Bridal suit shopping because I’m a combo platter of femininity and masculine traits

Guest post by Emily James
Photos by Hannah White Photography
Photos by Hannah White Photography

Ever since the day I proposed to my lovely future wife, I have had the overwhelming, looming dread that I knew would accompany shopping for my wedding outfit. Being in a same-sex relationship (or “a relationship” as most of us know it…) I have been subject to a barrage of questions regarding what I would be wearing for the wedding. I might be described as an athletic, makeup-free, combo platter of femininity and masculine traits, therefore people were overly concerned about my attire.

My future wife already had an image in her head of what she would wear before I even proposed, so she had no problems finding her wedding dress within two weeks of the proposal. It was very apparent that my journey would be much longer, and would involve far more bourbon.

I hated thinking about all this because on one hand, I really don't care what I wear. Ultimately, regardless of what I wear, I am going to marry the most amazing human being I have ever come into contact with… so it's an irrelevant issue. On the other hand, I want that jaw-dropping moment where we both look as gorgeous as possible, and the image that is engrained into our brains forever is as stunning visually as it will feel. What to wear… what to wear…

As I began preparing, I initially thought that I would wear a wedding dress. Something lacy and elegant, yet modest and covering. I began searching online for inspiration, and found some absolutely stunning gowns. I went as far as to try on some dresses, which was an awful experience. I walked into the bridal store begrudgingly, and was asked if I wanted a strapless. A strapless what? I am a woman who happens to date women… so my mind went somewhere that I could only assume that this innocent woman had not been planning on. OH. A strapless bra. Did I need a strapless bra? Shit… did I have to buy one now?

I tried on a couple of the dresses and felt more uncomfortable than I have felt since the fifth grade, when I allowed a girl to put makeup on my face for the first time. I saw the beauty in it — it just didn't feel right.

This led me to a serious contemplation situation. Why did I want to wear a dress? All I could think about was my desire not to fulfill a stereotype that I actually fit into — the dress/pants lesbian wedding. Was that worth the discomfort that I knew I would encounter on what is supposed to be the best day of my life? NO.

I fulfill a stereotype: I wear pants, and my future wife wears dresses. I have been so caught up in not fulfilling a stereotype that I have driven myself crazy. I was done. There were two months to go to the wedding. I had to buckle down.

Then we had our engagement photos taken… I decided to take a more comfortable approach and wore jeans, a blue shirt, a grey men's suit vest, and a fun pink and turquoise bow tie with some color-coordinated Chucks. I loved how the photos came out. So I decided that if I was confident enough to rock that outfit in the photos, then why the hell was I so stressed about what I would wear for the wedding.

I did as I always do, and began researching online about butch women shopping for men's suits. I came across some articles about women going into various department stores and being treated in a variety of ways when looking for a suit. It seemed like a crap shoot. I have been out for years, being okay with being gay, and not a stereotypical feminine woman living in Iowa, is second nature at this point. I went to the several stores with failing results. After these failures, I decided to suck it up — it was time to go to the mega center of all men's suiting: Men's Wearhouse.

Oh, Men's Wearhouse. I was really uncomfortable going into this store. I took a friend along, who is far more outspoken than I am, to attempt to translate my grunts and rather unexcitable personality. There were two sales people when we walked in: a man and a woman. I figured that, because she was a woman, she would be more sympathetic and understanding to my needs. As we struggled to get past the fact that I was shopping for a suit for me, not my husband, and that no, my husband and I were not wearing matching suits… she finally suggested that I wait for the man who was helping another customer at the time.

Once the gentleman was done assisting another customer, he came right up to my friend and myself to introduce himself. A strong handshake with a good look in the eye — so far so good. I gave the rundown of what I thought I was looking for: pants and a vest. No suit coat. I suggested grey as a color. He retrieved a “sharkskin” suit and proceeded to educate me on what this animal print meant. But I determined that it looked like a giant tuna can. I didn't know how to articulate this to the gentleman. I babbled for a bit, then I finally stated very plainly, “you can't make me look like a boxy bull-dyke.” (Please note: I have a lot of love for all people, boxy, dykey, everyone.)

