Finding the perfect wedding dress for a transgender bride

I'm a bridesmaid in a close friend's wedding this summer — R is transgender, and she's struggling to find a dress on a budget. R is a gorgeous woman who gets her curves from her post-transition hormones and her shoulders from her pre-transition adolescence. Dresses that look gorgeous on a model online look totally different when she tries them on, and she doesn't have the budget to have something completely hand-made. Since you did such a great write-up about finding suits for FTM transgender dudes and butch women, I was hoping you might be able to help us out a bit. -Beth

Thanks for writing, Beth — and congratulations to R on her engagement! I've got opinions a plenty, but I figured I'd bring in some experts to help me answer your question. I shared your email with four of my favorite independent wedding dress designers, and here was their advice…

This Snow Leopard dress by <a href=
This Snow Leopard dress by Whirlingturban features a halter top and wide, A-line skirt

"Look for something body–skimming (not body-hugging) with an A-line shape for the skirt to make R's waist look smaller." Katherine from Whirlingturban Boutique said. Katherine went on to advise, "For inspiration, look at traditional 1940s wedding and evening gowns, then look for something new like that but with clean lines and FAR less detail and less modest coverage. Don't use shoulder pads because R is lucky enough to have au naturelle shoulder pads."

Dianna DiNoble from Starkers! agreed on the A-line idea, suggesting "A full or A-line skirt — with a corset of course!" She went on to clarify that she'd suggest R aim for "either tea-length or full skirt to accentuate a small waist and hide narrower hips."

This is <a href=
This is Wai-Ching's Athena dress

When I emailed Chrissy Wai-Ching to ask her thoughts on R's dilemma, she recommended "hourglass shapes with flowing skirts, with a halter and sweetheart neckline. Those would help to soften R's broad shoulders and create curves." She added a little plug saying, "My Athena Dress or Samsara Dress with a sweetheart neckline could be really flattering."

Joi from Dress Forms Design Studio got meta on the issue, explaining "On any person you want to accentuate the best feature. If R is worried about wide shoulders, then she wants a line in the garment that makes them look narrow. Draw a silhouette of the person, then imagine drawing an arrow pointing inward. That is the line or illusion you want for wide shoulders."

Getting more specific, Joi explained: "Halter necklines create a line angling in, portrait collars are also nice (not an off the shoulder, but one that covers the shoulder and goes up the shoulder and overlaps in the front), and a surplice neckline (a bodice that overlaps) would be wonderful. These are necklines I use on clients with broad shoulders — such as swimmers, for example."

So, in summary:

  • Skirt: A-line full skirt, likely tea-length or full length
  • Bodice: corset or halter top

Many thanks to Katherine, Dianna, Chrissy, and Joi for taking the time to share their wisdom!

  1. That first dress is perfect for more rectangular bodies.

    And may the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless you with heaps of sauces and noodles for posting this! THIS is why I love this site,

    3 agree
  2. Not that the article personally effects me or anyone I know… but THANK YOU for posting it. It makes me incredibly happy to see inclusive tolerant hopeful HELPFUL things for a group of people who are largely ignored. Totally made my day. And hopefully helped our R as well….

    Congrats R! I hope your wedding is absolutely everything you want it to be…

    3 agree
  3. My partner (fiancee!) is a trans woman, and she just rocked out a really sexy halter dress with an a-line skirt at our engagement party. Her proportions sound similar to R's. She will likely wear something similar for our wedding. It's a really flattering cut. She wore a lovely flowing cardigan as a cover-up. She had it made at Fashion Crimes in Toronto — they will alter any existing sizes. or custom-make any of their dresses for $40% more — still much cheaper than having a custom wedding gown made: http://fashioncrimes.ca/

    1 agrees
  4. In my experience, a lot of transgendered ladies are a bit self-conscious of their arms and shoulders. Actually, I'd revise that to say a whole lot of ladies feel that way for one reason or another. My advice is always nip the silhouette at the slimmest part, then create an hourglass out from there. If you choose to wear sleeves, you can still create that illusion! I recommend choosing sleeves that end above the waistline, or choosing a top with gathered and wrapped fabric that creates the magical arrow that Joi mentioned.
    If you feel like your shoulders are too broad and you're thinking about choosing a dress that downplays that, I would recommend against spaghetti straps or super thin straps of any sort.

  5. Thank you. I'm a bridesmaid with a swimmer's body and these tips are really helpful. Since we cannot get away from strapless (daaaammmmn), I've found a sweetheart neckline and assymetrical gathering brings out whatever curves I have. On the corset tip, I seriously am lost. I haven't worn one in eons, and don't know what to get that won't show under a satin dress. Where to start?

    2 agree
    • That is "assymetrical gathering at the waist"

  6. I am also totally self conscious about my arms and shoulders, this post is great. I generally avoid halters for fear of accentuating them, but now I've got to try it!

  7. i used to be in bodybuilding and totally back the halter in downplaying the shoulders!! Congrats R and finacee!

    • Surprisingly, they do just the opposite. I have "linebacker" shoulders, and was shocked to find that a halter line was much more flattering than almost anything else.

