The Truth Behind Why Wedding Dress Sizes Run Small

by Danielle Salazar March 12, 2015

When you get engaged or are asked to be a bridesmaid, of course you are overjoyed with excitement. The wedding is 14 months away and you decide that now is the perfect time to work toward that size 10 figure you have been dreaming of. After months of hard work, you reach your goal and schedule an appointment at the bridal salon. You feel happy, healthy, almost like a new woman! You have found the perfect style, you are ready to be measured and just when you expect to hear the consultant tell you to order a 10, you cannot help but feel defeated – did she just say a size 14? We’re here to break down one of the toughest wedding questions of all time – why on earth are the sizes SO off?

Why Wedding Dress Sizes Run So SmallPhoto by Sarah Chacos Photography

Shopping for wedding apparel has caused frustration among brides and bridesmaids for years. Just one simple Google search of “why do bridesmaid dresses run small?” will pull up hundreds of forums with outraged women, confused by their need to order styles significantly larger than their everyday size.

“They just want us to pay for alterations!” “Are they trying to make us feel fat?” After spending no more than five minutes reading through these discussions, you will quickly find that these are popular complaints among a vast majority of women.

So if everyone is complaining and there is so much confusion, the big question is: Why does the wedding industry insist on sizing bridal and bridesmaid dresses so differently than regular retail?

The History of Dress Sizes in the Wedding Industry

Much like weddings themselves, the industry is based on traditions. Although trends and styles have evolved over the past 50 years, the industry as a whole has not. We sat down with Lois Fritz, who has owned and operated The Wedding Shoppe, one of the largest wedding retailers in the Midwest for over 35 years, and she helped break it down for us.

“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! But unfortunately, based on European sizing, most girls would be required to wear up to two sizes larger than what they normally wear in American sizing. For instance, a girl who normally wears an 8 at a department store would need to wear a 12 in a bridal or bridesmaid dress.

The problem is not necessarily that the size charts reflect European fashion, but is the fact they were created based on body types from decades years ago. As women in America 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

Current fashion: the Battle of Ready-Wear vs. Wedding-Wear

A lot of this issue stems from the fact that consumers are used to shopping ready-wear clothing and dresses that will naturally have a looser fit than wedding-wear. Ready-wear refers to the clothing that you would find in any local retailer such as Macy’s or Gap, which come in standard sizes and typically do not require alterations.

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

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. Their gowns are designed with a couture mindset, meaning alterations are almost always necessary to some regard. From shortening a hem, to taking in a side-seam, the need for altering wedding apparel has become somewhat of an expectation.

So why not just change the size charts to reflect modern-day women?

While most wedding designers still stick to the traditional sizing, there are a handful of companies who are breaking away from tradition and changing their bridesmaid dresses to better reflect the body types of modern-day women. Most designers claim that changing their size charts would take too much time and cost too much money. But guess what?! WE DID IT – Our bridesmaid dress size chart now reflects American sizing!  

Kennedy Blue Bridesmaid Dresses

“We started out using traditional wedding sizing, but quickly realized that it was a huge problem for us,” said Kennedy Blue’s Manager, Emily Graf. “The dresses were too small, our customers weren’t happy, and we wanted them to feel amazing; not self-conscious about the size they had to order. It was definitely a big task that took quite a few months to get in order, but we were willing to put in the work to give our customers what they deserved.”

4 ways to avoid sizing stress.

1. Do not order based on the sample size. In-store samples have been tried on hundreds of times and chances are, the one you have tried on, has been stretched out. You would hate to order the size 10 that you tried on in-store, only to find out that a brand new one is actually way too small. Same goes for our At Home Try-On samples. While we know you want to see how the dresses fit before purchasing, you should just use the samples as a guideline. After trying on your dress(es), we recommend using the measuring tape that comes along with your package and taking your bust, waist and hip measurements before deciding on your size. Take a peek at our Measurement Guide for some guidelines.

2. Get measured. Professionals will always suggest that you take your measurements and refer to that specific product’s sizing chart. Every designer/brand runs a differently so be sure that you are referring to the correct one. And when in doubt, order up! While we know alterations are a pain, it is much easier to take bridesmaid dresses in (ours can be taken in up to two sizes!), than it is to let them out (ours can only be let out about ½” on each side). You also don’t want to get a size that’s too small and not have enough time before the wedding to exchange it for a new one! 

3. Budget for alterations. As much as designers would like to say they run perfectly true-to-size, dresses are bound to fit every body-type differently. “You can always take a dress in, but can’t always let them out,” said Graf. “Order based off of your largest measurement and have the dress taken in where it does not fit quite right. You’re going to be in a lot of pictures and in front of a lot of people so you want to make sure your dress looks good!”

4. Ask questions and read reviews. Do not be afraid to call the manufacturer’s customer service line (we’re here to help!). They know the dresses well and will mostly likely be able to help you with sizing. Many designers also have tons of reviews floating around the internet. Check on the designer’s product pages, Yelp, Google reviews, or Facebook reviews to get a good idea of how the dresses fit on other customers.

While, here at Kennedy Blue we feel we’ve come a long way, the bridal industry as a whole still has a ways to go. Who knows if it will ever actually change! We want all brides and bridesmaids to feel absolutely stunning on that big day, and we know it’s not easy to find the perfect dress in the perfect fit but just remember that we’re always here to help! We’ve created our At Home Try-On program to step outside of the traditional industry norm and have adapted our size chart to reflect sizing closer to true American sizing. If you have ANY questions at all along the way, feel free to contact us at any time. Happy planning!

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


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Measurement Guide

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.

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.

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

Choosing your correct size

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. 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.