This is a really special blog written by a Valencienne Bride that truely captures the Valencienne experience. Here in our store our passion is to make sure that each and every single bride feels beautiful walking down the isle on the most important day of their life.
If you watch any of the bridal TV shows or follow any wedding social media feeds you would know that bridal gown shopping for the plus size bride is not as easy as it is for the slender bride. If you are a newly engaged plus sized bride-to-be you are already quite aware of the difficulties shopping for any type of clothing and wonder what experience lays ahead of you. There are a lack of plus size sample gowns to try on, tactless sales associates, limited brand lines that carry your size and all the horrific stories from the plus size brides who wed before you. The moment many brides get their engagement ring they go into weight loss mode. The hottest diet of the moment, new gym memberships, trainers, skipping all the enjoyable taste testing appointments and dreading that they will not reach their goal weight in time. I’ve been plus sized since I can remember. If I haven’t been wearing single digit clothing leading up to the engagement, crash dieting and excessive working out still wouldn’t get me to that perfect model size many try to achieve. I was plus size going into my wedding planning. I would be plus at my wedding. I would be plus size the day after the wedding. Did this mean I shouldn’t expect the absolute best from my gown shopping experience? Absolutely not. My fiance has been with me for 10 years, he is well aware of what I looked like and he loves me. My friends and family know what I look like and they love me. I may be plus size but I do not hide myself away, I’m not embarrassed and I don’t sit on the sidelines and let life pass me by. Yet, the bridal industry is not made for someone like me. I’m the girl who likes to stand out. I love fashion. I love patterns, I love colour and I love to experiment. I like to make heads turn, I like when the slender girls are loving my clothes and are bummed they find out it doesn’t come in their size. What I didn’t love? The dedicated plus size bridal lines carried at the average bridal salon. Simple. Basic. No embellishments. NOT ME. But, I had to start somewhere, so I made my first appointment at a local salon. I heard nothing but great things about this salon, many women I know purchased their gown & bridesmaid dresses here and the shop boosts that they are the “ largest upscale bridal salon in Durham” . To ensure that I was not wasting my time, I called ahead to confirm that they had plus size sample dresses that I could try on. They did! I was told they carry a very popular plus size line and since they never bothered to ask me what size I was, I figured, they must have a vast collection. I was excited! The day arrived, I grabbed my go-to Louis bag and the matching shoes that always puts me into my fab “nothing is gonna get me down mood”. Off I went to my appointment. I was greeted at the front desk and waited for my sales associate. Before introducing herself I saw her eyes widen when she saw me. I knew then this was not going to be a successful experience. I was given the basic rundown of the gowns, the brands they carried and the price points. Gowns started at $600 and their most “couture gown” came in at $4000. Anyone who knows the top tier bridal designers know, upscale bridal salons do not have gowns at this price point. It wasn’t a good sign but I decided to see what was available. Maybe I could see which silhouette worked best for me. I was left to scour the racks on my own and was to make note of the gowns I liked. Size 5, size 9, size 3… are these gowns or leg warmers? Eventually my sales associate found me and asked if there was anything I liked. Indeed there were but I had to ask, what plus sized gowns do you have available to try on? She scurried off to a dark dungeon like area of the salon and came back with 5 gowns. 5! These were not 5 gowns in a style I liked, but 5 gowns out of the entire salon. Out of these 5, 3 were size 16 or smaller and we all know that street size clothing is not the same in bridal. 1 gown had to be purchased as is off the rack, something I think they have tried to do since the salon opened. This left me with one gown. A frumpy stiff tulle atrocity that no woman should have been subject to trying on. There I stood in a dressing room the size of a linen closet, surrounded by what I assumed was the worlds cheapest fabrics made into the reject gowns the thin brides passed over. At first I laughed. Obviously this is not the quality salon they claim. Then I got annoyed, regardless if I liked the gowns or not, should I not have the chance to actually try on more than 1 gown? The sales associate convinced me to come out and show her what this gown looked like. There I stood, tucked away in the back corner of the salon, no mirror other than the one covered by gowns in the change room. “So? What do you think?!” As I look around the room, I see the other brides on their pedestals in front of multiple mirrors with their cheerleader groups of family and friends surrounding them, cooing at every gown they tried on, gasping at every twist and twirl they made. While they were waiting for the next show, I was the sad intermission of the unfortunate big girl at the bridal salon. With no other options to try on, the sales associate