The gentleman looked at me, in fact the whole store looked at me, then he doubled over laughing. “I got you now. Now I know where we're going,” he replied. It may have been some harsh language, but it certainly got the point across. Now we could get somewhere. As the gentleman began assembling other options, he stated, “you thinking you want a tie?” I replied to him by asking if the Pope was Catholic… and then he stated, “you're a bow tie type of woman, right?” “Absolutely I am,” I stated, followed by, “And don't even try to put me in one of those pre-tied bullshits. I am a grown-ass woman and can tie my own, damn it”. He again doubled over in a fit of laughter.

I was getting somewhere with this guy. This was going surprisingly well. Sadly, after all the work we put in, they didn't have an outfit that I liked. Eventually I found it…

Outfit: Pants, Banana Republic (men's department) -- Shirt, Brooks Brothers (women's department) -- Vest, J. Crew (men's department) -- Bowtie, Tommy Hilfiger from Men's Warehouse.
Outfit: Pants – Banana Republic (men's department) Shirt – Brooks Brothers (women's department) Vest – J. Crew (men's department) Bowtie – Tommy Hilfiger – Men's Warehouse

Moral of the story: Be honest, be bold, and don't go into situations assuming that they are going to be bad. The boldness and honesty sets the sales people at ease, and allows for a much more simple transaction.

I have found that most people I have interacted with were completely shocked that I was marrying a woman, and often times didn't know how to respond. The more normal you respond to them, the more normal they will act. As more and more folks are getting married, I like to think that those of us who get the shocked response are helping to pave the way for the folks who will be married years from now. Therefore, absorbing the shock and awe is just our contribution to younger folks — not to mention our response to their reaction will set the stage for how they believe all “non-traditional” couples will interact with them.

Ultimately though, it's not worth the hours and hours of research and stress that I have put into it. I get to marry the most amazing woman I've ever met, who loves me unconditionally, including when I look absolutely horrible. That is what matters.

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Comments on Bridal suit shopping because I’m a combo platter of femininity and masculine traits

  1. Looking for the right outfit that straddles the feminine/masculine divide is SO DIFFICULT. I have to cobble together an outfit and take advantage of a seamstress friend’s kindness. But you’ll be happy you sought out something you want and are comfortable in instead of (what I am inclined to do) just saying, “FUCK IT, I PICK THIS. LET’S GO DO SOMETHING FUN.”

    • I hadn’t realized that this was actually published until just now – I must have missed the email from Offbeat Bride.
      Thank you for the comment, I was exceptionally happy in what I chose to wear, and felt very comfortable in my own skin. I hope that my message can assist others in some way.
      At times I definitely was of the “fuck it” persuasion – but at the end of the day I know I put way too much stress into something not worth the effort.

  2. She’s the butch (but prefers the term boi) and I’m the femme and she’s planning on going to the Men’s Warehouse too…there have been several positive articles about that chain and the way they have worked with other masculine leaning lesbians, so we figure that we should start there. One plus is that we are in northern (Bay-area) California, so *most* people here are more comfortable with the idea of a same-sex wedding. Our wedding party is gender mixed, with some of the women wearing tuxes, while others are in dresses. One of them made my SO wear a ballgown in her wedding – so not a cool thing to do to a butch chick – so the pay-back is making her wear a tux in ours!

    • Best of luck at the Men’s Wearhouse! I think it is more about who you find working there, and likely less about the actual store itself. If there’s any way I can be of assistance in advice, or any other way – please comment on here (I now have it set up so I will get an email notification and I will keep checking back now).
      Our wedding party was a difficult situation to handle – again playing with gender roles and what would make others comfortable. My wife had her VERY feminine sister stand up with her in a dress, and my two lovely friends stood up in pants and a sweater.
      Best of luck!

  3. This is awesome. My cousin and her wife got married last summer and I was shocked that she purchased a dress. I haven’t seen her since the wedding so I haven’t gotten to speak with her about it – but I will this weekend just because I’m curious as to why she made that choice. I think it might be similar to you – she did not want to fit into the stereotype, as she is more of an athletic, more masculine role and her wife is more feminine. Personally I always knew I’d wear a dress but I am a very girly cis woman so there’s that. Anxious to see what it turns out – ladies in suits generally turn out classy as fuck imho!!

