(BPT) - The average clothing size of women in the U.S. is 14, and according to The Knot.com's 2012 Real Weddings Study, the average bride spends approximate $1,211 on her wedding dress which amounts to a $2.1 billion wedding dress market.
With such a lucrative business opportunity, it is no wonder that designers have started paying closer attention to the plus-sized bride. Today's plus-size gowns are not merely replicas of their smaller-sized siblings but rather dresses designed specifically for the curvier client with close attention to her specific needs.
"There has been a shift in the overall fashion industry to include more plus-size options for the curvier body – with many retailers and designers providing better options for the plus-size client, bridal gowns was a natural progression in this trend. Additionally, television has played a major role in the bridal industry with shows such as ‘Say Yes to the Dress' and ‘Amsale Girls'," says Natalie Reed, academic department director for the fashion programs at The Art Institute of Indianapolis.
Andrea Marcinkus, program coordinator for the fashion programs at The Illinois Institute of Art – Schaumburg, shares, "Any designer's biggest challenge is to make the bride look great on her special day; a well-designed dress should hide any flaws - this means brides of all shapes and sizes need to be guided on what looks best for her frame. That said, for off-the-shelf designs, designers need to be especially conscious that plus-sized garments are graded differently – plus sized women have a different bust-waist-hip ratio. "
Numerous retailers now offer plus-size bridal gowns including one of the largest bridal gown retailers, David's Bridals and the bridal Mecca Kleinfelds. But there are also smaller retailers who offer a larger selection for the curvier bride. Alicia Zeller, whose family owns Unique Boutique and Bridal, is seeking a Bachelor of Science degree in fashion and retail management at The Art Institute of Indianapolis. She explains "We decided to carry a special line of bridal gowns two years ago after hearing the horror stories from so many brides who had difficulty trying on gowns. It now represents 15-20 percent of our business."
Marcinkus, Reed and Zeller all agree that there are a few tips to keep in mind when shopping for the dress:
* Set a budget. Wedding gowns are expensive – know what your absolute ceiling is before you even begin the search and don't try on any gowns above your budget.
* Know your body shape. If you're bottom-heavy try an A-line gown. Apple-shapes look best in empire waists or ballgowns while top-heavy brides with hour glass figures tend to look their best in a trumpet silhouette.
* Size is just a number. Bridal gowns are notorious for being made much smaller than daily wear. If the number will affect how you feel about the gown, ask the consultant not to mention the size.
* Be flexible. While you may already have a silhouette in mind or on hand, trust your consultant and try on gowns that you may not have considered when you saw them on the rack or online – they may actually work.
Choose the right fabrics. Keep in mind that thicker fabrics tend to work better on curves as they smooth things out. If you're fuller busted, avoid heavy beadery in the bodice as it will draw attention to that area. Remember that you can always add cap sleeves to a strapless gown to help streamline the look.
No matter a bride's shape and size, the one piece of advice all experts agree on is confidence. If the bride has confidence and feels beautiful in her gown, she radiates that feeling.