The Truth Behind Why Wedding Dress Sizes Run Small

by Danielle Salazar January 05, 2018 18 Comments

You’re shopping for a dress for one of the most important days of your life. You want to feel beautiful and fabulous in it, right? 

After working so hard to fit into that size 10 dress, you show up to your bridal appointment and they hand you a size 14. Your self-esteem is crushed and you’ve put in all that hard work for nothing. So, you’re wondering, what on earth is going on? 

We’re here to explain to you why wedding dress sizes are SO off.

Why Wedding Dress Sizes Run So SmallPhoto by Sarah Chacos Photography

 

The History of Dress Sizes in the Wedding Industry

European sizing 

Although styles evolve, the wedding industry as a whole is somewhat stuck on past traditions. We talked with Lois Fritz, owner and operator of The Wedding Shoppe, one of the largest wedding retailers in the Midwest for over 40 years. 

Fritz shed some light on the European size tradition:

“Most leaders in the wedding industry have always been, or at least have started off, based in Europe and their size charts run smaller than American ones. Even the companies that are based in America, many of the designers are European, so that’s the sizing they still use.”

So, they’re not just trying to make you feel larger than you are! 

This is your wedding day, designers and retailers, alike, want you to feel beautiful! Unfortunately, based on European sizing, many women are required to wear up to two sizes larger than their American size. 

So, don’t stress if your normal size seems snug in a wedding gown or bridesmaid dress. 

It’s not that European women are so much smaller than American women. The problem is, these size guidelines are based on body types from decades ago. As women have evolved, the charts have not.

“In the past 20 years, girls have become more athletic and have more athletic figures. When I was younger, we didn’t play sports or exercise so it wasn’t uncommon for girls to have 25 inch waists,” Fritz says.


Infographic: Why Wedding Dress Sizes Run So Small

For convenient shopping, Kennedy Blue now offers American sizing on wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses to help you get a closer fit. 

Kennedy Blue Bridesmaid Dresses

Ready-Wear vs. Wedding-Wear

  • Ready-wear refers to the clothing that you would find in any chain retailer (think Macy’s or Gap). Ready-wear is an item that comes in standard sizes and typically does not require alterations. 
  • Wedding-wear, on the other hand, is designed for a one-time special occasion—it makes sense that a wedding gown or bridesmaid dress would be tailored to fit you exactly.

Altering wedding apparel is almost an expectation

Designers create their gowns with a couture mindset—meaning alterations are a part of the package. From shortening a hem to taking in a side-seam, the expectation is that wedding apparel will likely be altered in some way.

When women go shopping at the mall, they don’t always expect to purchase clothing that will need to have alterations done. Although the wedding and ready-wear industries are very different, the same consumer mindset has carried over into wedding apparel. 

Brides and bridesmaids either don’t want the hassle or extra cost of fitting and re-working a dress.

LaCresia King, who has participated as a bridesmaid in seven weddings, expresses why alterations cause so much frustration during the buying process.

“Bridesmaid dresses are so expensive and I’ve spent close to $600 in every wedding I’ve been in. I think all bridesmaids hope that their dress will fit without needing alterations since that’s usually another expense to add to something that you will most likely, despite all efforts, only wear once. I think this is one of the reasons why so many brides are choosing the ‘pick your own option’ — to make it easier for girls with different bodies and budgets.”

Designers, however, look at it from a different perspective.

Maybe most of us get by without a tailor in everyday life, but a wedding is a special celebration. Understand that most wedding-wear is made to be altered.

Yes, it’s old-fashioned. And yes, it may cost more money. But you’ll have a custom-fitted, perfect-for-you outfit you can feel confident in when the big day comes around.

Avoiding Wedding Dress Sizing Stress

Getting sized for your wedding dress can be nerve-wracking. Here are our top tips for avoiding the hassle and getting the dress that makes you look and feel your best:

  • Schedule a visit with a professional seamstress. Try to find someone who specializes in wedding attire, who can get your measurements just right and set a schedule of when you should be re-measured just before the wedding. 
  • If you’re measuring yourself, use a soft, flexible measuring tape. This will help you get the most accurate results.
  • Your bust size is not the same as your bra size. Your bust actually measures the fullest width of your chest, whereas your bra size is typically measured by the area below your boobs. Be sure to relax your arms when your bust is being measured.
  • Get an accurate waist measurement. This one is the most important to your comfort and flexibility in your dress. You won’t be able to move, bend, or dance if your dress is too tight around your waist. Make sure you don’t suck in your belly when this measurement is being taken!
  • Hollow-to-hem: length matters. The length measurement should definitely be left to the professionals—for long gowns, this incorporates the angle of the full skirt. And for short dresses (like bridesmaids’ dresses), you’ll want to make sure the hem hits where you want it—and matches anyone else in the bridal party wearing that same length!