    • It’s a very personal decision – I think that I was asked what I was going to wear 1,000+ times before the wedding, and am always asked that after the wedding.
      I sure think I looked classy as fuck 🙂 Decked it out with the cufflinks and all. Dapper.
      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  4. This is fantastic.
    I’m a straight-cis lady but I think something about a well tailored suit just looks hot on everybody.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Further, I think that it certainly adds a level of confidence that I think many women lack. Women who are often stereotyped, or are gender-queer, or just simply dissatisfied with their body may finally get that, “damn I look good” feeling in a nice suit.
      Thank you for the feedback.

  5. Just because it looks like an awesome business, I wanted to mention Kipper Clothiers. ( A tailor that kind of caters to women who want suits that fit right. They had a Kickstarter a while back that did pretty well. I really hope they succeed. (I soo want a suit from them, but alas, my budget does not allow for it right now while I’m back at school)

    • I love businesses that cater to those who spend hours searching the internet for a company that makes them feel included.
      Living in Iowa – I didn’t feel as though it was feasible to travel just for an outfit. I am sure that I could have found other options such as Kipper Clothiers, however that just isn’t my thing.
      Again – I love that people care for people who aren’t always cared for.

  6. I love this! Me and my wife both struggled with this. Neither of us are dress wearing types but we really struggled to visualise formal (but not stuffy) no dress or skirt attire that was cut for boobs and that didn’t make us look like we about to sit down for a board meeting…. We also didn’t want to look like two cake topper grooms who had lost a pair of big skirted brides, with no offence meant to lovers of formal groom attire or big skirt loving brides. What we wanted was clothes cut for women but with masculine/andro styling and a bit of sass, a style I like to refer to (usually only in my own head) as dapper casual….

    What we ended up with was matching grey waistcoats (this was the most “formal” bit of the outfits) and white shirts from a French catalogue and chinos from Gap, grey for her, burgundy for me. She accessorized with a bright blue silk tie and bright blue converse and I had a burgundy and cream paisley bowtie and pale grey converse, I also had some little sparkly ear studs and a ridiculous gold bag in the shape of a camera for a bit of added (yet not to feminine) bling. So we matched but also differed. I loved it, I felt dressed in something special, yet comfortable and exactly my blend of masculine/feminine, very Janelle Monáe.

    Like I say, we had to create that vision, we didn’t find it anywhere although the images of weddings in the lesbian wedding archives on here are amazing for inspiration! We minimised the time spent in shops (my wife HATES it) and did a lot of research online. What I would do to see roughly what things looked like together was copy a picture of it online and paste it in a word document with pictures of the other bits of the outfit. We then did trips to Gap to determine size and ordered exactly what we wanted online. The shirts and waistcoats we got lucky on size wise but the beauty of a catalogue is you can send it back…. We didn’t buy anything from a formal attire or wedding shop (which saved us a lot of money too) but it was the way we put it together that made it so. The grey waistcoats, at least here in the UK, are just so weddingy but in the catalogue they were shown as part of a casual outfit and looked very different.

    • I think that you idea of cutting and pasting onto one document in order to find a cohesive look was very smart. I did a LOT of buying/ordering/trying things and taking them back. On our way to the airport for our honeymoon we had to stop at J Crew so my wife (still love calling her that) and I could take back a bunch of stuff that I didn’t end up wearing for the wedding.
      I’m glad you two were able to find your own style and that you could feel like a boss for YOUR day.

  7. hello and congratulations! As a suit wearing, bow tie tying woman who works for Mens Wearhouse…. I love that you are wearing a suit to your wedding! I wish more brides and grooms would read your last paragraph, it’s so important to remember that. And that super in love happy glow means you two are going to be beautiful in whatever you wear 🙂

    • That was incredible sweet! Thank you!
      Some of my favorite moments from the wedding was that heart dropping moment when I saw my wife for the first time. I certainly cried. I know she was enamored with seeing me as well. While I may have worn a more “traditionally masculine” outfit – I felt like my raw emotions were really on display on that day and that brought it all back to who I am.
      I also appreciate that there are some solid, bow tying, suit wearing women representing us out there – and I am sure that you are a kickass person to go to for women in our situation.
      Thank you!

  8. I’m actually in a hetero marriage and I had a similar problem! We were keen to get away from some of the more gendered aspects of weddings, and I really wanted to wear a tailored jacket to go with my dress – and something that would be equivalent to my husbands fabulous vintage suit and be appropriate for our morning ceremony. So I wanted sharp tailoring, not a soft bridal cover-up/evening wear, and not a stiff business suit. I was stunned at how few options there were in shops. In the end I decided to make my own using New look pattern 6013. Fortunately I can sew! Anyway, I would highly recommend this pattern if anyone else is after a women’s jacket.

