In 2018, the average American woman is a size 16, and for brides that size or bigger, the quest to find a wedding dress they love, and that they can actually try on in the store, becomes a real challenge.
Chicago-based bridal boutique owner Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler heard their pain and created a wedding dress shopping experience with those women in mind.
In 2013, Armstrong-Fowler, an ESSENCE Bridal Bliss alum herself, opened luxury plus-size bridal boutique Haute and Co. which aimed to create a safe space for brides where they were guaranteed to walk in and find the wedding gown options and fits they expect to see.
"I realized the biggest challenge that curvy and plus size brides were having was getting true service and feeling like they were valued and heard in the process of the appointment, and finding gowns that they could actually try on beyond maybe one gown," says Armstrong-Fowler. "I thought I could solve this problem."
And that she did.
When a bride walks into her shop, Armstrong-Fowler and her team are determined to help her understand her body type and how to find a gown that will best accentuate her body on her wedding day.
"One of the biggest challenges that spook most brides is the size variance," says Armstrong-Fowler. "Bridal sizing hasn't changed since probably ready to wear was created. If you are a size 16 in ready to wear clothing, you're used to going into regular stores and buying directly off the rack. Once you go into bridal shops looking for a dress, you are literally a 20 or 22. Bridal sizing depends on the designer and on your proportion in a certain wedding gown. That design may not come in an 18 or 20 or the designer may stop at a size 18. They may not have a dress for you to try on."
The shop features designer wedding dresses from sizes 14 to 32. (Yes, please!) But, the best advice Armstrong-Fowler can offer brides is not to get thrown off by the larger sizes. "Let's focus on the fit, not on the number."
Shifting focus has been what has made the former public relations director so successful in the bridal gown industry.
"We have to understand that there are curvy women and then there are plus size women," says Armstrong-Fowler. "Both are equally fabulous. Both equally celebrate their curves and their bodies, but both want to be greeted, marketed and served differently, but fairly."
Fans of all things weddings can watch Armstrong-Fowler work her magic with local clients on the new PEOPLE TV series appropriately titled The Perfect Fit. The cameras may be following her around the shop, but there will be no acting here.
"You can expect to see the real story and challenge of finding the perfect fit [on the show]," says Armstrong-Fowler. "You'll see our team finalize the most incredible looks on brides that are curvy and you'll see the real stuff that happens behind the scenes, like the moments where the bride has lost another 10 pounds and is getting married on Friday, and it’s Wednesday, and we make it work for her. You'll see what we go through as bridal stylists."
You'll also see Armstrong-Fowler balance running the shop with her personal life as a wife. "You'll see some of those super woman moments," she adds.
The body-positive bridal show is now available to stream via PEOPLE TV.