He daughter, she added, is “short and curvy. It’s a double whammy. We’re all chunky in this family.”
Mr. Alexander is just one of several designers introducing fashion lines intended for the full-size bride. In March, Don O’Neill, the designer for Theia, unveiled Theia Curve Collection, a plus-size bridal line, sold exclusively at Lovely Bride, an independent bridal boutique with 14 locations in the United States. Thiea is one of many plus-size collections Lovely Bride is offering as part of its recent initiative to embrace all body types.
Lanie List, the founder of Lovely Bride, says she had been just as frustrated with the lack of options in plus sizes as the brides. “We didn’t have larger sizes from manufactures because retailers haven’t pushed for them,” she said. “Last spring we recognized there were no good indie options for these brides who want a chic look and fun vibe without the stuffiness.”
Ms. List approached Theia to see if the brand would offer their best-sellers as a capsule collection in sizes 18-24. The answer was yes.
“Over the years this need has been building,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Designers shied away from larger sizes. I empathize with these women who are told you’re not small enough or pretty enough.”
Mr. O’Neill’s dresses got attention thanks to their stretchy material, comfortable-yet-snug fit, and exquisite beading. Aside from a raised back for extra support, beading and artwork modifications, few changes were needed to create the collection.
Mr. Alexander, recognized for his vintage inspiration and progressive details, also did minimal alterations. “The pattern grading for our gowns at a 2 or a 22 are generally the same,” he said. “For a lager size we may add fullness to certain patterns, or give a little more in the hip and armhole. Many of our dresses have shapewear mesh in the lining, which benefits a plus-size bride because it holds in their curves.”
Designer trunk shows, like the one recently held at RK Bridal, have become almost like focus groups. “Designers are realizing there’s an underlooked part of the market,” Mr. Alexander said. “By creating this show, we’re allowing stores to bring in dresses they wouldn’t normally try. And we’re learning a lot about what the plus-size bride wants and how dresses fit her.”
Retailers had long been wary about trying out new merchandise, preferring to stick with styles likely to sell the fastest. “As designers, we’re always trying to push the envelope on the runway,” Mr. O’Neill said. “I’ll show 25 dresses, and we end up producing 12 max because the stores aren’t willing to invest in the others.”
Consumers, therefore, have been left to advocate and demand change. “Plus size on the runway has been a consumer-driven necessity, it’s not a trend.” Mr. O’Neill added. “Until now, stores have been divided between regular size bridal dresses and plus size. There are not a lot that cater to both.”
Mr. Alexander says he has been working with retailers to create programs that recognize the needs of women who wear larger sizes, and make the try-on process more convenient. “Plus-size women have had to squeeze into something that wasn’t in her size and envision what the dress would look like. I didn’t feel good about that, and the girls didn’t feel good about that.”
Mrs. Rodriguez felt good about her daughter’s options that recent Saturday at RK Bridal.
“This is a great moment in my daughter’s life,” she said. “She feels beautiful in something she didn’t think she could wear because it wasn’t available to her. Mr. Alexander is speaking to her body, which nobody has done before.”
At the end of the day, Ms. Rodriguez had a bigger problem than when she arrived. Rather than fearing she wouldn’t find anything, she fell in love with two dresses. For the first time ever, her choice came down to style, not size. (She finally decided on Mr. Alexander’s Beaded Metallic Lace Mermaid Gown with Tiered Ruffled Skirt, size 20, around $2,300.)
“It’s amazing and surreal to know something is going to fit and is in my size,” said Ms. Rodriguez, who walked proudly down the store’s aisle, faux flowers in her hand and a veil on her head. A line of family and friends watched, clapped, cried and took photos. “Before there weren’t options,” she said. “I don’t have to leave disappointed.”