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Wedding Dress Shopping with a Disability

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Meara Bartlett, author of Wedding Planning for Spoonies, shares her advice with disabled brides to help them navigate shopping for their wedding dress.

Wedding Dress Shopping with a Disability

Wedding dress shopping is something most brides have dreamt of since we were little girls. But for some of us, there is an extra card thrown in the pile: a physical disability.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Wedding Planning for Spoonies focused on helping disabled couples plan their weddings around their specific needs.

How to Find a Wedding Dress When You Have Chronic Pain

If you suffer from chronic pain, the dress will be a crucial factor in how your wedding day will go. This is because it dictates your comfort level. There are straightforward ways to figure this out without wasting energy trying on tons of dresses. Chronic pain spans over many disabilities listed in this book, so if you think this applies to you, feel free to take notes.

Tips for figuring out which dresses to try on

Consider a non-bridal dress that happens to be white. These will have fewer layers and will be less heavy, and less expensive. 

A way to do this is to look for a dress with only two or three layers. Wedding dresses are like cakes. Some dresses have more fabric layers than most. Others have up to twelve, and this makes the dress heavy. The heavier the dress, the more uncomfortable you will feel as it places pressure on your body, causing pain and exhaustion.

A way to calculate the pain level of a dress is its fabric. The softer and lighter it is, the better. Jersey knit, lace, or satin are gentle on the skin. Make sure you bring a flashlight to test if the fabric is see-through!

It’s common for those with chronic pain to have body fluctuations. This can be due to their illness, an injury, or a number of factors. If your weight fluctuates, consider a corset top. Try a soft lace-up all the way with a ribbon corset top. That means that no matter how your body changes, then you can alter the dress by tightening or loosening the corset lacing. Be sure that if you buy a corset lace-up top that it is soft and has no hard boning structure that you can feel.

Where should you buy a dress?

Most lightweight dresses are not found in traditional bridal shops. One idea is shopping at a secondhand bridal shop. This way, you can buy couture for less, and get it off the rack the same day. Another idea is quinceañera shops. There you can find excellent customer service and a fresh style of dress if you don’t like current bridal fashion. Department stores are wonderful places to find dresses with fewer layers. These dresses will be simpler and more low-key, and a simpler dress is usually a more comfortable dress. The best department stores to find a wedding dress are Nordstrom and Macy’s. 

How to shop

In order to see how comfortable the dress is on your body, try not to shop online. Only go to one store per day. When you dress shop, make it your one goal for the day. Or if you need to shop online, try a mail-in wedding dress subscription service and try on one dress per day as these will be traditional wedding dresses and hefty. Mail-in wedding dress subscription services send you three designer-grade dresses in the mail at a time. Try them on and send back what you don’t like, and only pay for the one (or two) dresses you truly love. 


Try to wear as little shapewear and other undergarments as possible. This means no complicated slips or spandex. These items are also restrictive and uncomfortable. If you do wear spandex, make sure they are soft to the touch and flexible. Additionally, invest in a high-quality comfortable strapless bra.

Focus on Your Physical Pain Areas

If you have abdominal pain from endometriosis or a spasming gallbladder, an empire waist dress might be in order as the dress will flow over your abdomen and not touch you at all. Consider the softness of the fabric and a beachy halter top or an elegant drop waist to keep the pressure off your ribcage if you have pain there.

Focus on your painful areas and make sure the dress doesn’t cling to them. You will be beautiful in any dress, but will you be happy in any of them?

Wedding Dresses for Wheelchair Users

Many diverse kinds of people use wheelchairs. The types of wheelchair users discussed in this chapter are not exhaustive. Please note that with finding the right dress, and sometimes altering it appropriately, any wheelchair user can wear any dress. Here are some suggestions from real wheelchair users to supply inspiration, not limitations. 

I interviewed Carrie-Ann, who has cerebral palsy, and she told me, “The dress that I wanted didn’t exist in bridal shops – it was almost the top of one dress, and the skirt of another. So that’s exactly what I went with, a two-piece corset and long skirt, custom made by Bridal Dream Dress. This was a style preference, but it also made sitting in my wheelchair more comfortable with more flexibility on the waist.” Top and bottom separates can also be found in stores. These are also good choices for paraplegics for mobility purposes, as a potential choice. 

It’s common for motorized wheelchair users to wear short or tea-length wedding dresses. Those looking for a pop of color or more personality sew in a colorful petticoat into a tea-length dress so guests will have something interesting to look at while they are seated.

You can also dress up your chair! Drape it with lace or white satin and flowers, or you could put a sign on it that says, “Just married!” and trail tin cans off the back. Let everyone know that all parts of you are special, beautiful, and to be celebrated.

Wishing you wedding dress shopping success!

Wedding dress shopping is a special milestone during this beautiful time of your life. Have fun!

wedding planning for spoonies

Wedding Planning for Spoonies Book

If you’d like more information on wedding planning for disabilities in mind, check out Wedding planning for Spoonies, available at one of the retailers below:


Meara Bartlett writes for The Mighty, Rock n Roll Bride, and Offbeat Bride. She is the author of Wedding Planning for Spoonies. She attends Texas State University earning her master's degree in Technical Writing.