tells me that I am a beautiful girl and that I will look good in any of their gowns, I just have to order it in my size. Who the hell buys anything these days without trying it out first? Also, have I thought of wearing a bridesmaid dress instead? They did have plus size bridesmaid dresses in store that would fit me. I guess the plus size woman is always a bridesmaid, never a bride at this salon. A bridesmaid dress instead of a wedding gown? Insulting! Has this woman lost her mind? I stopped the appointment right then and there. I would not settle for a bridesmaid dress, I would wear a gown on my wedding day. If your salon does not carry samples in my size, your problem, not mine. This salon was unaccommodating to their customer and ultimately their loss because my gown budget exceeded their price range. I told her thank you, but no thanks. This was not the place for me, I felt mislead by being told that they had plus size samples and just that because of my size and their lack of sample sized gowns, I shouldn’t be pushed into wearing something I didn’t love just for them to make a sale. I left disappointed but with a smile on my face. I refused to let this get me down. I would find a gown that represented who I was, a gown that made me happy and I would not scour the GTA to find a salon that had it. I walked out of that salon, pulled out my phone and googled “Custom Wedding Gown Toronto”. Sorry countless bridal salons, but SCREW OFF THE RACK options! The first Google result – Valencienne. The first image I saw, had me sold. Couture, original, outside the box, stunning, FABULOUS! I sighed with relief, I didn’t find THE DRESS that day but rather I found THE SALON! I could tell right away that Valencienne was not the typical bridal salon. I didn’t have to meet Kim yet to know I was in good hands. Regardless of my size, I was not a type typical bride. So why did I even bother with the typical salons in the first place? I emailed for my first consultation and the next day flew out to a destination wedding in Jamaica. I ended up spending every night in the internet cafe looking at the Valencienne sketch book, the publications they were featured in and their real brides. I was so excited. I was a Valencienne Bride in the making. I went to my first appointment with my sister and brother; my parents were away at the time. The 3 of us walked in the doors and took in the ambiance. Couture gowns lined the walls, the tasteful decor, the soft lighting, a bride-to-be holding her Stuart Weitzman’s and then a pretty blond with the most welcoming fabulous smile. It was Kim, my dream maker, the one who would fulfill my wedding gown wish list. She was running a few minutes late with her appointment before mine. Later this made sense that she would run a few minutes later than expected. This was a vendor who cared. Within minutes of meeting Kim, the room is full of belly laughs and genuine conversation. Getting carried away in conversation with Kim was so natural; it felt like reconnecting with an old friend. She understood my concerns with the off the rack salons and she asked me “What do you need from me?” I responded “Um.. A wedding gown?” ” Well obviously! Tell me what you want!” Kim wants to hear what you have to say, what you want, what you need, and your concerns. She wants you to be happy. If you want to be a princess, she will make you a princess, if you want to be fabulous, she will make you fabulous. If your a plus size bride, she is your fairy godmother! As cheesy as that may sound, when it comes to your wedding, the decor, the food, the extra services do not compare to how a bride should feel. Regardless of the style, a proper comfortable fit is key to making it through the long day of greeting guests, posing for pictures, dancing and simply, just being center of attention for an entire day. I came prepared and had my favourite gowns lined up on my ipad. All the popular designer made gowns, ones that I assumed didn’t carry my size and if they were to custom make it for me, I was sure the price would be astronomical compared to the exact same non plus sized gown. Kim swiped through the photos to get a feel of my style, my vibe, the image I wanted to portray on my wedding day. She asked about the event itself, the venue, the decor and time of year. We bounced ideas off each other, what would work for me, what wouldn’t. I showed her the one gown that was my favourite. We took inspiration from it and bits and pieces from other photos and some out-of-the-box elements. Then, Kim drew an original sketch. There is something magical about this sketch. It’s yours. All yours. No other woman has this drawing of themselves. It’s like a love letter you cherish through your engagement period. Do off the rack salons give you that? No, you get an invoice and an estimated date of arrival. There is nothing intimate with the average salon, well nothing other than getting near naked with your associate. You’re a block of time where the salon and sales associate try to make a sale. In and out and on to the next bride. Sure the nicer places may dazzle you with pedestals and sparkling wine. But nothing compares to the service and experience of going custom. You cannot go to a off the rack salon and tell your sales associate that you want to change or add some elements to your dress. They will simply pull you another gown to try on, or if your lucky, charge you for in-house alterations if they are capable