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The Trials and Tribulations of Shopping for Formal Plus-Size Dresses

Posted by on November 18, 2013

While scanning the Internet looking for a new dress to wear for my upcoming birthday, I came across a Daily News article about Mielle, a plus-size, appointment-only boutique in Tribeca that specializes in formal gowns. The reporter spoke to a few shoppers and included pictures of the pretty, open-looking shop and some photos of women in various dresses available on-site. She also, to some extent, discussed how crappy it can be trying to find a really great formal dress as a plus-size woman.

Jay Miranda

If you’re looking for great formal wear, it’s always a good idea to check out some plus-size fashion bloggers to see what they’ve got going on. Credit: Jay Miranda

Mielle’s sizing starts at a US size 14 and has a range in prices from $300 to $4,000.

The owner, Ellen Zwalsky, started the store in 2011 with her daughter, Michelle Kushner, and has made it something of a mission to find a formal dress for anyone who comes into her store regardless of size.

“We can fit everybody. Not every dress, but I have more than half a dozen dresses that I can get in any size without it being a very expensive custom gown,” Zwalsky said in her interview with the Daily News. “It’s still probably a gown under $2,000, and it could be a size 32.”

Now, it’s definitely not in my budget to drop thousands on a dress (unless, it’s a wedding dress…maybe), but it is really great that there is a physical store where plus-size women can go to try on dresses and get some ideas for fit. Department stores that carry plus-size clothes do not always keep their plus-size clothes actually in-store.

Le Blog de Big Beauty

I’ve found most of my favorite retailers by reading fellow plus-size bloggers and seeing where they buy their clothes and shopping at stores that they recommend. Credit: Stephanie Zwicky

Plus-size women are usually forced to shop online, especially for formal gowns. Now, I’m a huge fan of online shopping (I practically live on the IGIGI website), but there are times that I would really just like to stop into a brick-and-mortar store to try some stuff on.

Saks Fifth Avenue took their plus-size line, “Salon Z,” out of stores a few years ago, and only about 40 percent of Bloomingdales locations have plus-size lines in store. Even when stores have plus-size options available on-site to try on, they are usually shoved in a basement, a back-corner, an upper floor (near the home goods), or otherwise generally isolated from the more desirable straight-size shoppers.

Tim Gunn spoke about the uninspired way plus-size clothes are usually presented in department stores in an August interview with the Huffington Post:

“Go to Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, I think it’s the eighth floor, and it’s just a department called ‘Woman.’ It’s rather devastating. You’ve never seen such hideous clothes in your entire life. I mean, it’s simply appalling. Thank God there are no windows on that floor, because if I were a size 18, I’d throw myself right out the window [after seeing those clothes]. It’s insulting what these designers do to these women.”

Curvy Girl Chic

Reading different plus-size bloggers, helped me find new stores to shop at and gave me the confidence to try different styles and silhouettes that I was previously too nervous to wear. Credit: Allison Teng

My personal experience trying to find formal dresses for events like Homecoming and Prom while growing up and going to high school was rough to say the least. I used to absolutely dread hitting the basement of my local Macy’s in search of a dress that would fit me while still letting me look young and cute.

(I did not really start online shopping until I went to college and got a credit card, which caused it’s own problems!)

So many plus-size formal dresses are really covered up and matronly, which makes it brutal for young plus-size women who want something with a little more sex appeal, or women of any age who want to rock a cute dress without looking like a grandmother of the bride.

Happily, IGIGI offers so many gorgeous cocktail and evening dresses that are actually reasonably priced (a perfect LBD for under $200! Yes, please.) and cute. With so many different options for color, pattern, and fit, there really is something for everyone, and even though I sometimes wish I could go into an IGIGI store to try on some of their beautiful garments, I have never been disappointed by any of my online purchases.

What has your experience been like shopping for formal dresses? Which stores do you go to when you want to try on clothes? Tell me in the comments.

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