attention to this body part.

Plus size brides at Kleinfeld aren’t afraid to splash out for their nuptial extravaganza. The average order value for dresses in the plus size category of sizes 16 and over stand at $3,500, Kruszka noted.

From April 23-28, Kleinfeld will be hosting a trunk show that showcases many of the plus-size dresses it has on hand. Kruszka said this is about the third such event the salon has hosted highlighting options for larger-size women, though anyone is welcome to shop the event.

Last year the salon took its first step into e-commerce with the launch of KleinfeldBridalParty.com, adding sales of wedding gowns this year in addition to the bridesmaids dresses available from day one.  Kleinfeld developed the 50 online-exclusive bridal styles under a private label, sourcing the e-commerce line through existing suppliers. Prices start at $499 and top out at $1,895, while sizes run from 2 to 24 with no charge for longer lengths. Messaging across the website seems to speak directly to a millennial bride who prioritizes the convenience and streamlined experience of online shopping over the traditional boutique visit. Afterpay, the four equal payments plan, is promoted prominently on the homepage, giving brides and their parties a way to spread out what can be a hefty outlay.

The e-commerce site gives distant fans and followers of Klenfield via “Say Yes to the Dress” an opportunity to get a salon-style gown of their own without making a trip to New York City, Kruszka noted. Plus, selling online is a matter of keeping up with the times, as she admitted that anecdotes of brides buying their gowns from a website keep on piling up.

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