That's a question I get asked a lot. The first thing people ask me is why? Why did you open a plus size Bridal shop. What led you here. Well I am going to tell you my story. The good the bad and at times the ugly. In the shop I don't usually get the opportunity to talk about it in detail to this extent. I'm excited to let you in on how we came about.
It's all about the Gown
About 3 years ago, I began the search for my own gown, actually let me take you back even a bit further. My Husband (then fiance) and I were engaged, I called us professional fiances or the eternally engaged couple. Seemed like each time we decided to plan a wedding something would come up and we would put it off another year, which turned into year after year after year after...well okay, you get it. I think a lot the "obstacles" we were facing weren't always things that were necessarily things that would stop a couple from getting married, which is where i think my anxiety had set in subconsciously. I was plus size and dreading looking for a gown. I remember about 6 years ago while out with my sister and helping her wedding dress shop, She was probably about a size 7 and pregnant, she looked beautiful and fit into everything perfectly. I kept thinking how was I, at a size 20 at the time, going to fit into these gowns if she was just fitting into them? This completely freaked me out! So that led me to procrastinate, if something came up and it put off the wedding I was fine with setting it to the side just to give myself more time to "lose the weight" boy if I had a dime....
In the next few years I watched friends and family plan weddings and get married, I knew what I envisioned for our wedding day but in the past I couldn't come to terms with loving myself and who I was at the weight I was. I guess my 40th Birthday was a turning point, Maybe older and wiser really is a thing...Ha! Anyway I just began to realize that this was who I am, love me or not. I am a plus size woman, and even I could be a beautiful bride. So I set off on a mission...
My mission was clear, I was going to plan my wedding and find my dress, if it was the last thing I would do. Well maybe not last, but for effect we'll leave that in. Okay so now where do I start? I decided to begin my search online..When I searched for a plus size bridal gown it took me to sites like Torrid and Lane Bryant, they were very pretty, but I wanted a beautiful wedding gown. You know the gowns I mean, the ones you see when you flip through the Bridal Magazine pages at your local CVS...The gowns with lace and illusion, big ball gowns, slim fitting fit and flares, these gorgeous models looking so stunningly beautiful in gowns from Galia Lahav or Monique Lhuillier, I wanted to feel like a bridal princess. Not to knock these big box retailers, for some girls that is 100% fine, but it wasn't the vision I had for myself. So I began to search for a plus size bridal shop in New York, shockingly there is none (well was none) I truly had no idea. I figured if they had clothing stores dedicated to plus size women, why do they not have bridal shops dedicated to plus size brides? This is where my life took a drastic turn...
The Early Years
Growing up on Long Island in the 80' and 90's was interesting. I think my childhood probably molded me for what my life has become now in my 40's. I was not what many would call a plus size kid, I was probably the average size, a lot of my friends were thin growing up, but I do recall looking at them and thinking am I fat? My Moms side of the family were thin 2's and 4's. So when I was in Junior High I remember being a size 7 and fitting into my Moms very cool jean skirt, but in my head I thought why was I, at age 13, fitting into my moms clothes? It never occurred to me that I was 3" taller than her also and being a size 7 in 8th grade was not me being fat, I just had a different body type, but yes I thought I was fat. In High school I started to gain weight, probably more so in 10th grade, I had a decent amount of friends and I don't remember any of them ever making fun of my weight and none of them ever made me feel less than, I didn't have a rough go of it in school with other classmates, I kinda just floated through my school days happy as a clam (generally speaking) maybe I was one of the lucky ones, some did not have it like that. I do recall having some issues with a few boys calling me some choice phrases, but boys will be boys... am I right? *eye-roll* Honestly I do remember it bothering me then, which probably led to some insecurities with men later down the line, but I digress. Overall I was well liked, had a boyfriend and my friends were just normal girls, probably dealing with their own insecurities as well, we were generally just happy teens most of the time.
