This article is part of Rebecca Anger's column Adapting to the Ordinary, where she shares her personal insights and experience navigating the wedding industry as a person with disabilities.
In January, there was quite a buzz about a small bridal boutique’s window display in Portishead, England. Owners and sisters, Laura Allen and Sarah Parker, of The White Collection change the window display monthly but they had no idea what a statement they were making when they decided to display a mannequin sitting in a wheelchair.
“We were keen to convey the message that wedding dresses should be available to anyone and that every bride looking for their dress should feel welcomed and be given that wonderful experience — it is after all a really special time in any girl’s life,” Sarah wrote in an email interview with Catalyst.
The mannequin, affectionately called Prunella, is showing off an A-line gown with a flattering boat neckline. The wheelchair is also decorated with pretty green vines perfect for a springtime wedding. “We wanted the display to be primarily about the dress on the mannequin and not her disability… We are sure that any bride using a wheelchair would want her wedding dress to be noticed first rather than her disability.”
While the dress did get lots of attention, the story here really is about the wheelchair. The wheelchair is newsworthy and it is wonderful that it has been so widely celebrated. This is not the first time a mannequin has been featured in a wheelchair; JCPenney had a display in 2014, but it very well could be the first time a mannequin is wearing a bridal gown sitting in a wheelchair.
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It has been a very full on but incredible couple of days here at TWC ❤️ When setting up this window display, we didn’t even think to share on our social media pages or ‘put it out there’ but it seems to have done just that all by itself! We would like to thank everyone for your kind comments about our window- we have been surrounded by so much love and positivity, which is what this industry is all about, right?!💕 If this window has done anything, it’s shown us how much of an impact having a wheelchair user in the window has caused, and hopefully as time goes by, things like this will not cause so much of a big response, because there will be a lot more of it around. We didn’t think that our window would get this much attention, but what it really has done is it has opened up a (worldwide!) discussion about inclusivity in this industry, which can only be a good thing!! Thank you so much again for all of your support- Sarah, Laura and the team at TWC xx (Dress- Prunella by @mooshkibridal)
Disability Representation in the Wedding Industry Is BIG News
Disability representation in the wedding industry is virtually non-existent. In planning my own wedding I searched all the popular magazines, surfed countless websites and only found a handful of images with brides in chairs. No other disabilities were represented either. I craved advice from others like me. I feared that bridal shops and other vendors would not be accommodating to my needs. When no images of weddings featuring people who look like you exist, you begin to question if you are worthy of the wedded bliss others so freely take for granted. “Will I get the same treatment that brides get on ‘Say “Yes” to the Dress’? Will vendors think my sister is the one getting married because society says ‘People with disabilities don’t fall in love and get married’?” I cried the night before my wedding dress appointment. Anxiety ran high. It was heartbreaking for my fiancé to see.
In an industry that tends to exclude those that are different, this new example of inclusion is hopefully the beginning of a bigger movement. Images of Prunella were first shared on Twitter by Beth Wilson, a disabled artist, who saw the mannequin in all her glory in The White Collection window. A simple tweet turned into a viral sensation. Disabled brides began sharing pictures of their wedding gowns. Engaged brides shared their anxieties about their own weddings. And all disabled people shared their desires to see more stores display images like this one.
Inclusive Business Is Good Business
After images of their window display went viral, The White Collection became overwhelmed with the response. Media outlets across the globe were interested in conducting interviews. Articles were shared throughout the disability community and beyond. People with disabilities make up 20% of the population so there is a huge opportunity to tap into this market.
In helping a disabled client find the right wedding dress, Sarah Parker suggests communicating your specific needs in advance. “A phone call beforehand to discuss not only her style requests and ideas but any practical requirements she may have for her appointment.” Sarah also suggests asking for a longer appointment to allow more time to change in and out of dresses. If a dress needs to be adapted Sarah recommends requesting that Abi, their amazing seamstress, be on hand during the appointment. “Essentially we want to find her dream dress first and then work out if it needs to be adapted.”
While this may have been the first bridal window display celebrating a disability, we hope this is certainly not the last.