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

Guestpost by S. Bear Bergman on Jul. 16th
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.

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About S. Bear Bergman

S. Bear Bergman is a storyteller, a theater artist, an instigator, a gender-jammer, and a good example of what happens when you overeducate a contrarian. Ze is the author of Butch Is a Noun (reissued with a new foreword by Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010) and Lambda Literary Award-finalist The Nearest Exit May be Behind You ( Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009) as well as the editor (with the inimitable Kate Bornstein) of the multiple-award-winning Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (Seal Press, 2010).

http://sbearbergman.com