Recent studies have shown that the average American woman wears a size 16 or 18. So why don’t bridal boutiques offer the same amount of dresses — if not more — in sizes closer to these? The answer is unknown, but one store is refusing to ignore the question.
Haute & Co. in Chicago not only offers an array of plus-size wedding gowns; the entire boutique is exclusively those for a size 14 and above.
“(I wanted to) give women the best version of themselves,” Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler, the store’s owner, told TODAY Style. “Surround them with people who are educated in sizing, design, alterations. Make them comfortable.”
Armstrong-Fowler decided to launch Haute & Co. after witnessing her friend, a size 26, struggle to find a wedding gown she loved. “She was truly, truly discouraged,” Armstrong-Fowler said. “And I decided, I can fix that.”
So, she did. Armstrong-Fowler left a career in public relations, and in 2013, opened a shop that catered specifically to curvy brides sized 14 to 32. “The hardest part was, really, the negotiations and conversations with designers,” she said. “They were resistant. I mean, you had designers saying things to me like, ‘Oh, do they get married?’ Or, you had them saying things like, ‘Yeah, you’re the one that wants to work the big girls.’ So there was a lot of body-shaming and there was a lot of resistance.”
Armstrong-Fowler said that she had to convince a number of designers to increase their size ranges. Today, she’s still fighting for this. “What I would love wedding gown designers to do is rethink their current sizing policies,” Armstrong-Fowler said. “If you do not go past a size 20 in bridal, if you can’t go to a 32, try to go to a 28. I just want you to rethink the number of women you are excluding from your beautiful designs, and the number of women you will never have the opportunity to look (at) and say, ‘That’s one of our looks. That’s our design. And she looks beautiful.'”
In addition to running a successful business, Armstrong-Fowler is now the subject of a series titled “The Perfect Fit” on PeopleTV. The show documents her efforts to find women the gown they’ve always dreamed of.
Hopefully, designers and stores alike will follow Armstrong-Fowler’s lead.