Wedding suits for butches, transmasculine beings, and other festive gender-benders

July 16 | Guest post by S. Bear Bergman offbeatariel
Lea Delaria rocking a Lyon Suit from Saint Harridan. Photo by Cindy Fong.
Lea Delaria rocking the Lyon Suit from Saint Harridan. Photo by Cindy Fong, courtesy of the Saint Harridan online catalog.
Hey, Ariel.

While my partner is getting married in a lovely gown, I lean more towards the butch end of the spectrum and would like to get married in a stylin' suit or maybe even a tux.

Question is, I just can't find any good suits for women. Help?

-Jessica

It turns out that many butches, transmasculine beings, and other festive gender-benders would like to know exactly how a person to whom men's clothes are not traditionally marketed should go about purchasing a well-fitted suit or tuxedo. The answer, I am cheerful to tell you, is the same as it is for any person of any gender or sex who wants to buy a suit and have it fit well.

First: buy a suit. A decent–quality suit.

Next: take it to your tailor (or use the tailoring services of the place where you bought it). If you don't have a tailor, ask your suit-iest pal where he or she goes.

Those are the key points.

The bad news is that you will not be renting anything, and you will not be getting off the hook for less than $300 to $400 if you buy the suit new. The good news is that a good-quality suit will last twenty years if your size remains stable and you care for it well.

A well-fitted suit costs more money — there is no way around it. Unless you are a perfect size off the rack, you will need a tailor. Cheap suits cannot be tailored much because they're not cut for it — they're all of a piece instead of assembled out of contoured parts, which is cheaper to make but cannot be altered much beyond shortening legs or arms. Someone who wants a nice suit that fits well should be prepared to go to, say, Men's Wearhouse at least (and a department store or specialty shop at best). Men's Wearhouse also guarantees their tailoring for life, and carries a very wide range of sizes for those of us who are short, fat, or (like me) both.

The most important measurements are shoulders for a suitcoat, and hips for the trousers. This is because they are the most difficult parts of a suit to alter. Buying a suit that fits you well across the shoulders will mean that it can be let out or taken in at the waist with relative ease (up to two inches in either direction, no problem. Maybe three, if the tailor is clever). Ditto, pants. Pants can be taken in up to four inches at the waist, but nothing will ever eliminate the terrible pockets gaping problem you get when trousers are too tight across the hips – do not let this happen to you. Pick a pair of pants that fit across your hips. Sleeves can be shortened, suitcoats can be shortened. Trousers can be taken up at the rise, the seat, shortened, tapered a bit – whatever is necessary. Does it cost more to have such exact tailoring? Yes. Will you end up with a well-fit, great-looking suit? Yes.

(If money is no object, get a suit custom-made to measure from places like Duchess Clothier or Saint Harridan.)
 

Bold Striped Atticus Lègèr
Cort rocking a Bold Striped Atticus Lègèr from Duchess Clothier
 

Learn the language of suit shopping

Suits are called by jacket size, and a regular (or R) suit will usually have a jacket size six inches more than the pants size that goes with it (this is called the drop. A classic drop is six inches, and an "athletic" drop is usually eight. A long suit (or L) will have arms that are 1 to 2 inches longer in the sleeves, in proportion, and a slightly longer rise (the rise is the distance between the button and the point of the crotch, in the trousers). A short (or S) will be shorter, and a portly (or P) will have more room in the gut.

Your dress pants size is probably the same as your jeans size up to a 32, and one size larger from 34 upwards. So if you wear a size 38 jeans, you probably wear a 40 in dress pants, and thus your suit size is a 46.

Start there. If you're not ready to ask a salesclerk for help, try a few of the suitcoats in what you guess is probably your size on. Try buttoning them, and also crossing your arms. Sit down for a minute. It's not going to feel as comfortable as your tracksuit, but you should not feel any binding or bunching across the upper arms or just above the knee, and you should be able to fold your arms across your chest without feeling like the jacket is straining. If you feel any of those, go up a size. If you're swimming, go down a size. Remember that a double breasted suit is cut rather differently from a single-breasted suit, and your size may vary if you want a double-breasted suit (they're better for the skinny, as they add a little bulk). People over, say, a size 50 will sometimes do well in a longer-jacketed suit, because it adds a streamlining effect, and may want to buy a longer jacket and have the trousers taken up.

