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A common reassurance offered to women searching for a perfect wedding dress is that when they find “the” dress, they will just know. But for larger women, that feeling of satisfaction and confidence has often been difficult to attain, because the samples they had available to try on came in dramatically smaller sizes (usually, a size 6), leaving them feeling uncomfortable and unhappy, even if they loved the style of the dress.

In response to this clear consumer need, more options are emerging for plus-size women looking for wedding dresses. Some are expansions of existing labels into larger sizes. Others represent new entrants to the market that explicitly cater only to this segment of the buying population. For example, Ella & Oak, a start-up company that functions mainly online, offers about two dozen wedding dress styles only in sizes 12–30. In addition to shipping samples to women to try, it has experimented with various pop-up stores that remain open for several weeks and allow local women to make appointments to try on the entire line, in sizes that are more approximate to what they actually wear.

Several other established designers also are expanding their size ranges, with the recognition that the average dress size of U.S. women today is a 14. For the wedding dress brand Justin Alexander, sales of dresses in size 16 and up account for more than one-quarter of its sales. Accordingly, it established a dedicated line for products in these sizes, for which it revised its sizing charts and designs to ensure better fit for larger women.

However, some other brands have resisted the line extensions, noting that adding more plus-size options would increase their inventory costs. In particular, they worry about having to offer more samples to retail locations, which would enable plus-size women to try on a dress that comes closer to fitting them. They would have to produce more samples, which represents part of the cost, and also potentially need to convince retailers to devote more space to stocking and displaying their dresses in various sizes.

Still, these costs seemingly are easily overcome by the benefits for both designers and retailers. Considering than an estimated 68 percent of women fall into the plus-size category, it constitutes a vastly promising and potentially extensive market. Furthermore, prices for wedding dresses often run into the thousands of dollars. People are willing to spend substantial amounts to look perfect on what many consider one of the most important days of their lives. If designers, brands, and retailers can help them achieve that goal, in a way that helps them feel happy, empowered, and comfortable, the potential benefits seem unmatched.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why have wedding dresses remained so limited in sizes thus far?
  2. Is segmentation by body type an appropriate and effective method? What are some of the benefits, and what are some of the concerns associated with such a strategy?

Source: Alix Strauss, “Brides Find Perfect Fit at New Plus-Size Pop-Up Store,” The New York Times, January 14, 2020