How I figured out what to wear despite my gender ambivalence

Guest post by mrcharliebucket

You saw mrcharliebucket's amazing wedding shoe transformation, now read about the rest of the wedding outfit.

A sketch of my jumpsuit from my designer.  I love it!  It is just the right amount of butchly, but still feels wedding-ish.
A sketch of my jumpsuit from my designer. I love it! It is just the right amount of butchly, but still feels wedding-ish.

Everyone, especially offbeat to-be-weds, experiences some astoundingly specific expectations other people have about what they will wear to be married. Figuring out what to say when faced with these people is a common topic around these parts. But what if you have no idea what you want to wear?

My partner and I have been engaged for about a year and a half, and she's had her dress figured out for about a year and five months. I, on the other hand, have looked for any excuse not to deal with what I'm wearing. It's not that I don't care. I just find the conversation really stressful. You see, my gender expression is caught somewhere between motorcycle riding, beer drinking, chest binding trans-masculine butch type, and jewel encrusted, glitter loving, spike heels sporting drag queen. Well, not between exactly; more like one extreme or the other.

Obviously, a wedding is the perfect excuse to whip out the sequins and glitter, but most of my family and friends have never seen me all tarted up and looking like RuPaul's latest protégé. I know, I know: be yourself! Wear what you want to! It's your day! But this is a wedding, not a diversity workshop. The last thing I want is a bunch of complicated questions about gender identity from a bunch of extended family members who only met me the day before (and who have probably been drinking). It can be awfully hard to untangle how you want to feel in your clothes from how you want others to react to them.

Add to that the fact that wedding clothing options (the traditional ones, anyway) are pretty much divided into two discreet camps of dresses and suits, and you end up with one conflicted genderqueer. I want the special sweet prettiness of a wedding gown, but I also want to wear pants and look butchly. Is that so much to ask?!

It turns out that no, it's not.

Sure, I can't go down to David's Bridal and pick out something off the rack that suits my style. But I found a custom tailor who will design exactly what I want, and who is psyched to work with me. She's even giving me a serious discount because she's planning to add my outfit to her couture line! She is making me a strapless jumpsuit with palazzo style pants and a structured suit-coat to go over the top. It is precisely the right amounts suit and dress for my current gender presentation.

This is what I learned from the process:

There are options other than a suit or a dress.
If it's just a matter of finding the right suit or dress, great! But remember, there are other options. Lots of people draw inspiration from their ethnic heritage and wear things like kilts, saris, or robes. Even if you're white like me (and concerned about the politics of appropriating another culture's traditions), there are other options. If you don't wear a dress or a suit every day, think about what you do wear and how it could be made to fit your wedding style. And use search engines! I spent probably dozens of hours doing image searches on varying criteria. I took what I liked and turned it into my own custom outfit.

Try stuff on.
Seriously. Spend some time trying on suits and dresses. Even if it's been like 100 years since you looked at a dress, it's worth the effort if you are on the fence. Make sure you bring back-up for this — you want to be around someone who knows and loves the full range or your awesome freakiness to help counteract the weird gendered messages that come with wedding clothes shopping. Figure out what details you like, what shapes make you feel good, what touches make it feel like wedding clothes. Take notes. Especially if you're considering getting your outfit custom made. You'd be surprised what a good dressmaker can do with all those details you love.

Be honest with everyone involved.
Those of us with non-standard gender presentation are pretty used to avoiding awkward conversations when possible — especially when shopping. But when it comes to what you want to wear for your wedding, you're going to need help along the way. Even if you're just picking out something you like from your favorite store or your own wardrobe, you'll probably at least want a friend's opinion. That goes double if you're having an outfit custom made. Make sure you choose a vendor or shopping buddy you feel comfortable talking to. If you can't tell your dressmaker that you want your jacket to look more butch (for instance), you're unlikely to get the fit you really want.

