I’m not sure if I missed a nationwide meeting for wedding party members or something, but apparently I’m the last to know that basically all bridesmaids dresses run small. Unfortunately, I had yet to be made aware of this as I stood in a dressing room panicking in a gown not one, not two, but three sizes larger than my everyday fit. Cue freakout.
My older brother is getting married this fall, and his is the first wedding I’ve ever been in. So, of course I was excited to join his fiancée and her other bridesmaids to hunt down the perfect long, navy, not-too-glitzy bridesmaid dress. When the six-hour shopping excursion began, I didn’t think much about sizing. I’ve been a consistent size 10 for years, and I assumed I’d wear exactly that as I walked down the aisle. But I was wrong—as it turned out, the tag on the dress I’d be wearing had the number 16 staring back at me.
Before handing over my debit card to pay for the dress, I Snapchatted a few of my close friends a picture of the boutique, captioning it, “Why didn’t anyone tell me that bridesmaids dresses run so small?!” Immediately, one friend replied that she thought I knew. The other said she nearly cried when she found out what size wedding dress she had to order on her big day.
Days after shopping, I was still mulling this whole sizing issue over. Why the hell was there such a difference between the dress I wore to work yesterday and the one I would be wearing in wedding pictures documented for years to come? Desperate for a little more info, I spoke with Julie Sabatino, owner of The Stylish Bride, a company that helps people pinpoint their tastes and feel their best on their wedding days.
According to Sabatino, bridesmaid dress sizing really is different. “These dresses in general just fit poorly,” says Sabatino. “With wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses, you sort of just have to throw out the number that’s on the label.”
When it comes to wedding dresses, Sabatino tells me, designers still use old couture sizing. While problematic for obvious reasons, it’s steeped in tradition at this point, and the old-fashioned sizing continues to live on in the stark white gowns. Bridesmaids dresses, on the other hand, are sized improperly as the result of a different concern: mass production.
Roughly 2.2 million marriages take place every year, and many of these brides have a tribe of bridesmaids looking for dresses to wear. As a result, designers aim to construct creations that flatter a range of different body types. Since they can’t make a thousand different patterns of the same dress, not everyone is going to feel great with what they have on without making some personal alterations. If everyone’s body was exactly the same, proportionate to what the pattern predicts, these dresses would be fine and dandy, but of course that isn’t the case.
“When you’re ordering, what happens is, you have to submit measurements for these dresses and then they put you into a size,” Sabatino says. “But what they don’t necessarily tell you is that they’re putting you into a size that fits with the biggest part of you.”
So, let’s say your dress was designed for someone with a B-cup chest, and your boobs are C-cups. In this case, you’d automatically be sized up to a bigger dress. In my case, my boobs are the largest part of me, so the fact that the width of my hips and waist are smaller wasn’t as important. Plus, it’s better to have a dress that’s a little bigger in the hips than to have breasts that are half-covered, right?
Unfortunately, Sabatino doesn’t see the sizing and fit issues with these dresses changing any time soon. It has become the norm, and designers and retailers face their own difficulties when trying to make dresses that fit at a reasonable price—but that’s a whole different article.
While wedding trends are always changing, Sabatino has noticed that more and more brides she works with opt for dressing their bridesmaids in different, similar dresses as opposed to the same exact gown. It can be stressful to find one dress that every bridesmaid tolerates, so many brides are leaning towards letting them choose their own silhouettes, specifying the required color and material. Yes, this approach can run the risk of things looking a bit all over the place, but it also eliminates the impossible pressure of finding one dress to compliment a plethora of body types and preferences.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t give a shit about the size on a tag, but newsflash: that’s just not reality. To be honest, I don’t lack self-esteem. My mom raised me with a whole lot of confidence, and it stuck through adulthood. Still, that’s not to say I don’t have things I would like to change about myself. I certainly didn’t feel like a million bucks while trying on dresses in my usual size, finding again and again that they just didn’t fit. I can’t imagine what that experience would be like for someone with more intense body insecurity. The whole day would be downright horrifying.
If I had known about the size discrepancies before stepping into the boutique dressing room, it would have eliminated the shock factor. My day spent shopping would’ve been much better and more productive right off the bat, that’s for sure. Still, now that I know the norm, I have to remind myself that it wasn’t just me. I didn’t wake up that Saturday morning magically three sizes larger than when I went to sleep. Sizing up in bridesmaid gowns is the rule, not the exception. Is it arguably dumb and inarguably dated? Yes, but it helps to at least know in advance, and we’re all in this together.