Spoonie Bride: How to find a wedding dress when chronically ill

Guest post by M. O'Shea
chronically ill wedding dress alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
Photos of the author by Tauni Joy Photography

When it comes to planning your Spoonie wedding, it's all about the dress. If you suffer from chronic pain from a chronic illness, the dress will be a big factor in how your wedding day will go… This is because the dress dictates your comfort level!

Here are some easy ways to figure out which wedding dress will feel good, without wasting spoons trying on tons of dresses — you don't want to drain your energy!

Tips for figuring out which dresses to try on

shopping for a wedding dress with a chronic illness alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
This jersey knit sheath from David's Bridal for $199 was extremely comfortable.

1. Consider a non-bridal dress that happens to be white.

These will have less layers and will be less heavy, and also less expensive. I try to be budget friendly on this blog because I know with medical expenses everything else can get in the way. Prioritize your health.

2. Look for a dress with only two or three layers.

Wedding dresses are like cakes. Some have more fabric layers than most. Some have up to 12, 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.

3. Consider the fabric. The softer and lighter it is, the better.

Jersey knit, lace and satin are favorites. Make sure you bring a flash light to test if the fabric is see through!

4. If your weight fluctuates, consider a corset top.

The dress I landed on was a soft lace up all the way with a ribbon. That meant that no matter how my body changed, the dress could be altered through tightening or loosening the corset lacing.

I originally bought the first dress pictured, and it was zip up all the way which ended up hurting me in the end.

Where should you buy a dress?

My dress was not bought at a traditional bridal shop, so I suggest getting creative with your search. Personal favorites are:

1. Secondhand bridal shops

This way, you can buy couture for less, and get it off the rack the same day.

2. Quinceanera shops

This is where I found my dress. You can find excellent customer service and a different style of dress if you don't like current bridal fashion, like I do.

3. Department stores

These are good places to find dresses with less layers. The dresses will be simpler and more low key, and a simpler dress is usually a more comfortable dress.

Good department stores are:

I had a bad experience at David's Bridal with my body fluctuations. I do not recommend them.

How to shop

  1. Do NOT shop online — you need to try things on, to see how they feel on your body.
  2. Only go to one store per day.
  3. When you dress shop, make it your one goal for the day.


Try to wear as little shapewear and other undergarments as possible. This means no complicated slips or spandex. You're going to need to pee at some point. Shapewear items are also restrictive and uncomfortable.

I did wear a soft, expensive strapless bra and soft spandex shorts on my wedding day. I made sure my undergarments were soft and necessary. If it's your wedding day and you think you look good without your spandex, skip it. I was still comfortable in mine because of the type I wore.

My Dress

how to shop for a wedding dress when you have chronic illness alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
My wedding dress was satin and silk. It didn't have structured hard boning in the corset. This meant the corset was soft, which was good for my costocondritis. The dress had an empire waist, so there was no pressure on my abdomen, which is a constant painful spot for me. It had crystal sparkle detail on the bodice, and a simple three-layer skirt. It was not heavy at all and twirled!

You can still have a princess dress and comfort. Just know what to look for, and don't give up on the dress of your dreams!

A final tip: do your bridal portraits sitting down to save spoons!

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Comments on Spoonie Bride: How to find a wedding dress when chronically ill

  1. This is one of the most informative bridal dress posts I have read! Well done to the author!

  2. Actually, I disagree a bit about shopping online. I’ve found the try at home options from some of the online retailers to be AMAZINGLY helpful in seeing what I feel comfortable in and what is flattering, and I can kind of go at my own pace, and it’s much more accessible for my mom as well since we could do it even when she was getting chemo and couldn’t be out in public. I haven’t yet found The Dress mail order and my in person appointment had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, but I have a much better idea of what I’m looking for and how many dresses I can probably tolerate trying on at a time. (On an average day, 3 is okay, 6 is exhausting, on a bad day 2 is pushing it.)

    The only real issues:
    1. It isn’t free, so you are paying for the privilege.
    2. You do have to keep in mind the return times so you don’t get charged full price for the samples; that said I’ve found the ones I’ve used quite reasonable if you need to request an extra day or two as long as you communicate with them.
    3. They don’t ship with underpinnings and while dresses often have some structure built in, if you want something that has a lot of fullness like a ball gown, it’s an idea to get at least a cheap crinoline or hoop slip online or figure out some other trick (if you already own a poofy skirt that might be enough) to get more of the idea of the shape and how you will be able to move and sit in it.
    4. They do not have all sizes so you may have to get a sample a bit too big or too small; having a helper who knows a bit about dresses (or has at least watched a lot of say yes to the dress) makes a difference in getting a fit that’s close to how the right size would look on you. Also some come with clips and so on for this and some don’t – where needed I made do with clothespins and a plain t-shirt folded to fit in the gap to clip the sides of the dress to. (To hold on a too small sample without fastening it up the back.)

    Also, I’ve been taking photos of myself from the front, back, and side in each dress. It helps me remember what I liked and what I didn’t so I can narrow things down more and will have something to show the salesperson if I shop in person.

    (I’ve tried on ~9 dresses this way, which was more than needed but it was also a pick me up for my mom during her chemo so I did extra. But I started with 3 dresses I liked well enough with different silhouettes so I could see how a ball gown felt vs a mermaid vs an a-line and which was most flattering. So that’s what I’d suggest if you’re unsure, start with the broadest range of shapes/styles that might work for what you want, so you can rule out things that just plain don’t work for you for whatever reason. Like I like ball gowns on me, but it’s a lot of dress and I don’t think I could wear one all day. So either I look at another silhouette entirely or I look at changing for the reception or I look at something like a more comfortable dress with an overskirt I can remove.)

  3. When I was dress shopping, I was surprised when one dress shop wouldn’t allow me to bring my water bottle. I have Sjögren’s syndrome, so I have dry mouth. I mildly panicked at the thought of being without water to sip on. Luckily I had dry mouth lozenges in my purse. I also made it clear up front that I was looking for a very lightweight dress & would not be wearing shape-wear.

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