Two button suits look more conservative than three-buttons; solids are more conservative than stripes, pinstripes are more conservative than chalk stripes. Don't let anyone sell you anything windowpane unless you are sure, really sure, that you can pull it off – and it should never be your only suit if you have any choice in the matter.

In terms of color, black is for funerals and formal weddings only — and isn't as versatile, no matter what any saleperson tells you, unless you are Ryan Seacrest. The classic choices for most white people are charcoal or a deep, true navy; most people with darker skin opt for the navy or a lighter grey (which is about actual skin tone, not racial or ethnic identity — choose what suits you).

"Fashion" suits, as opposed to business suits, have tighter armholes, narrower lapels, and a slimmer fit. The jacket hem will sometimes stop as high as the wrist. The pants that go with fashion suits are usually tapered as well. A fashion suit might not look like a fashion suit on you if you are slimmer and shorter, so if you're a fairly slender person this can be an excellent way to get a jacket that's proportioned right.

Don't worry about buying a men's suit — act like it's perfectly normal and everyone else will, too. If you're feeling terrifically uncomfortable or afraid of gender-policing backlash, tell anyone who gives you the stink-eye that you're in a play. Be clear about how you want your tailoring: a straight hem or a cuff on your pants? Do you like to show more shirt cuff (as many of us cufflink-wearers do) or a little less? Do you want the pants tapered a little or wider at the cuff to allow for boots? Is there too much fabric in the seat? Do you need more room in the thighs? If you're not sure, ask the tailor, salesclerk, or other shoppers what they think. Just like anything, knowing the terms will make you feel more comfortable, and it will make the tailor take you more seriously.

Don't be shy, don't be nervous, do take along someone who you are sure will tell you whether you look good if you can. And buy a damn dress belt. A suit without a belt just looks unfinished.

  1. Wow, this is an amazing post! Thanks so much.
    I am a pretty damn femmey lady who just got married in a white dress, but I have always wanted to get a really nice suit. They are just so versatile and classic! I have looked into the ones marketted to women, and I've generally found that they are more expensive and more cheaply made. Therefore, I'm still suitless.
    I've considered going to men's wearhouse and buying one but was always really intimidated. This article has just put all (or most at least) of my fears to rest. I can't wait to go suit shopping now.
    Thanks!

    7 agree
  2. That WAS a pretty amazing post. Great info. Thank you!

    1 agrees
  3. I would totally recommend Men's Warehouse. I worked in a VERY conservative office for a long time, and no suits would fit my ample behind and boobage while fitting my waist! So I went to Men's Warehouse and bought suits on sale. Ten years ago, they would totally re-cut a suit and sew it back together for $40. I imagine that the price has gone up a bit since then.

    Any big MW should be used to women coming in.

    3 agree
  4. Fab job, Ariel. :)

    FW is a curvy gal with a bridal party across the gender spectrum and we got everyone custom suits from makeyourownsuits(dot)com – it's a somewhat sketchy process, but the results have been great. FW has hers and it'll just take a little tweaking, but it only cost about $200, so to have to spend $50 tailoring it seems like she got off easy. :)

    Here's a pic of it pre-tailoring and pressed wrong: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2008/3543486305_8a… (still looks good, I think)

    5 agree
  5. Yay for suits on women/bois/butchs! My partner is wearing a white suit she found at Top Shop. They carry XS which many men's stores don't and many are already tailored to be slim fit which works out great for her frame. This season they have white (which she got) and light grays and blues which would be awesome for a butchy bride.

    • ARE YOU ME? I was about to post this exact same thing. After a loooooong time of searching for suits in men's styles with women's sizes we discovered Top Shop. My fiancee is an XS and she bought a beautiful black suit for our wedding from Top Shop. The men's suits were still too baggy on her (mostly in the armpits), but we found a women's jacket and pants that fit like menswear. And it was affordable, too! Congrats to us and our tiny, fashionable partners!

