How I figured out what to wear despite my gender ambivalence

Guestpost by mrcharliebucket on Apr. 30th

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

A sketch of my jumpsuit from the designer. I love it! It's 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.

Tell 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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About mrcharliebucket

I'm a nerdy butch dyke planning my wedding to the femme of my dreams. I'm into motorcycles, knitting, video games, and reading. Professionally, I am a database administrator for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.