It’s no secret that the average woman has increased in size and height since dress sizes were standardised in the 1950s. It’s time our suppliers took this on board and sized gowns accordingly says Laura Daly
I don’t know about you, but my seamstresses are encountering ever-increasing problems altering gowns these days. Not because they don’t know how to attack them, but rather because of the complexity of some of the work required. Apart from the sheer technicality of intricate overlays, lace hems and minute beads, there’s the fundamental issue of fit.Low backs, high necklines, sleeves and delicate fabrics, makes the work more time-consuming than ever and this only adds to the pressure all round.
I imagine the labels I carry are fairly representative of the average UK bridal store offering. One of the designers offers a full made-to-measure service, a couple offer ‘special measurement’ options, but the majority only offer gowns cut to their basic size charts. Recently, it’s been increasingly difficult to pick the size that will take into consideration the customer’s ‘worst’ measurement – the one that will push her into a larger size.
While researching for this piece, I came across an interesting article published in the Independent a couple of years ago which supports exactly what my seamstresses have found: the average UK woman’s waist these days is 34”, compared to only 28” in 1957. The average bust size is now 36”, compared to the previous 34”.
When I look at my designers’ size charts – of which, I might add, no two are the same – I can see that, whereas the average bride of 1957 might have needed only a minor alteration on the bust of her gown, our average bride of today would need it adjusted by as much as eight inches.
That can involve a lot of work, multiple appointments, and a hefty alteration bill. It’s not always something that the bride has fully understood, despite our best efforts to explain everything when she chose the gown.
Surely, now’s time for our main-stream manufacturers to look at their size charts and consider how they could better reflect today’s shapes. If you’re a manufacturer and you’ve seen a downturn in your repeat orders, this could be one of the reasons why your gowns aren’t selling. If there’s another label that offers a bust/waist/hip special measurement option, I can guarantee that the stockist will be pushing that label to the bride because it’s likely to make the whole process easier for everyone.
If your size chart means that the bride will not fit anything under a size 18 and she’ll need major alterations on certain measurements, she may well choose not to purchase. If she does place an order, she may later remember how your size 12 or 14 fitted her nicely at the front but totally forget that it didn’t do up at the back. When her size 18 comes in, she will hate it – and probably hate the retailer, too – because the bust will be huge.
Ian Stuart cleverly came up with a solution and now offers the front of one size combined with the back of another to accommodate smaller busts with bigger backs. As a designer who works with a factory and a size chart, and who gets to deal directly with some of his customers, he’s been in a position to move with the times and, to his great credit, has had the foresight to do so. Mori Lee has also issued a new additional size chart for bridesmaids with wider waists, but only on the bigger sizes at the moment.
So, here’s the thing. We know that we independents have to offer viable and desirable options to our brides to beat the dreaded off-the-peg shops. We also know it’s impossible for us to stock all our gowns in every size.
One of the big attractions of off-the-peg is that a bride can try on her size and instantly decide if she likes the fit, while on many big labels, we have to advise which size to order and explain that it won’t fit when it comes in…
When you look at it like that, I can fully understand why a bride would rather take her chances with a dress she can actually try on in her size before committing any money
I truly believe that this is an issue that needs addressing without delay by any manufacturer that wants to remain competitive going forwards. Please think about it. It affects us all.