Gavin Christianson Bridal | 125 E Parrish St, Durham 

Ten years ago, a carefree bride-to-be named Gineen Cargo set out on a quest to find the perfect wedding dress. Within seconds of stepping into a local boutique, she was turned away.

“There was no warm welcome, no pouring of the champagne that they advertised, no questions about my wedding date or my venue,” Cargo says. “As soon as I walked through the door, the lady looked me up and down and said, ‘I don’t have anything that can fit you.’”

Though Cargo was ultimately able to secure a dress at a more accommodating shop, the size-exclusive experience left a bad taste in her mouth for years to come. Shortly after getting married, Cargo left her PR job to pursue a career in event management, launching a North Carolina-based wedding planning company called Cargo & Co.

She quickly realized that her own experience with dress shopping—an undertaking that had made her stressed and self-conscious, instead of increasing her excitement for the big day—was shared by many of her clients.

“If you know anything about the bridal industry, and the fashion industry in general, once you get into double-digit sizes, your options become much more limited,” Cargo says. “When you’re trying to celebrate the happiest time in your life, why should it be prohibitive from a fashion standpoint?”

Cargo decided to tackle the issue by embarking on another visionary venture. In 2018, she opened Gavin Christianson Bridal, a boutique in downtown Durham dedicated to serving brides of all body types.

“We’re size-inclusive,” Cargo says. “That means we’re not necessarily alienating someone who doesn’t identify as being curvy or plus-size, but we [make] sure that brides across the board have access to viable options.”

U.S. retailers generally use the term “plus-size” to classify clothing sizes 14 and up. Though “plus-size” connotes a size that’s larger than the norm, the average American woman actually wears a size between 16 and 18, and more than 67 percent of the population falls into the plus-size category, according to a study by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education.

Given the prevalence of plus-size customers, it seems mystifying that bridal shops would stock such a limited selection of dresses. While the industry has, over the past decade, seen advancements in size inclusivity—most stores now carry gowns in sizes 2 through 32, the same range as Gavin Christianson’s—many shops continue to fall short in offering more than two or three styles for plus-size brides.

Size constraints from luxury designers are partially to blame, but Cargo says there are plenty of options available, if store owners are willing to look.

“There’s this false assumption that plus-size brides want to conceal their bodies, so some places will only carry conservative or traditional styles in larger sizes,” Cargo says.

And even if a shop technically carries sizes up to 32, its inventory of sample dresses to try on in-store might go up to only a size 10 or 12, forcing plus-size customers to go through the extra hassle of ordering samples ahead of time.

When prospective brides walk into Gavin Christianson Bridal, Cargo works to allay any trepidations they have about fitting into a dress, assuring them that her shop provides a wide array of sample sizes and curates a collection of dresses that are showstopping across the board. Once customers decide on a gown, Cargo offers to add customizations to ensure that they’ll walk down the aisle in a one-of-a-kind dress that maximizes their confidence.

“We have a lot of fun with adding sleeves, adding more bling, changing up the neckline,” Cargo says. “We want to put the focus on accentuating what you love instead of hiding what you don’t.”

Comment on this story at

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.