The Truth About Wedding Dress Sizes: Plus 8 Tips to Help You Find an Amazing Dress

Hands down, the best part of wedding planning for many brides is choosing their perfect wedding gown. But there may be a few hurdles on your way to saying yes to your perfect dress. And the biggest of them all is wedding dress sizing.

Almost all wedding dresses are sized differently from a typical dress. You may be a size 8 with U.S. retailers but, once you start wedding dress shopping, you can expect to go up by two sizes, possibly more if you’re busty.

Whether you ​​decide to purchase your dress online or from a bridal shop, understanding the difference between wedding dress sizes and street clothes sizes is key to a successful and satisfying shopping experience.

woman in wedding dress
Photo by Alma Real

Wedding Dress Sizes: Why Do They Differ From Street Clothes?

There are two main factors at play when it comes to wedding dress size charts. The discrepancy between bridal sizing and regular street clothes comes down to:

1. European sizing

Wedding dress designers, traditionally, have been based in Europe, and that means their sizing is different from typical United States street clothes sizes. Even though there are wedding dress companies based in North America today, many still adhere to the European size chart either out of habit or because many of their designers hail from Europe. 

2. Model sizing 

Trunk show dresses are fresh off the catwalk — and that means sizing too small for the average woman. Why? Clothing designers look for models with measurements of 34-23-34 or smaller to wear their gowns on the runway. On a wedding size chart that would be equal to a size 2 in the US and a 6 in Britain.

Typical trunk show dresses are simply too small for the average woman to try on. Trunk shows can give you a great idea about current bridal fashions, however, and, if you wait a few months, most bridal shops will receive larger designer samples for customers to try on.

How to Discover Your Wedding Dress Size

It’s a good idea to look up the measurements on any size chart before determining your size. As hard as it might be to reach for a larger size than usual, remember, size is nothing more than a number. 

If you don’t know your bust, waist and hip circumference, grab a tape and get measuring before you start shopping. If you’ve never taken your measurements before, our step-by-step guide will walk you through the process.

How to take your measurements

Before starting, make sure you have a flexible measuring tape to make the task easier. It’s also a good idea to jot the measurements down as you take them to ensure complete accuracy. 

To get the most accurate measurements possible:

1. Wear proper undergarments

For precise results, wear the undergarments you plan to wear under your dress. If you don’t have your wedding undergarments chosen yet, try to wear something similar to what you’d wear on your wedding day. If you plan to wear a padded strapless bra, for instance, make sure you take your measurements in a bra that’s padded and strapless.

2. How to use a measuring tape

When taking your measurements, be sure to keep the tape snug, but not so tight that it digs into you. Make sure the measuring tape is level all the way around your body.

3. Measure your bust

Begin by wrapping the measuring tape around your back and under your arms at the largest part of your bust. The fullest part of the bust is generally in the center of the nipple. 

4. Measure your waist

Start by standing up straight and then bend to the side. Place your finger at the indent or crease created to find your natural waist. Wrap the measuring tape around the slimmest part of your natural waist.

5. Measure your hips

To get an accurate hip measurement, stand up straight, feet together, and wrap the measuring tape around the widest part of your hips. The largest measurement is generally across the fullest part of your butt and then straight across the front of your pelvis.

6. Measure length

Getting your hollow-to-hem measurement, which is used for dress length, is also a good idea. While you may not need this measurement, it’s still a good idea to have it. If you are below or above average height, you may need to have the length altered. 

Ask a friend or family member — or even better a professional seamstress — to run the measuring tape from the center of your collarbone to the floor. Be sure to wear shoes with a similar heel height to those you plan to wear on your wedding day.

How to read wedding dress size charts

Reading a wedding dress size chart is not always easy simply because ​​most wedding dress designers have different sizing methods. Unless the bridal shops or stores you plan to shop at say they use US sizing, you can assume the wedding dresses it sells will use British or European sizing. 

This size chart should help you to determine your wedding dress size.

Wedding Dress Size Chart

US & CanadaUK & AustraliaEuropeanMeasurements
Wedding Dress Size Chart

While this bridal size chart is a general guide of what you can expect, remember, wedding dress sizes will vary a bit from designer to designer.

How to choose your size

If your measurements fall in between two sizes on the chart — and they likely will — size up rather than down. What’s important is getting a dress that fits your largest part of your body, whether that’s your bust or your hips. 