By my senior year I was about a size 16 and I remember going for my prom dress. We went to a small but very popular shop on Long Island, and they had nothing I could try on. Not one thing. I remember looking at my Mom and just wanting to cry. The consultant pointed to a large wall that had all pictures of Prom dresses on it and said you can pick from any of these, we'll take your measurements and order in your size. The wall was filled with pictures of beautiful dresses, I looked through more of them and then there it was, this beautiful black off the shoulder chiffon dress, I thought it was one of the pretties gowns I had ever seen, it had a sweetheart neckline a long flowy chiffon drape in the back that went down to the floor. I loved it on the model so we ordered right then. weeks passed and the dress came in, I could not wait to go see it! When we got to the shop I put it on I walked up and stood up on the pedestal and I took one look and knew I hated this gown. I hated how it fell on me, how it didn't make me feel pretty, I felt like I was wearing a garbage bag. I turned to my mom and said "I look like a LINE BACKER!" I was very upset and dreaded wearing it to Prom, but of course I did. In hindsight it probably wasn't that bad BUT that memory stayed with me in my subconscious, for many years. I dreaded dress shopping. There is a reason I am spilling the tea about my life here. There are many reasons people choose the fields they go into as adults. My life didn't exactly take the course I had planned in High School, in fact I was probably a little lost for a few years but looking back there were things molding me for something greater, something that I could never have imagined. Even with all the hiccups along the way there was a bigger plan, If I didn't have these life experiences I would not be able to understand where our brides are coming from. I truly get it. I understand what it's like to be plus, I am not just selling plus gowns to plus brides, I am the plus size bride, it's not about the almighty dollar, it's about helping all the women who deserve this, and have always deserved this.
The Domino effect
When the idea got into my head about opening up a plus size bridal shop, I was sitting with my 95 year old grandmother in my kitchen. Her response, as most grandmothers I assume, was not shock but more of a "sure sweetie that sounds like a good idea. Oh yes great idea". I'm not sure if she really thought that but she certainly made it like she did. so I had a fan base! HA! Alas I had a very different reaction when I went to my then Fiance (now husband) I believe the words uttered were "Are you out of your ever-lovin-mind?" followed by a HUGE eye-roll. But I'm not the type of girl who backs down so easily...of course I persisted, I wouldn't be with him if we weren't both like minded in our stubborn nature so his " Ugh you're nuts, this isn't happening" and my favorite comment of all time "aren't you like a size 12?" Ah, that's why I love him, did not throw me off course. It was at this point I knew I had to dig my heels in but I also knew I needed to back up my business idea with something more substantial in order to get him to come aboard. I set a plan in motion to put together a bridal survey, We sent it out to over 100 women who had bought a bridal gown in the past 20 years. Let me preface this by saying we did not tell women what the survey was for. We did not tell them it was for a potential bridal shop or what the idea was behind the survey. The main goal here was to see what everyone's experiences was and not sway their opinions or answers. We did not put an Age or size restriction on it. The objective was to see if there was a need based on answers from different types of women. Did plus size brides actually have a difficult time finding a plus size bridal gown.. Were they treated the same as brides who fit into a sample size bridal gown? Did it really make a difference if you were a size 8 compared to an 18? or even a 28. The answer was alarming YES! Brides who were smaller had more to choose from, which we kind of already assumed, but what we hadn't realized was that plus brides had more issues with consultants. They had issues with some stores not having gowns for them to try at all, not even a small selection, they also had experiences with shops not even attempting to serve them. which in itself is disturbing. Now I am not saying all of the plus size brides had this issue, but more so than not consultants did not understand the plus size women and what they wanted or needed. They were not sensitive to certain verbiage they were using. One had even listed "stuffed sausage" in her interview. Another bride had said they got her stuck in a dress (um humiliating) even after she expressed that it would not fit her. A few had described what in the industry they call "Paper Dolling" for those of you who do not know what that is...Paper dolling is when they ask you to put your arms into a dress or garment and hold the dress up to your body to see how it will look. Let me stress this, NOTHING is more ridiculous than this when it comes to a wedding gown! How can you possibly tell what something will look like when it's just leaned up against you? This is preposterous, not to mention highly insulting. Another fun time, (hopefully you caught my sarcasm there) is when they had asked a bride's sister to try on her gown...That's right folks, her SISTER put on the gown she liked, The whole shebang! The veil, the accessories, the shoes, everything. The bride was brought to tears, (but not tears of joy) she loved how it looked on her sister, but that wasn't her, and she would have to imagine what it would look like on her. Again, can you think of anything more demeaning? These images did a real number on me emotionally, I was brought to tears a few times and felt a little drained after all was said and done. I'm fairly certain these stories & surveys are what made me even more determined to forge ahead and want to open a plus size bridal shop.