  6. Kelly G. – I was just scrolling through your updates to find that picture and post it. :) Your FW looks super hot!

  7. S. Bear Bergman, you are hot. Sorry, I'd like compliment on your wonderful article -and I'm sure it is wonderful – but as someone who doesn't know a good quality suit from a hole in the ground, all I can think to say is: you're hot.

    in all seriousness, though, this was a very good read. Good to know that OB is for *all* kinds of brides!

    1 agrees
  8. Thanks so much for this article! My fiance is a really skinny guy and it's nice to know what to look for when we go shopping. I only wish most stores carried size 36 suits! It's also nice to know that I can get something quality because there just isn't in plus sized ladies separates.

  9. My Husband is a 31 waiste and a 36-38 inseam and he actually found the PERFECT suit at MW as well as a REALLY cool faux suede jacket.

  10. Great article! I'm not sure if the label is available in the States, but I honestly can't recommend Morrissey suits any higher for women. I bought a Morrissey suit a couple of years ago, and have never felt so damn awesome… they're a beautiful fit, and make you feel like you're on top of the world.

  11. I would also recommend checking out a vintage or antique clothing store. For my senior prom, I found a tux jacket with tails that was made in 1912. Because men were generally smaller back then, the shoulders and arms were more suited to a modern woman. I got it taken to a tailor to add darts in the waist so it would be more fitted. I wore white pants and a white dress shirt that I bought at a women's store – "menswear" styles are popular now, so it's easy enough to find things that will fit without looking too froufy or feminine.

    Great article! Lots of helpful information.

    3 agree
  12. I would also recommend checking out a vintage or antique clothing store. For my senior prom, I found a tux jacket with tails that was made in 1912. Because men were generally smaller back then, the shoulders and arms were more suited to a modern woman. I got it taken to a tailor to add darts in the waist so it would be more fitted. I wore white pants and a white dress shirt that I bought at a women's store – "menswear" styles are popular now, so it's easy enough to find things that will fit without looking too froufy or feminine.

    Great article! Lots of helpful information.

  13. i love this post, as i think it's extremely informative for any individual looking to buy a suit, regardless of gender. Thanks!

    3 agree
  14. Great post.

    Another idea: I got my girls' suit tailor made in China for about $100. Admittedly it's not a tux, but we found pieces in her wardrobe that she liked the fit of, and I took them over there. She looks great. We went with white for her.

  15. I just wanted to post two extra made to measure suit places in case they help anyone – we got my other halves suit from http://www.suitopia.com – they do made to measure stuff from 165 Euros (which is about £145 or $230) and their customer service is really good, and the suit quality fabulous – it's hard to tell from savil row at a distance (and my other half is really picky!). Also http://www.asuitthatfits.com – they ship internationally and do different styles and fabrics – my friend ordered one from there and then got addicted and now has 4 as they fit so well! Suitopia specialise in mens suits and Asuitthatfits do ladies suits as well, depending on the cut you're after. Hope that helps someone out there!

    1 agrees
    • Real good post, very informative. If you are looking for proper Savile Row fully hand canvass suit then you should try Huality Bespoke Tailors http://www.huality.co.uk. There suits starts from 179 but I think these are made to measure suits and not fully canvass which may a bit more.

  16. Finally a post about butch brides! I have googled "butch wedding suit" and several variations to try to find good advice on this often-frustrating endeavor to get people to understand that yes, i'm all woman (or a gender-bending version thereof), but no, i do NOT want to wear a dress, thank you very much.

    Honestly, the choice to not wear a gown (gasp!) is probably just as big of an issue for my mother as the fact that I'm marring a woman. Her first question when I told her I was getting married? "what are you going to wear?" Uh, given that she hasn't seen me in a dress of my choosing since high school, she already knows the answer to that. (I try to conveniently wipe from memory the god-awful bridesmaids dresses I've been forced to wear in various midwestern relatives' weddings).

    One suggestion I have for butch women with a fairly "feminine" figure (hips, butt, but thin waist). Banana Republic, believe it or not, has some good fitting suits. The Jackson pant cut is good for this body type. I found a white suit there recently that isn't too femme at all but is cut in a way that isn't as boxy as a men's suit or as tight in the butt as a mens suit. And, it was on sale for about $200.