Sizing is No Small Task

Have you had an experience with European sizing while dress shopping? Do you have any tips for getting the perfect dress size or finding a good seamstress? Please share in the comment section below!

                             

Discussion: What was your sizing experience with wedding or bridesmaid dresses? Did you find it to be a complicated and frustrating experience or did you already know what to expect? Let us know in the comments below!



Danielle Salazar
Danielle Salazar

Author



18 Responses

Eirinn
Eirinn

February 06, 2018

Awesome article! Love reading the Kennedy Blue blog! :)

Nadia Martin
Nadia Martin

February 03, 2018

That’s good to know and a good tip !

Kelly
Kelly

February 02, 2018

This is very helpful and good to know going into dress shopping!

SARAh
SARAh

January 08, 2018

This makes me feel so much better. I lost 30 pounds and when I was trying on dresses I became so discouraged that I left. They kept telling me they ran small but this is more informative.

Kimberly Miller
Kimberly Miller

January 08, 2018

I am so glad I read this. Extremely helpful!!!

Kaitlyn santi
Kaitlyn santi

January 08, 2018

I’ve never really minded sizin charts too much. I don’t really ever focus on what size dress I am. I enjoy the way certain dresses are made and to me that’s what I try to focus on. I do think that the garment industry needs t change with the times, to fit with what is in demand now.

Allie Mayfield
Allie Mayfield

January 08, 2018

Very interesting read. Was definitely discouraging to lose sixty pounds only to be put in a dress size that was my previous pant size before losing weight. This makes more sense. It’s not about the numbers!

Samantha Betancourt
Samantha Betancourt

January 08, 2018

Beyond amazing

Tiffany
Tiffany

January 07, 2018

wow this was really informative. Great read!

Kate
Kate

January 07, 2018

Shopping for the wedding dress was frustrating not simply because of the sizing, but because the bridal salons pretty much try to sell you a bigger size gown to protect themselves. Also, no one told me I could order a custom length dress for an additional $150 (as opposed to getting it hemmed later, which would require rearranging the lace and cost around $700) until I asked after consulting a professional seamstress (not the one that works for the store — that one told me that getting it hemmed is a standard procedure).

Hannah Adams
Hannah Adams

January 07, 2018

This is an extremely interesting read!

cori Smith
cori Smith

January 07, 2018

This is so frusterating

Chandler
Chandler

January 06, 2018

This blog is so helpful in understanding how to order a dress that is right for your body type! Thanks for the information!!

Megan
Megan

January 06, 2018

This is interesting! I had no idea there was so much behind it. Definitely makes me feel better though!

Erika
Erika

January 05, 2018

I bought a bridesmaid dress yesterday for a friends wedding and it was two sizes bigger than my normal dress size and now I know why!

Erika Lippert
Erika Lippert

January 05, 2018

I just got a bridesmaid dress yesterday and its two sizes bigger than my actual dress size! Now I know why! Very informative article.

Jamie
Jamie

January 05, 2018

I have had a great experience with Kennedy blue! I have worn their bridesmaid dresses in 3 weddings, and I found the fit true to size.

Julie
Julie

January 05, 2018

I was always curious why people always seemed to be sized larger than the size they normally wear. It’s not that they are “bigger”, just the sizes run smaller because of the size guidelines. This is great to know!

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Measurement Guide - How to Measure for Your Size

Taking Your Measurements

For the most accurate measurements, do not measure over your clothing. Your measurements should be taken while wearing undergarments similar to the ones you will wear with your dress. The measuring tape shouldn’t be pulled too tight or have too much slack, and should always be parallel with the floor.

Wedding apparel is typically sized differently than retail clothing, so keep in mind that it’s not uncommon to find yourself requiring alterations.

Compare these three measurements to the Kennedy Blue size chart above. It is very important that you order the largest size that corresponds to your measurements. For example, if your bust measures 40.5” (size 12), your waist measures 31” (size 10) and your hips measure 41.5” (size 8), we advise that you order a size 12, and get your dress altered down to custom fit your body.

Bust Size

Wrap the tape around your back and under your arms at the fullest part of your bust (not underneath the bust).

Waist Size

While standing up straight, bend at the waist to one side. Take the measurement where the natural crease happens in your side. This should be a few inches above your belly button. Stand up straight and do not “suck in” when taking this measurment.

Hip size

Standing with your feet together, wrap the tape around the fullest part of your hips and butt to get this measurement.

Depending on the fabric, a dress can be altered down up to 2 full sizes, but can be very difficult to let out as there is only about .5 inch of fabric to do so at the seams.

Ordering anything smaller than a size 12 would not fit in the bust area. Please note: Our bridal gown size chart is different than the bridesmaids sizing and is listed below.