When longtime wedding professional Christina Sloan noticed a major gap in the wedding industry, she realized she couldn’t waste time waiting for someone else to fill it. After witnessing countless plus-size and curvy brides struggle when wedding dress shopping—and experiencing the challenges first-hand when searching for her own bridal gown—she knew she had to do something.
“I just kept thinking, ‘There has to be a better way.’ Something has to be different,” Sloan says.
In November 2019, Sloan created that “better way” with the grand opening of Refined Bridal Boutique in Birmingham, a size-inclusive bridal boutique offering gowns exclusively for plus-size and curvy brides. Located in the historic Five Points South neighborhood, the shop has one major goal: to provide full-figure, curvy, and plus-sized brides with a joyful, comfortable, and memorable dress shopping experience.
With Refined Bridal Boutique, Sloan aimed to address several obstacles keeping plus-size brides from enjoying their shopping experience and finding the perfect dress. The first was the major drop off in selection for curvy brides. So many brides are limited to a tiny selection of dresses to choose from within bridal shops because shops often don’t carry samples beyond a size 14 or 16. At Refined, sample dresses range in size from 16–44, so every bride has plenty of options, no matter her size or shape.
When selecting designers to carry at Refined, Sloan says she quickly found a passion for working with smaller, independent designers as opposed to big-label designers. The difference, she says, was in their level of care for brides. Designer who charged extra for dresses larger than a certain size (an unfortunate, but all-too-common practice in the wedding industry) were not considered, and neither were those who were unwilling to provide customizations.
“Things I look for are, ‘Do you truly care about the bride’s experience?’, ‘Are you designing quality constructed dresses that work for women’s bodies?’, and ‘Are you designing for women’s curves?’” Sloan says.
In addition to those questions, Sloan says another big component of selecting designers to carry at Refined was choosing those who don’t limit curvy brides to certain styles. She works with designers who design for women’s curves but don’t try to hide them by sticking to safe styles and silhouettes. Refined dresses reflect all the latest trends, giving plus-size brides access to the same styles that designers create for couture lines.
“For so long the perception has been that if you’re curvy or a plus-size bride, you need to be in a certain style of dress,” Sloan says. “You need to be in A-line or you need to have sleeves, and that’s not true at all.”
When Refined opened in 2019, it was one of only two size-inclusive bridal boutiques in the South and one of only a few more in the entire United States. Over the past year and a half, the small business has faced its fair share of COVID-19-related setbacks, including being closed for 13 weeks at the start of the pandemic, but still managed to help between 150–200 brides find their perfect dress.
Outside of the immediate impact of helping area brides, Sloan is also raising awareness for inclusivity and body positivity in the wedding industry. She’s worked with designers to develop lines for curvy brides and consulted with bridal boutiques who want to open size-inclusive stores or add a larger selection of plus-size dresses to their current offerings.
For Sloan, who has seen firsthand the difference Refined has made in so many lives, her motivation comes down to one thing: her desire to make all women feel like beautiful brides, regardless of their size. She remembers one bride in particular who broke down crying when choosing between two dresses. When Sloan asked her what was wrong, she said she was emotional because she never imagined finding two dresses that she loved at her size.
“Finding your dress is such a large part of wedding planning,” Sloan says. “And it shouldn’t have to be the most stressful part. You shouldn’t have to feel anything but excited about getting your wedding dress. So, I’m just really excited that we can do this and do it here in Birmingham.”
Refined Bridal Boutique offers dresses starting at $1,300 and is an appointment-only boutique. In addition to traditional appointments, Refined also offers in-home concierge and a VIP Bespoke experience.