A wedding dress that is too big is far easier for a seamstress to work with than one that is tight. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to let a dress out if it’s a bit too small, but it’s a more challenging alteration — and that extra work will be reflected in your bill.

Are alterations always necessary?

It’s quite rare for brides to find a dress that fits perfectly. Unless you find a dress that actually fits you like a glove, you can probably expect to pay for at least a few alterations. 

Whether you sized up to accommodate a full chest and need the hips taken in, the sleeves are too long or you need an inch taken off of the hemline, make sure you book in with a qualified seamstress well in advance of your wedding date. Seamstresses qualified to work on wedding dresses are in high demand, so take this into account when purchasing your dress.

How much should I budget for wedding dress alterations?

The truth is, alteration costs vary widely depending on the amount of work that needs to be done and the skill level of the seamstress. If you require extensive alterations, you can expect to pay in the range of $350-$600. If you don’t need the dress’ hem adjusted, the cost should be in the neighborhood of $150-$350.

8 Helpful Hints for Finding the Perfect Wedding Dress

Knowing your wedding dress size and measurements, however, is only half the battle. If you want to find your dream dress — and look amazing in it — here are a few key tips to keep in mind.

1. Plan ahead

Know which bridal salons you plan to shop at ahead of time and make an appointment, preferably during the week. Weekend wedding dress shopping can be quite hectic and you may not receive as much attention from staff. If it’s packed, it could also mean the dresses you want to try on have been commandeered by another bride.

2. Go prepared

Wearing the wrong undergarments when trying on wedding dresses is a common mistake made by many brides. Bra straps and panty lines can ruin the line of the wedding dresses you try on, making it difficult to decide if the fit is a flattering one. 

Instead, head to your appointments with a white or nude strapless bra and a thong if you plan to try on figure-hugging styles. You may also want to bring some Spanx or another supportive garment and don’t forget your high heels!

3. Know your body type

As important as it is to know your measurements to ensure you find the right dress size, it’s equally important to know your body type.

Whether you’re an angular rectangle with few curves, a small-waisted, broad-hipped pear, an equally proportioned hourglass, a broad-shouldered, big busted and slim hipped inverted triangle, or a busty apple with little waist definition and, possibly, a rounded tummy, knowing your shape will help you pick the right style of dress.

4. Research dress styles

Before hitting the bridal shops, it’s a good idea to research all of your wedding dress style options and keep a list of which styles would be flattering for your body type.

Romantic ball gowns look best on inverted triangles, hourglasses, apples and pears. Mermaid and sheath wedding dresses flatter hourglass and rectangles while empire styles look fantastic on apples, rectangles and pears.

If you’re having a hard time deciding which style best suits your frame, an a-line wedding dress will never disappoint. This universally flattering style works on virtually every woman despite size and shape.

5. Think about fabric

As lovely as that silk slip wedding dress may have looked on a reed-thin model on the wedding dress designer’s website, keep in mind, it won’t drape the same on you if you have curves. 

Light, unstructured fabrics like chiffon, silk and satin are best avoided if you have a curvy chest, butt or hips or a rounded tummy because they will accentuate every nook and cranny. Heavier  fabric such as silk shantung or taffeta skims rather than molds the figure, giving you a nice, smooth line.

6. Try on lots of wedding dresses

Choosing a wedding dress is the most important fashion decision you’ll ever make. That’s why it’s vital to try on a variety of dresses. Even if a dress doesn’t look like much on a hanger, you might be surprised at how it transforms once it’s on your body. You may even change your mind completely on style. 

Many a bride starts her search with a mermaid style in mind only to discover how flattering a more traditional a-line wedding dress is on her frame. Or maybe you have your heart set on a princess-style dress only to discover that you look phenomenal in a simple sheath.

7. Take photographs

To get an accurate picture of how you look in the wedding dresses you try on, it’s best not to rely on mirrors alone. Every mirror is different so, before making a decision on a wedding dress, have someone take photos of you in each one. Make sure you get front, back and sides shots as well as pictures of you sitting down.

8. Order early

Whether you’re shopping online or are hitting the stores, be sure to shop and order early. Unless you’re lucky enough to buy off the rack, your wedding dress will take approximately four months to be produced. Most designers recommend ordering at least eight months in advance which gives you ample time to have alterations made.

Final Thoughts

Wedding dress shopping can be fun, nerve-wracking, emotional and everything in between. So the last thing you need to be worried about is determining your size or figuring out where you fall on a bridal size chart. Our guide can not only help you find your ideal fit, but the perfect wedding dress for your big day.

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