Plus Size “Bride-to-Be” Shares Her Wedding Shopping Challenges and Inspires a High Fashion Photo Shoot
Photography by Eli Warren
As told to us by floral designer Suzie Bunn…
I first met Julie Wills a few months ago after spotting her on social media. When I realized she was local, I reached out to her because I saw that she was engaged to be married in October. I was so impressed by her confidence and style. In an attempt to convince her to hire me as her floral designer, I just contacted her on a whim! I’ve never sought out a client directly like that before, but she is the exact type of bride I want to work with. Julie is a woman with incredible style and confidence, and her and her fiancé Gary are truly in love with each other. They are the sweetest couple!
When I met Julie for the first time, she definitely left a lasting first impression. She was this very tall, beautiful blonde with these beautiful high heels on that made her stand even taller. She was wearing a wrap dress with her gorgeous blond hair down to her waist and was smiling from ear to ear.
We shook hands as I tried to excuse myself for being five minutes late. I think I said something about being a mom of two toddlers and made some joke about them not being compliant that morning. To my relief, Julie laughed and let me off the hook.
Her laugh by the way, is like five people’s laughs in one. It’s incredibly loud and very distinct. At that moment, when I found myself looking up at this bodacious amazon woman, her in her heels and me in my only clean pair of skinny jeans, I thought to myself, “I love this girl and even if she doesn’t hire me, I really want to be her friend.”
I found out over lunch that Julie has this fascinating point of view. We talked about almost everything but flowers in our first meeting! I felt akin to her in a way that I can’t explain, except for comparing it to meeting someone you feel like you already know. She has this really neat perspective on the world. She’s super passionate about body confidence and acceptance and she’s one of those people that isn’t afraid to speak her mind even though some might not understand her right away. I could tell right off-the-bat that she had something really important to say about being a plus model. She’s out to inspire people and change the norms and ideals we all see day in and day out. And she certainly opened my eyes to this whole movement of women who are setting out to do the same thing.
If you are reading this, you are likely one of them. Good for you, keep going! As a designer, I want to be around people like Julie. People who are not willing to hide who they are, but rejoice in the diversity this world has to offer. Julie schooled me the whole plus model movement! She told me who to follow and I was completely inspired by the fashion forward, commercial images of these beautiful curve models. I wanted us to create an edgy plus bridal shoot to inspire curvy brides-to-be.
Our floral design meeting over lunch turned into a 3-hour “think tank” on the state of the bridal industry at large. We talked about the lack of diverse bridal imagery in commercial ads, and Julie’s own challenges finding a gown for her wedding day.
A lot of the plus bridal images that exist are not well-styled and some of them are not shot in a way that reads high fashion. If you search “Bridal fashion editorial” on the internet and then “Plus bridal fashion editorial”, you will see what I mean. We both got excited about the idea of creating a high-fashion editorial shoot. Julie said she wanted to show fellow plus size women, and the world, that plus women can do anything! They can get married and they can look damn good doing it!
This is when we began the hunt for the perfect editorial gown. Julie informed me of the challenges of finding a size 16 or larger sample gown and that most places told her she would just have to imagine how the “unzippable” size 12 dresses would look on her in her size and they would order it for her. I was really shocked by this and started reaching out to bridal shops in the area.
I heard the same thing from most of them: “If your client comes in, we can clip the dress just right so she can get a feel of what it would look like in her size, and then we can order it for her.”
I thought in a bit of a snark, “Or she could just stay home in her pajamas and shop on the internet and order it herself?” Being the southern gal I am these days, I just thanked them for their time but thought, this didn’t make any sense to me and it bothered me. If I walked into a store and was told upon arrival that they only had size 2 and 4 but they could order something in a size 8, but they would help me hold the clothes up to my body so I could “imagine” what they would look like if only I were thinner… I would turn right back around and leave.
As for our shoot, I nearly had to cancel it twice. Generally, when I’m seeking a bridal store to loan me a dress for a photoshoot, they jump at the chance because being involved is good marketing for their store if the shoot is published. When I called around asking for plus sample sizes, the options were extremely limited. There were many stores that were eager to be involved, and were very helpful, but they just didn’t carry the size we needed for the shoot. I’m a size 8, and I started to really think about all the women I know and love who are considered plus size. I began to empathize with them in a way I’ve never experienced before. I began to understand the challenges Julie forewarned me about. Why are there plus size stores, I thought? Why aren’t bridal stores carrying more of these sample sizes? Is it because the designer doesn’t make samples in that size? Aren’t all brides worthy of the right of passage? To be able to try on a good variety of gowns anywhere they want without having to travel out of state? How can you feel great if you can’t try anything on even remotely close to your size? If average sized American women are called Plus, why aren’t below average sized American women called Minus? I had so many questions and concerns, and with these challenges came the overwhelming desire to make this photo shoot happen.
Little did we know we were about to be blessed! Our friend Johna from White Magnolia Bridal, a local bridal boutique here in Greenville, saved the day and came in a clutch with the perfect dress for our photo shoot. She asked me to bring Julie in and she personally styled her with all the accessories you see and of course the beautiful Wtoo gown. Johna said she ordered some amazing plus sample sizes for the upcoming season and is excited to help ALL the local brides find the perfect dress this fall. She too was inspired by Julie to change the shopping experience for plus women!
Julie and I both agreed that if these images are to be published, we wanted the plus community to have them. PLUS Model Magazine was our hope, and here we are! We hope you are inspired and if you happen to be engaged, congratulations! These are for you. You will find your dress and you WILL SLAY, QUEEN!
With all the great strides we see in the media, stories like Julie’s prove that more has to be done in order for fashion to be more inclusive.
Model: Julie Wills
Photographer: Eli Warren
Photography Assistant: Zane Logan
Producer and Set Designer: Suzie Bunn
Hair and Makeup: Latia Curtis
Wardrobe Styling: The White Magnolia, Greenville SC