Shop around.
I spoke to about ten designers before I found someone I liked who could do what I wanted in a price I could afford. Some people flat out told me they weren't interested, and you know what? I love those people! I'm so glad they gave me the opportunity to find someone who was really excited about me and my vision.

outfit progressTell the people whose opinions matter what you'll be wearing.
This includes your fiancé. If you are concerned about people's reactions to your look, tell them in advance what you're going to wear. And sound excited! If you're on the fence about it, they will be too. By the same token, know when to tell people to butt out. It's totally OK to be like, “I found this great custom tailor who is making this outfit that is just totally me! I'm really excited about it, but I don't want to spoil the surprise so I'm not sharing details.”

Stop looking.
You've heard this before, but it bears repeating, especially when you're basically making up your outfit from scratch. No matter how much time you spend searching for the perfect thing, you're going to eventually run into pictures of people who look totally amazing in something different from what you chose. You will then be tempted to think, “Oh no! I have totally chosen the wrong thing and my wedding is totally ruined, plus my partner is going to leave me for this hottie!” This is not true. You are going to look amazing. You are going to feel great about your clothes on the day of, you're going to marry the love of your life, and then you're going to party. But the best way to avoid this crisis of confidence is to stop looking!

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Comments on How I figured out what to wear despite my gender ambivalence

  1. Palazzo pants FTW! the sketch is to die for! Does it have tails? It looks there might be tails on there!?! What color is it going to be?? When will it be done?? When is your first fitting?? I NEED to see POARN for all of it!!

  2. Although I’m marrying a man, I definitely feel you on this one. I feel most comfortable when I look like a boy, and my dude loves that about me. I just don’t normally feel comfortable in dresses. I did manage to find something (at David’s Bridal no less!) that makes me feel like some Tilda Swinton-esque pixie creature, and that works for me. I don’t know if it’s just right, but I have stopped looking.

    Now we want to see you in this amazing creation! Congratulations on finding your dream wedding dress-like thing!

  3. I had to Google both “strapless jumpsuit” and “palazzo pants” but once I did I thought they’ll look amazing combined into a wedding outfit!!

    • Kissa, at my high school (about 25+ years ago) an awesome girl wore a black palazzo pants jumpsuit which was strapless and had a spangly top part. To the PROM!!! I was totally in awe of her before prom, then at the prom when I realized that her floor length chiffon skirt was actually PANTS, I just revered her.

  4. oh man that is gorgeous and also all excellent advice.
    While i love sequins and chiffon it’s hard for me to feel like i’m wearing anything less than a costume when I have it on – that goes triple for colours i never wear, like oh say white. And after a lot of thought i realized that i don’t want my wedding to feel like a production with costumes and performances (though kudos to those of you who can do it!), but something smaller and closer to our everyday love.
    Which is why i’m wearing a corset-vesty-thing and knee-length skirt in grey suiting material. it’s a dress! it’s a suit! it’s not quite tweed but close enough for me!

  5. I love this post. I also love that it’s the fifth or sixth OBB post I’ve seen on dressing a gender-variant person-about-to-be-married.* I have bookmarked this one (okay, and all of the others), because one of these months, the partner and I will need all the help we can get picking clothing.

    *I wonder whether we can reinvent the word “bridegroom” as a gender-neutral term for spouse-to-be.

    • In print, you could use “bride/groom” and I at least would completely get what that meant 🙂

    • Ok, linguistic geek moment (please forgive…)

      The term “bridgegroom” actually comes from an older term “bridgegume”, which literally means “bride-man” (as opposed to bride-woman), because “gume” is Old English for “man”. When the term “gume” for “man” fell out of use, English speakers folk-etymologised it into a word they knew (groom). Now we typically drop the “bride” bit anyway.

      So, basically, “bride-groom” = “man-bride”.

      So, basically, I think the term is definitely perfect for reappropriating. 😉

      *geek-out over*

      On a more normal note, the palazzo pants / suit jacket idea is awesome-sauce.

      • *grins at you* Don’t apologize for being a linguistic geek at me. I’m a postdoc in English medieval literatures, and, um, narrowly avoided making the same point in my original comment.

