Adapting to the Ordinary // 7 Tips for Wedding Dress Shopping in a Wheelchair

 Photo by Nicki Olson of  eStudio Weddings

Photo by Nicki Olson of eStudio Weddings

Adapting to the Ordinary is a column about people with disabilities living an ordinary life in a world where we don't really fit. We're constantly dealing with physical and attitudinal barriers, just to live like everyone else. 

One thing was certain while planning my wedding: I would wear Converse. I had worn them every day since I was ten, so it was natural to wear them on my wedding day. But what dress would accompany them? I have used a wheelchair since I was seven. I have only worn two dresses since then, and buying a wedding dress was the part of wedding planning I was dreading the most.

I searched bridal magazines and the internet for inspiration, but only found a few brides in wheelchairs. And I didn't really related to any of them. Would I feel beautiful like my friends did when they found their dresses? Could I wear a dress and sit comfortably all day, or would I need to wear a pantsuit or a two-piece ensemble? I was willing to embrace these new bridal trends, but I secretly wanted a dress. So much of my world as a disabled woman is already unconventional. My fiancé had never even seen me in a dress, so it was important for me to wear a wedding dress.

My mind continued to race with questions... How would I try dresses on? Would the sales person think my sister was getting married instead of me? I cried myself to sleep the night before the appointment.

But all these worries were surprisingly unnecessary.

My mom, sister and I arrived and met with the sales associate. She asked who the bride was and never blinked an eye after I said, “Me.” She asked about the wedding, which was to take place in an urban loft setting in January. I told her I would be wearing Converse. After getting a sense of the day, she asked if I wanted to peruse the racks. Feeling utterly overwhelmed, I asked my sister to go instead.

The store had a dressing room spacious enough to accommodate my wheelchair, my mom, and sister, who lovingly held dresses up to my body or tried their best to slip them over my head. I can’t say it was easy, but I can say I felt special. After a few dresses, the associate brought back a vintage tea-length Oleg Cassini cream capped-sleeve dress. When I put it on, I knew it was "the one." I was beautiful, and my Converse looked fabulous!

Most aspects of planning a wedding are stressful. Planning a wedding with a disability can be an added challenge. While I had a very positive experience dress shopping, I have heard of others that were not as lucky.

Some tips to considered before shopping:

1. Comfort

Dresses can restrict bodily movement needed to operate a wheelchair, dance, or use the restroom. Consider soft fabrics, like chiffon, that won’t slide easily. You may need to remove boning and buttons or add an adjustable corset to a dress to prevent skin breakdown, increase comfort when sitting or moving, and improve ease when taking a dress on or off.

2. Style

Have an open mind about silhouette. Have opinions on dress details such as lace, bling, beading, neckline, and sleeves. What might look good on a model standing up might be awful when she is sitting down. Bodices and necklines that accentuate the face tend to look better on a bride who sits. Less emphasis on the wheelchair, more emphasis on the person in it.

3. Alterations

A seamstress can make a dress work for any bride. Removing tulle may make a dress look more natural and less puffy when sitting down. Before purchasing a dress, ensure the changes you want to make will be possible.

4. Accessories

Veils and trains can be custom made to accommodate a wheelchair. Consider decorating your wheelchair or covering your seatbelt in fabric if that feels right to you. The possibilities are endless!

5. Budget

For the wheelchair user, it is important to be flexible with budget. The right dress may cost more to customize. Do not settle. There will be other aspects of wedding planning that will be easier to compromise on.

6. Advocacy

Bring people to your appointment who you trust. It is tempting to bring all of your family and friends, but this can mean more stress and more opinions. Less is more. Buying a dress is about you and not anyone else.

7. Ask Questions

When booking an appointment, it is necessary to ask about accessibility. Make stores and associates aware of your specific needs since everybody’s definition of “accessibility” is different.


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REBECCA ANGER

Rebecca Anger is a disabled social activist and an aspiring attorney in Chicago, focusing on health and civil rights law. When she is not fighting injustice, she likes to cook and create new recipes and spend time with her husband.  

Find Rebecca on Instagram @reebs8416