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The Fashion Industry Rings in Plus-Size Wedding Dresses

After long ignoring the plus-size market, bridal designers are going full figure

Crystal Parsons doesn’t try on clothes when she shops. She hasn’t worn a dress in 20 years. But one day this spring, she found herself in the unavoidable position of having to try on dresses because she needs a wedding gown. “I’ve had nightmares that I’m going to get stuck in a very expensive dress,” Parsons says in the fitting room at Kleinfeld bridal salon in New York. She’s filming an episode of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss, which documents plus-size women in the once-demoralizing hunt for the perfect wedding gown. “I tend to think negatively about myself,” she says. “My weight has always been my problem.”

While the average clothing size of women in the U.S. is 14, most high-end bridal designers have long refused to cater to clients beyond size 16. Yet with the economy pressuring the industry to find new revenue streams, a growing number of designers are now trying to fill a gaping hole in the country’s $2.1 billion wedding dress market. “These are underserved consumers who have money to spend,” says Catherine Moellering, executive vice-president of retail trend consultant Tobe. “There’s an immense opportunity here to develop brand loyalty because these are marginalized consumers.”