Chamein Canton was 23 and the divorced mother of 18-month-old twin boys when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. A year later came a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. "I was bargaining with God," Canton says of that time. Then came her epiphany. "As soon as those words come out of a doctor's mouth, your size doesn't matter any more," says Canton, of Amityville. "For the first time in my life, after years of hating my body, all of a sudden I had to worry about whether I was going to live or die."
The author of six romance novels, featuring full-figured heroines, and of two style guides for curvy brides, Canton, 46, says she chose to focus her life and career on love and marriage. "Weddings are the smiling part of life," she says. "It's the beginning of hope. There's nothing more perfect to me. I love being a part of that."
Canton is managing her MS with medication and makes it to Fashion Week and Bridal Week using a cane. ("When they come up with a Dolce & Gabanna for canes, I'll get one," she says.)
She never gave up on love and is engaged to be married, with a "Sex and the City"-style wedding at city hall scheduled for later this year.
Word got out years ago that Canton could give great fashion guidance -- and soon she was accompanying friends and family everywhere to go bridal shopping, tape measure in hand. Her experiences led her to write "Down That Aisle in Style: A Wedding Guide for Full-Figured Women" (Windriver Publishing, 2007) and the upcoming "Down That Aisle: A Celebration of Romance & Style" (Windriver Publishing, 2013). We asked Canton for advice for curvy brides with an eye for style.
It took a near-death experience for you to learn to love your body. How can curvy brides embrace their shapes?
We women are very hard on ourselves. My challenge to every woman is to go to a mirror and point out everything she likes. Find something that you love about you and keep that in mind. If that escapes you, and you find yourself feeling bad, look down on your ring finger where that engagement ring is and go, "Oh, yeah, I'm getting married."
When it comes to dressing for the big day, where should a curvy bride begin?
Aside from checking out customer feedback on bridal shops online, remember that just like a house, you need to start with a foundation. Go get fitted for a bra. It's the foundation that cements your look. Everybody talks about Spanx, but I recommend Skweez Couture by Jill Zarin. Her line is sexy. She uses lace, and it actually does not look like a pair of biker shorts.
What tips do you have for dress shopping?
My number one thing is to remember fabric. Stay away from hard fabrics -- hard satins, such as taffeta, or any fabric that doesn't have any natural give. Look for soft fabrics that are natural and that drape the body, such as silks. Duchess silk satin is also a good choice.
Is there a particular dress style you suggest?
The first thing bridal shops are going to lead a full-figured bride to is an A-line dress. A-line is what I like to call the all-purpose flour of dresses. Am I saying that an A-line dress can't be beautiful? No, but don't limit yourself. Just because you're plus size, doesn't mean you don't have a shape. I'm a big fan of the mermaid style, or what some people call the fit and flare. A lot of women are afraid of it because they don't think they have the body for it. That's a very flattering look on a full-figured bride. A lot of women don't realize they have more choices than they think they do.
Any other tips for a slimming silhouette?
Look for a princess seam, which elongates the body. It goes from under your arm all the way down to the bottom of the dress. Eyes are naturally drawn to lines. If you want to appear thinner or longer, you want to make sure you have a line that allows the eye to go up and down. I also absolutely adore any gown that has an asymmetrical waist [which is when a seam or fabric comes down on a diagonal]. If you're conscious of your tummy, it will actually camouflage your stomach and make you look thinner.
Are there any bridal designers you're particularly fond of?
Henry Roth is one of my absolute favorites. He's an Australian designer who does a lot of trunk shows out of Kleinfeld. His dresses are woman-friendly. Alfred Angelo is another very good one. Not only do they do full figures, but they don't charge more for the dress just because it's bigger. For the high-end, market, I love Romona Keveza. Her dresses are expensive but worth it.
What about accessorizing a curvy bride's look?
Never go anywhere near a choker necklace. If you are bound and determined to wear a necklace, make sure the necklace is not too close to your neck or too far into your decolletage, bringing unwanted focus. The length of your veil is dependent on your body. If you're petite, please do not go for Princess Diana's veil. It will absolutely overwhelm you. For petite brides, I recommend a fingertip veil. That's a veil that goes as long as your fingertips. Instead of it looking like it's taking you over, it will actually elongate you.