  6. I know how you feel too! I’m marrying a guy, but man, I usually really dislike dresses. Most of the time you won’t find me in anything but a tank top/cami and shorts (we live in TX where it’s hot!). When it came to finding something to wear for the wedding, all of those big poofy Cinderella dresses made me gag a little bit (and the “you should feel like a *princess!* on your day!”..but I don’t want to!). I finally picked out a pretty, short white dress from Nordstrom’s–looks wedding-y, but is not poofy, huge or at all Cinderella-ish. 😉

  7. You are so right on the button here. I’ve filmed brides who admitted to feeling uncomfortable on their wedding day because ‘I’m just not a dress person’ and this has to be THE day to be yourself!

  8. Bless this post. All of it. Pre-everything transguy, deciding to postpone finalizing my transition plans so my wedding photos don’t look like awkward puberty, but I’m going to get married in an old school pirate frock coat, I say ‘to be different, for laughs’ when really it’s ‘if I wore a dress to my wedding it would ruin the whole day, and the bride wouldn’t know who I am and I’d be so dysphoric I could die, and I may as well feel like I’m in costume anyway since this isn’t me’ we’re gonna do the courthouse thing a month before so there’s no extra pressure, we live as man & wife [oh patriarchy] as it is and have considered eachother so for the better part of a year now. I’m happy that my fiancee is understanding of who I am and is as campy as I am. Your sketches look really nice, I think that’ll be really cool looking. I’m glad you’re able to go through with what you want and not what people tell you you should want.

    • Kendall – Be true to yourself, wear what you want and what represents you. If you don’t you’ll regret it after you transition. 🙂

  9. Grats on staying true to yourself and finding someone to rock your idea! I can’t wait to see the finished product!!

  10. LOVE IT!! The drawing is beautiful, and you must post pictures of you in it! This is such a great post, thank you!

  11. I love the outfit, and I bet it’s going to look fantastic on you!

    I love the people that told you they weren’t interested as well. I would much rather someone be completely honest with me than try to string me along, which you find A LOT in the wedding industry. I can’t tell you how many bridal consultants didn’t get my vision, and instead tried to shove me into a dress they liked that had zip to do with my theme or vision. I actually had one tell me flat out that my favorite dress at another store was the completely wrong dress because I didn’t like a couple of thing about it, and proceeded to tell me I needed to be in a dress that looked like it belonged in the Disney Princess collection.

  12. I’m so looking forward to this wedding to be featured. I want to see this outfit in all it’s glory. I’m so glad you found something that makes you happy on the day you will be the happiest.

  13. I like dresses, but I’m tempted to ditch wearing one just so I can have an excuse to wear awesome flowing palazzo pants instead with a sparkly form-fitting top.

    Then again, why do I need an excuse? 😉

  14. dang, this outfit is gonna be siiiic! I hope you submit your wedding pics after the fact!

    Also, Denver, REPRESENT!

  15. I’ve been looking for the right place to post this and this seems to be the post. I’ve pretty good evidence people comb the archives here a lot (my comments links to flickr from months old posts still get 2-3 hits a week!).

    Anyway, I recently came upon a kickstarter for a company that is making suits for butch women and FTMs… or pretty much anyone with smaller bodies that wants a masculine tailored suit but has a hard time shopping for them is regular men’s stores (either due to their body size or not wanting to deal with the attitudes they encounter). It was started by a lesbian who wanted a dapper suit to wear to HER wedding. The kickstarter is going for another 2 weeks but it’s already funded so even if you see this after that it looks like they’re going into production:

  16. Love this post. I’m in the same boat. Wedding is 5 months away, and I just know I don’t want to look like a man, or wear a dress. Would you share your tailor’s name/business? How does one go about finding a tailor who can handle gender variant styles? Help if you’re willing!

  17. I’m usually not a fan of wearing dresses. As a plus size, it’s hard to find things that are stylish and look good. Plus, I just feel more comfortable in sweats. I left David’s bridal feeling old and unattractive. Way too frothy for me, and the woman assigned to help me gave up as soon as she realized I wasn’t buying it. Found a great mostly white top at Dress Barn. And a white skirt for the win. Although the white skirt may get swapped out for something more colorful.

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