    • I know this to be true and it blows my mind. In a non-butch and non-wedding scenario, I used to have the hardest time finding tailored jackets for work. Most of the women in the office favored slouchy sweaters and cardigans and that was cool, but I liked that sharp menswear-for-women look. But it’s so weird to me because it wasn’t that long ago that most women wore skirt suits to be married. My grandma did! Where did they all go?

      There was a beautiful white tailored jacket featured on OBB a lil while back but I have no idea what to search under.

    • I love that you posted a comment on here. I think that my struggle, and your struggle are significant, and there aren’t enough resources for women looking in our direction for their weddings as well. I don’t know what your support group looked like, but I felt limited. Many people wanted to support and I certainly thank them for that, but most really had no way to figure out what my vision was, and I did a really poor job of being able to express my vision to them (mostly because I didn’t really know what my vision was) ((please excuse the horribly long run-on sentence).
      Sewing would have been an awesome option – however I think I would have been just as stressed trying to figure out what fabric to use 🙂
      I ended up finding an elderly woman named Ms. Garnet who was recommended to me by an elderly, sizable woman who had had Ms. Garnet create a swimming suit for her years ago to fit her rotund, full bodied figure. I was told that if she could make this woman feel relatively comfortable in a swimsuit, than she sure as hell could help me get an outfit to fit. It was uncomfortable, and the lady and I played word games as she refused to acknowledge my wedding, but rather my “event”. However, she did a bang up job – and I felt good. It was a true leap of faith to go into that woman’s house and trust her, but I think that may be a testament to the idea that if we go into situations assuming the best in folks, then we might just get the best of what they have to offer.
      Anyhow, congratulations to you! Also, thank you for the comment!

  9. I have to tell you about Saint Harridan!!! All those masculine of center ladies, butches, bois, transmen etc all your suit desires can be met and made real with Saint Harridan! they sell suits and dress shirts and vests and bow ties! Based in Oakland, CA they do pop up shops all over the country, but you can also order online. It’s such a great wonderful and needed company. Check them out!

  10. Great article! Iim thinking of going to try suits on. Actually I’ve been trying to figure out what to wear to my wedding for a while… I’m a genderqueer pansexual (I actually lean more toward women which makes this next part funny) and my partner is a straight cis guy. I hate wearing dresses, especially in front of people, but part of me feels guilty for not wanting to because it seems like the whole wedding thing is more for my family than for me, and it would make them happy if I was in a dress. He says it doesn’t matter, but I’m sure my straight fiance would probably appreciate a dress. I’d almost rather get married in jeans than anything else. I want to be married to him, the most amazing person I’ve ever met, if only I could skip the wedding. I’m actually dreading it to be honest… Not only the clothing thing. I’m also a pagan, and both of our families are Christian, and his dad is going to perform the service (Baptist pastor) so I feel like the odd one out and like it is all just some show. Sorry to vent in your article comments, I just needed to get that out.

  11. I never knew there could be so much loveliness in one post! I am getting married soon and I thought I was over looking at wedding blogs until I came across yours! You guys do a fabulous job keep carry on.
    For me, when I heard word “wedding day” or “bridal dress” the word comes in my top of mind is, they have excellent clothing with high quality, good support and quickest delivery. My experiences with this store is excellent, so far.

  12. I’m going to be wearing a tux jacket with tails over…..something. I’m a tomboy, my soon-to-be husband loves me as a tomboy, so why not? I’m just not into big poofy dresses. Whenever I see a picture of a dress I like, it’s always labeled a “bridesmaids” dress. Argh! I want something knee or calf length, some lace, a-line, and maybe off white. Why is this so hard to find?

  13. I LOVE the photo of you, your wife, her bridesmaid, and your groomswomen at the end! That is the sweetest ensemble I’ve ever seen, to have coordinating colors!! How has this never been done, or how have I never seen this before?! Kudos to you for assembling your own masterpiece, it’s understated and epic. I love your advice of responding calmly and setting the tone too – it helps us all be recognized as people, gay, straight, purple unicorn, what have you, and is empowering to forge a new path in a positive way. Mazeltov!

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