    • Actually, it depends on the rest of your body. If you're athletically-built with wide shoulders and a narrow body, a halter can do a lot to even things out. If your shoulders are the widest part of your body, the straps of a halter "break up" the expanse of shoulder, and the vertical pieces of fabric draw the eye down. A dress that is completely strapless (particularly if it is a sheath dress-witness every formal gown put on C.J. Cregg in "The West Wing") will emphasize the shoulders, because you are left with an expanse of skin with nothing to break it up or draw the eye away.

      1 agrees
    • I discovered halters for my broad shoulders when I was in high school, and haven't gone back since!

  8. Great post. My only comment is one of surprise that shoulder pads should be avoided. First, obviously. :) Secondly, does anyone wear, make, or design dresses with shoulder pads these days??? Blast from the past. :)

  9. I second Esmerelda's comment on the shoulder pads, hehe. ;)

    Another idea that might work is flutter sleeves, which just barely skim over the shoulder and (usually) end in a scalloped edge after 3-4". They are pretty flattering on most body types, in my experience.

    I also highly recommend pattern shopping – you can usually buy patterns for a couple of dollars on sale at a craft store, purchase some pretty fabric, and have a crafty friend or a local tailor make a custom dress for you. One thing that's nice about patterns is you can mix and match sizes and styles – if you're a size 10 shoulders and a size 8 waist, it's fine, or if you like the sleeves of one dress and the skirt of another, go for it!

    If you "shop around" for a good tailor (not designer!), you should save money. Hope this helps a little! :)

  10. *shrug* Like every other woman on the face of the earth, a t-girl has to shop around to find something that suits her.

  11. Yo kids, check the couture runways! New century shoulder pads and 40's-inspired silhouettes have been stalking the runways for nearly a year- they just haven't filtered down to the streets yet. But these shoulders are fresh and pert- they aren't linebacker like the 80's and tend to be ironic in spirit, whereas in the 40's they were" taken very seriously". There are certain women, myself included, for whom a little shoulder pad works wonders.

    But for T girls and any girl, I'd have to say I couldn't agree more with Emma about the tailor/alterations person. I know it's agonizing to pay the prices they charge these days, but if you hunt hard you'll find a diamond in the rough somewhere (at a neighborhood dry cleaner or the cousin of the aunt of a friend, who sews out of her home).

    When I worked in movie costuming, we tweaked virtually every "store bought" item so as to make the star's proportions look better, and it works. It is AMAZING what alterations can do for your figure.

  12. I hope everyone takes this the right way, but don't be afraid of your broad shoulders! Celebrate them. Bare them and share them. I definitely understand wanting to minimize them, we all have body parts that aren't our favorite, but I think the point should be made that broad shoulders aren't necessarily something to be disguised. I think it's more important to focus on balancing the shoulders, if that is what is desired. The advice given seems great to me–I have a very large bust and the concept and advice is the same. Balance the upper body with the lower body. If the upper body is broad, accentuate the waist to make it seem narrower, and use a full skirt to make the lower body seem in proportion with the upper body. As human beings we do love to see symmetrical forms.

  13. Not to be nit-picky, because I am so incredibly excited about this article and it's amazing inclusivity, but transgendered (with the ed) is considered outdated languageand has been replaced by transgender (no ed). Not a huge deal but I'd hate to have someone not get the full awesome excitement of this piece because they were distracted by a minor difference in terminology. I <3 offbeat bride.

    • Thanks for the heads-up, Cait. I'm always working to make my language more inclusive — so I'll update the post.

  14. thank you Beth and OBB for posting on this subject and helping out R. Congratulations to her and her loved ones!

  15. I really like the first dress. It could match many shape of the body. But the colour also very important, green or red stripe would be good.

  16. On halters- they do do wonders for broad shoulders. If R is thinking of having sleeves on hir dress for any reason (I have to have them because I'm gettin' hitched in church) I recommend some of the "illusion" sleeves that a lot of dressmakers do. Paired with a sweetheart or modified sweetheart (like straight across) neckline, they can mimic the line of a halter top like so: /__\
    I don't know what your budget is like, but I found that the Maggie Sottero illusion sleeves are really nicely shaped. I've also tried on David's Bridal ones, and they weren't as nice, but I don't know how well they do if they're made for you. Also, a good dressmaker could make a pair to R's specs as well (especially if zie is going with one of the awesome colored dresses I keep seeing on OBBs)

  17. thank you Beth and OBB for posting on this subject and helping out R. Congratulations to her and her loved ones!

  18. I really like the first dress. It could match many shape of the body. But the colour also very important, green or red stripe would be good.

  19. Thank you so much for the informative and helpful write-up. I myself am a transgender girl with aspirations to (well, one day :) ) marry my boyfriend. I have similar proportion's to R's and this is most helpful not only for the future, but also for other dresses I may wear along the way.

  20. I am male i didn't know what size wedding dress that will fit me so tried on a few dresses i found out i wear size 46 a full figured female i wanted to be a bride.

  21. I like wearing dresses, skirts, night gowns, than i decided that i wanted a wedding dress too with a long train i have one with long sleeves, and a veil that goes along with that dress, and a garter belt that goes on my leg too.

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