of the changes. When going custom, this is a part of the process! You never have to narrow down the search. Just create. Kim continued to show me on my body, how she would create the best silhouette for my body type. She pulled out swatches of material and what seemed like endless colour options. That day I picked the lace pattern, the shade of blush and ivory that best paired with my skin tone and selected the crystal and pearl embellishments. I left Valencienne with a feeling of certainty. I did not have to worry about my wedding gown. It would be what I wanted, exactly what I wanted. It would fit, like a glove. My first dress appointment was a nightmare but I was already aware of how the bridal industry accommodates women up to a certain size. That quickly became a distant memory. I actually began to feel sad for the brides who hopped from city to city, from salon to salon looking for “the dress” only to know that thousands of other brides have worn the same gown. It didn’t matter if their gown was $800 or $50 000, it wasn’t unique. After some follow up fittings and design consults with Kim and her assistant Sonia, I never had a doubt that my gown would be anything short of a showstopper, that it would represent me, my personality and my tastes. Excitement grows with every appointment as you being to see your gown take shape. From your “ugly” fitting of canvas, to the first outer layer, then the layers of ruffles, lace overlays, to the final touches of the strands of pearls and swarovski crystals. A bride may love her off the rack gown, but no other woman in the world will have your custom gown. The gown you watch being created in the months leading up to your wedding, the gown where you have creative input along the way. The ability to make minor tweaks and changes. Best of all? The process actually allows you not to have the stress of weight gain or loss. No dreading the day your dress arrives from overseas after months of waiting, just to see that it must be altered once or twice… and then praying that you haven’t changed sizes by the morning of the wedding. Did my weight fluctuate? Sure. I continuously lost weight leading up to the wedding like many do. Did I have to pass on tastings? No. Did I have to stick to the salad bar on vacation? No. Did I have to worry? No. When it came to my wedding, I did much of the planning solo. Of course I had a planner and eager friends and family who supported me and were excited to be involved, I just enjoy to do what I can, on my own. Those who tow around large groups to all of their meetings know that sometimes, less people means, less opinions. On the final fitting, I brought my immediate family and extended family from Europe who were in town for the wedding. The ability to have a private appointment and viewing with your loved ones, was an experience that every bride should experience. The love, the tears and the smiles are memories that will stay with everyone for a life time. On the day of the wedding, one of my most vivid memories was when the doors opened at the ceremony and I was finally revealed to my family and friends. The crowd cooed and gasped, only a handful had seen my gown before the wedding day. I had kept majority of the day a secret to create a bigger impact on the grand unveiling. It’s also a memory captured on our same day edit where the videographers captured my husbands reaction when he first saw me. He knew I would have picked something spectacular, and I did not disappoint. Kim and her team not only created my gown, but also my ivory and blush veil, garter and a headpiece of pearls and crystal to complete the look. My mother who had missed some of the wedding planning, had a custom gown made while she was out of the country. She showed my siblings and myself the creation and we immediately told her no, no way, not for this wedding. You can wear that to someone else’s wedding but it does not compare to the craftsmanship of Kim and her team. Kim must make your gown as well! With only a few months until the wedding, Kim was able to create a gown with hand beaded embellishments in time for the wedding. Going through this process with my mother was wonderful. She looked beautiful and I could tell she felt beautiful. She is not a woman who likes to fuss a lot when it comes to pampering and fashion, but she let us glam her up and it was apparent that throughout the day that she felt fabulous! They only downfall to having a custom wedding gown is that you will never need a custom wedding gown again. This experience happens only once for most of us, so do not settle for off the rack! Do not settle for sales tactics, support craftsmanship, support Canadian talent, support local business. Support the creative process, not the turnover of foreign mass manufacturing. Luckily, I get to be a bridesmaid this summer at my brother’s wedding and we got to chose our dresses. The other bridesmaids started their search online and visiting chaotic bridal salons, dieting and worrying about if the dress will fit in 3-5 months. I get to do this process for the second time. While I am not watching the wedding gown of my dreams being created, I get to watch the most sophisticated bridesmaids gown come to life and it is fabulous. Even if your not plus sized, woman of all sizes will endure stress and hassles when shopping for their wedding gown. My advice? Be unique, be yourself. Be a Valencienne Bride! (and a Valencienne bridesmaid…)