  17. My boyfriend is an FTM tranny and myself a loud-mouthed gender-bending "unconventional" femme…

    Both of us have a flair for conspiring to put together interesting party outfits and given our "professional" careers a love-hate relationship with suits…not to mention the fact that it's hard to get excited about an outfit you have to make a million alterations to before it fits properly. (or maybe this is the part some folks like?)

    And even then, proportionally suits just don't look as stunning on some as they do on others –especially short eastern-european ladies like myself who are built to sustain a long cold winter somewhere in Russia, not shop the designer trunk show, and my partner who, like many trans guys we know, just doesn't quite fit the conventional proportions available without some serious tweaking.

    There are many ways to represent your gender-bending self that don't dictate strictly dress or suit options. Folks often know they don't want to do the dress option and then automatically go to the suit option, which is great if it's what "suits" you (yes, yes I'm a total nerd) but I've seen so many folks look just as uncomfortable in a suit as they would be in a dress.

    One option not represented here is to find a type of clothing that you and your partner feel most comfortable in and go with that. As long as everyone looks dapper the "dress-up" mandate is irrelevant in my opinion…especially if, as in our case, your entire wedding party is pretty much made up of benders/transfolk. It kills the fun & personality to put a "uniform" on all of our friends.family who we value so much because they don't fit conventional norms.

    As someone who has been to many trans/queer/bendy ceremonies my observation is that it's the people who are less worried about "putting on a show" and more interested in feeling great who are the most satisfied with the end results…and have the most pleased guests. And the best after-parties!

    So thanks for the blog and bend-on!

    2 agree
  18. My Boyfriend is also trans. I'm so happy that I'm not the only one on here planning for this.

  19. first, bear bergman, i think you are fantastic. second, thank you for acknowledging the butch brides (or "broom" as we've come to refer to her)!

    but, i've read through a jillion of these sorts of butch-girl-wants-a-suit articles, and i find them lacking. all well and good if you have a boyish cut, but what the hell is a butch supposed to do with her breasts when she wants a suit? my girlfriend generally wears guy's clothes, but since she hardly ever has to dress up, they're all knits (polos, t-shirts, etc.) so they stretch. dress clothes are not so forgiving, so they either gape oddly, or simply do not close at all over her chest. is there any way around that? is that something that can be fixed by a tailor?

    1 agrees
  20. That was awesome, and it taught me a lot about suits in general. My only question is about purchasing men's suits vs. women's suits. For example, I have bought several suits in the $200-300 range in department stores for job interviews. These were women's suits (Jones New York was one brand I know I bought) and I didn't even think about looking for a man's suit. Is there a reason why women's suits wouldn't work? Do they tend to be of lesser quality? They just don't have the fit/style some women might desire? For example, I know my suits tend to have wider legs than men's suits, so maybe that is one reason. And of course you would not be able to get a real "masculine" look with a woman's suit, I suppose. But I never had any problems with fit since they were designed for women's hips and I only had to have minor alterations. Just curious about this! Thanks!

    • Nothing at all should prevent you from buying a woman's suit. I'm wearing a women's Banana Republic suit that doesn't even require tailoring & is plenty butch. I have pretty "feminine" features so a woman's cut is better for me.

  21. Also, S. Bear, I love you your rock the suit/shirt/tie patterns in your photo. Class act!

  22. Absolutely awesome to see this article on here. I'm a transman in the process of planning a wedding with my girl, and the limitations on what I can get to wear is frustrating.

    Oh, an additional note-if you're under 5'4", it's worth finding a place that sells Extra Short suits. I never looked right in a suit jacket until I bought my first extra-short, and now I look hot ;)

    2 agree
  23. […] Blog post on Offbeat bride about wedding suits Clothing advice Seattle based author/blogger Ariel writes & manages OffBeatBride. She tracked down S.Bear Bergman to give advice concerning "wedding suits for butches, transmasculine beings, and other festive gender-blenders." She also posted about the wedding of queerfemme Aly and genderqueer Elroi in Atlanta, and was quick to amend the pronouns she used for Elroi once she learned that ze prefers gender-neutral ones in print. P.S Amazing reader comment quoting a wedding pre-invite: "He was my girlfriend, then he was my boyfriend, and now he's my fiancé, but he has been my true love all along. We would be honored if you would join us in celebrating our commitment to each other. Wedding invitation to follow." […]

  24. While i'm not the least bit butch I am a seamstress, i just have to say this, woman's suit are just badly made over all. The fabric is cheap and there not room to let them out. You have to shell out big bucks to get a really nice one. I've yet to see one cut to let out more the half an inch. If your going for the butch look anyway you can get a much better one for less and just have it fitted.

