By Ruthie Friedlander
Updated Jan 10, 2018 @ 6:00 pm
Credit: Courtesy

How many times have you watched Say Yes To The Dress and cringed at the unbelievably tiny sample size gowns brides to have to squeeze into? It’s a harsh reality: most wedding shops (big and small) don’t carry dresses in non-sample sizes, let alone sizes for women with curves.

So thank the wedding gods someone decided to fix the problem.

Haute & Co. Bridal Boutique, founded by Shanelle Armstrong Fowler, is a luxury bridal shop that works with brides sizes 14 to 32. The Shanelle Armstrong Fowler mantra: You don’t have to sacrifice on having the classic, fashionable bridal experience because of what you look like.

And thanks to PeopleTV, we now get to see all the ins and outs of what goes on at the shop on the new show, The Perfect Fit. “There are leaders [in fashion] who really want to include everyone in their mix,” Fowler tells InStyle. “However, we still are trying to understand how curvy women fit in, the appropriate language and images we use to engage them, and how we reach her and say hey…its ok, we got you and stand strong with her.”

What did you want to be when you grew up? Were you always into weddings?

I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to speak for those who could not speak for themselves. [And] essentially I became that person. I speak for the curvy women who cannot or do not know how to advocate for themselves and their visions on their wedding day.

How did you first get involved in the wedding industry?

I saw the struggle that a friend was having buying her wedding gown. She was discouraged from making bridal appointments because she was a plus size bride. I never wanted another bride to endure that humiliation on what is suppose to be one of the happiest moments of her life. I knew I could create an experience that would allow a curvy bride to be seen, heard and valued. Ultimately, providing the best selection of wedding gowns, an enchanting experience, and a stress-free final delivery. It is my mission.

What’s the hardest part about finding a wedding dress?

Most brides feel the need to visit too many bride boutiques. The hardest part about finding your wedding dress is the mystery of what you have not seen yet. You will know your wedding gown when you put it on. Be open to what alterations will be able to do and don't expect the sample to fit you.

Why is it important for there to be a plus size wedding shop versus making sure there are plus size options in more mainstream wedding shops?

There should be both – however, every market is different and may not be able to support the two. At Haute & Co. Bridal, my team and I handpick every wedding gown and bridesmaid dress. We make sure the quality is high and the style translates to a bride whether she is a size 12 or 32. Every gown we bring into our boutique can be sampled in a size 30, and many in a size 32. Often at traditional boutiques, some designers limit their collection to a size 18 – which is a ready-to-wear size 12 or 14.

Plus size-wedding boutiques often have staff that is specifically trained to work with curvier brides. They can expertly educate the bride on fit, style, silhouette, and alterations. Although both types of wedding boutiques have value in the market, an exclusively plus size wedding boutique was created just for the plus size bride. She will not only get an incredible customer experience but often be able to try on so many wedding gowns it will be difficult for her to make her final choice!

What is something you wish was different in the industry, and would help more women feel okay about their bodies?

I wish we did not have so much judgment about a woman’s body. If we could just decrease the judgment, then we would see more confident women.

And one celebrity question for our favorite potential bride to be: What do you think J.Lo should wear to her wedding!

Jennifer Lopez is a woman who believes in love. She is a true romantic at heart. She is also a traditionalist. However, expect her to add her own special twist to her wedding gown. I believe we will see her in a figure-hugging, trumpet/mermaid gown, in a soft ivory, long train and a dramatic detail to bring the “wow-factor” to her wedding day. There will not be any embellishment or lace. She will have a cathedral veil and her overall look will be classic, yet glamorous. J.Lo’s look can be worn at the most conservative Catholic church or be ideal for a beautiful ceremony by the ocean. She is a style icon and on her wedding day, she will not disappoint. I expect there will be tears in Alex’s eyes when she walks down the aisle.