Shopping for a wedding dress as a size 14 is no cakewalk. Just ask model and advocate Jennie Runk, who married the love of her life, Andria, in October 2016 while wearing a stunning figure-hugging gown. But finding that perfect wedding dress was no easy feat. Here, Jennie details her own less-than-perfect experience.
I’m one of the most confident people I know. But I haven’t always been confident in my own skin. Growing up, I was always taller and bigger than the girls (and most of the boys) my age. I’ve been fortunate that modeling for over the past 10 years has given me the opportunity to really accept my body for everything it is: big, curvy, and beautiful. However, leaving my first wedding dress appointment—preparing for one of the happiest days of my life—I’ve almost never felt worse about my body.
Living in New York City, I expected to have seemingly unlimited options for a wedding dress. This is one of the fashion capitals of the world, right? But in going into the first bridal boutique, I was astounded to find that they had nothing that would fit me. At a size 14 (the average size of American women, by the way), I was unable to fit into the boutique’s sample sizes of 6 or 8. The saleswoman was very sweet and tried to be accommodating—putting me in bigger skirts and holding the top of a smaller dress up to my bust to get an idea for what a larger dress might look like—but ordering a dress you’ve never tried on before for one of the biggest days of your life was something I just wasn’t ready to do.
The second boutique I visited in New York was an even bigger disaster. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I told the saleswoman the vision I had for my dream dress and she looked me up and down and said, "We don’t have anything like that in your size." I was floored. So I walked right out of there, thinking to myself that she’d made a big mistake in not helping me.
Now, I’ve never been much of a shopper. Growing up, I was always more interested in the next Stephen King novel than going to the mall. But shopping for my wedding dress was different. I was looking forward to it! As a model, I’ve learned to be comfortable and confident in my own skin. I’m a proud plus-size woman with big, beautiful curves! But leaving two appointments not only without a gown but without being able to try anything my size on, was completely defeating. I couldn’t imagine what plus-size women with lower self-esteem than mine were experiencing.
I was about to resign myself to ordering a gown from the first boutique. The saleswoman was very sweet, and I liked the idea of what the gown would look like. But, of course, I couldn’t try it on in my size until after it was purchased. I just didn’t want to shop anymore. Any fun that was supposed to come from wedding dress shopping had been sucked out by stores failing to carry a wider selection of sample sizes. It’s not like they weren’t available; the stores just didn’t carry them.
On a trip home to Missouri, my mom and sister convinced me to try shopping again. I was not interested in putting myself in a position to feel miserable about my body again but still wasn’t happy with the options I’d found in NYC. I finally agreed to give St. Louis shopping a try.
To my delight, Maiden Voyage Bridal in Manchester, Missouri, was completely different. I described my dream dress to the saleswoman and she seemed to get it instantly. The onsite seamstress was able to open up any dress I wanted so I could actually try on the dresses to see what the final product would look like. To this day, I don’t understand why every store doesn’t do this. It seemed like just part of their process to take the sample dresses apart and then sew them back together. That’s what they’re there for, right?
With some slight tweaking and pulling together the right accessories, I fell in love with a gown and never wanted to take it off!
I’m thrilled with my wedding dress (and even spent much less money than I expected!), but getting there was such a discouraging process. The fashion industry has done such a great job of moving toward inclusivity for all sizes, but in my experience, much of the bridal industry hasn’t caught up yet. I wish designers included a larger range of sample sizes to send to bridal shops, which would have made my experience—and that of so many other women—much more positive. Just because you’re a size 14, or 22, or even a size 2, doesn’t mean that the experience of shopping for your wedding dress should be any less special than someone who fits into the sample sizes of 6 or 8.
My advice? Call the boutiques before venturing out to see if the stores have wedding dress options in your size. Someday soon, I hope to see every bridal boutique carry a wider range of sample sizes. But until then, set yourself up for success by just calling ahead.
Jennie Runk, an American model represented by New York’s JAG Models, has graced the cover of fashion magazines and starred in H&M summer swimwear campaign. Born in Georgia and raised in Missouri, Jennie was discovered in a Petsmart while volunteering for a cat adoption service. A proud (and recently married!) member of the LGBTQ community, Jennie is passionate about inclusion and empowerment for all people. Considered plus-size by the fashion industry, Jennie will be starring in the Straight/Curve documentary where she’ll share her compelling perspective on the future of her industry.