    1 agrees
  25. OK, so you've offered plenty of good butch bride fashion advice, but I didn't see any websites or retailer suggestions of where to get it…What about a suit, that's a women's suit, so it's not tailored for a man's body, something masculine but women's…..like the one Ellen wore. Is there any place to get something like that? Or is this going to be a sewing project for mom?

    2 agree
    • Top Shop. They are in England, but have 5 stores in the US and they ship too.

  26. I don't know if she'll see this, but a big giant THANK YOU to Kelly G. for mentioning makeyourownsuit(dot)com. I just got my custom tux today ($250, incl waistcoast and shipping), and it fits amazingly well. The quality is the equal (or better) of the $800 suit I bought in Toronto, too. I've always had a really hard time finding suits to fit a short, stocky guy…and now I don't have to search anymore.

  27. Just so everyone knows, I contacted thick as thieves today and they refuse to make suits for women. I'm a bit frustrated that I identified myself as a woman at all, seeing as how it is much more complicated than that. Anyway, their look book is absolutely beautiful, and it looks like they make a great suit, but the guy said he doesn't do "women's wear". Which isn't what I wanted anyway, but whatever.

    • I know of two places where you can get women's suit. I have tried Huality Tailoring http://www.huality.co.uk and recommended my wife after who was very pleased. They even can copy a suit style from a magazine if you wish.

      The other is http://www.mandbt.co.uk which is a bit more expensive but my wife's friend has used them.

    • I'm commenting everywhere on this thread, but my 5'0, 110 lb fiancee got hers from Top Shop (half in store, half online). Happy shopping!

  28. Awesome post!
    I'm a women's suit tailor, and while I know how mens are constructed to alter it's a different process and FIT is key! It's all about the boobs.
    A note about buttons: the Tailor's 'rule' is "Women are always right and men are left over" has to do with which side your suit jackets and coats button on. Determines whether it's man-drag or not. Something you get to choose when it's Custom!

  29. I forgot: SHIRTS!
    Quite a specialty item and some of us don't do them. Brooks Brothers and Pink will do custom women's shirts to measure but only in major cities. In Boston we have 9Tailors, and in NY there is The Shirt Store near Grand Central Station.

  30. This is a GREAT post and I have definitely taken notes on quite a few tips left here! Thanks to everyone for the great advice! :)

    Howeverrr…. ;) …My "Maid of Honor" and I are going for a classic vintage style look… something from the early 50's-60's, maybe even earlier than that, to portray the classic, non-"stylistic" I guess you could say, modernized look of today, for the mainstream lesbian couple… Sounds like I am being pretty picky here, I know… lol, trust me, I have already gotten crap from my fiance… haha… but I KNOW, I just KNOW, I can find something, somewhere! Or maybe get a few ideas/suggestions on how to make it my own look…? I'm really not into brand names or mainstream clothing lines/stores, so, a lot of what I buy, as far as my own wardrobe, comes from second hand clothing stores, i.e. Goodwill, etc… Also, another "egg in the basket" is that we're having our wedding in December and we live in Michigan, sooo, I'm guessing I should try to find something that would complement the season, as well.. lol. :)

    Any suggestions/comments/ideas would be GREATLY appreciated!! Please feel free to contact me directly, as well! Thank you soo soo much for the great article, Ariel! And I totally agree with everyone else – LOVE the profile picture! Lookin' good, my friend! :D

    Lots of Love,
    ~KC

  31. Great article, thanks for that. I´ve an additional recommendation. I had a very good experience with http://www.exclusivesuit4you.com. They customize suits absolutely individual WITHOUT hidden costs. The suits are in excellent quality. The kindness, respect, willingness to help, and cooperative spirit that their customer service showed throughout the whole process was exceptional. – uncomplicated and easy – I would customer service recommend this online tailor to a friend! I think, this is also a helpful tip for other guys/girls :-) . PS: I love your website… :-*

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