With all the info I had gathered from the surveys and some overall stats on modern day brides. I went to my fiance again and made him take a look. This time he was more receptive, still slightly apprehensive, but the idea was worth taking a deeper look. It was at this point that things started to snowball and fast. We put our own wedding planning on hold (yet again, but this time for good cause) and we invested all that money along with our own personal savings into opening the shop. There was no way we could still have our own wedding since we had put everything into the shop, and there was no turning back now.
In my overall plan, perhaps in about a year we would open, I needed designers, to learn more about the bridal industry and most importantly a store front! But such is life things had a mind of its own and were falling in place rather quickly. I remember speaking to a dear friend of mine (who would later come on and help me open Ivory & Main) and my cousin, both of which opinions I value dearly - They continually pushed me daily and encouraged me to follow through with my plan even when the scariness set in. There were days where I was so incredibly nervous and doubted my decision. Was I really going to do this? Was I going to open New York's first plus size bridal shop? without a stitch of experience...Obviously now we all know that answer was yes. We had found a great space right on Main street in Sayville which was too good to pass up! We got the keys to our shop in March of 2018. The day of the lease signing I was a literal mess. I kept saying to myself "you could back out at any time still, but once you sign this paper that is it!" Well that was it, I signed (after a brief pause) and we now had a space. We had a space and no dresses to sell, (insert nervous laughter here) but that changed quickly...The first designer we signed with was Watters, followed by Allure, and Finally Maggie Sottero. All of our reps were amazing and were so helpful to the new kid on the block. My one rep said very matter of fact "We are going to have to hold your hand through a lot of this, so make sure you take notes" He wasn't kidding, They all threw so much information at me, it was amazing but also super overwhelming. I absorbed all of it like a sponge, the more the better. I lived, breathed and dreamt bridal for weeks and weeks. There was no turning back now, I had to learn this industry and fast.
To think that was 2 years ago...When we started I&M back in 2018, we opened with 1300 sqft only 35 Plus size wedding dresses and about 30 Bridesmaids and Mother of the Bride gowns. My Mom and Assistant Manager Kristin worked for Starbucks coffee the first couple of weeks until we were able to pay them just $100 a week. They were amazing and so dedicated...This wasn't just a job for us, we were on a mission to bring Plus size bridal gowns to the curvy community and to help as many brides as we could, to take away their anxiety and make them feel at ease. In just 2 short years I&M has grown immensely. We have expanded twice, employ 10 bridal stylists, we are now in 2200 sqft and house over 250 Designer plus size wedding gowns in our shop, along with 400+ Plus size bridesmaids and Plus size Mother of the Bride dresses combined. We have also started our own plus size Bridal Lingerie Line, We have so many women come to the shop asking for bridal Lingerie and it was something that the industry was lacking. The Ivory & Lace Collection caters to the plus size bride, its pretty and feminine while also being Sexy. We've gotten a great response from our brides and we are continuing to grow the line.
Every day we have the privilege to meet women who are beautiful, strong, independent, humorous, sassy, and sensitive, and we label these wonderfully perfect women as "Plus size brides", but really they are just Brides. Brides who happen to not be a size 8. We don't label thin women "Skinny Brides", we just say "Bride" It should be no different. In our shop we don't bring special PLUS size wedding gowns, we buy gowns that you will see every day in any Bridal magazine, just in larger sizes. Designers such as #MaggieSottero, #EssenseofAustralia, and #AllureBridals to name a few. Our normal sample size is 24/26/28 not 8/10/12. Please make no mistake I am proud to be a #plussizewomen and I will always shout it from the rooftops, I believe it is imperative to be confident in your own skin at any size, but at the end of the day we are all women, Short, tall, skinny, Fat, Black, brown or White. Women who are getting married and need to find their most perfect wedding dress, women who should have that fabulous gown shopping experience. I am here for it! I am here for them!