My dress doesn't define me: How a tomboy learned to love taffeta

March 27 | Guest post by Sarah McDaniel Dyer
finishing touches
Just because I'm more comfortable in Chucks than heels, doesn't mean I can't rock a pretty gown. (Thanks to Tribesmaid Katie67 for uploading this to our Flickr pool.

I have always been a tomboy. That's not to say that I've never worn a dress before; I do like to get "dressed up," it's just that my definition of dressed up doesn't match most of society's definition. In my everyday life I dress for comfort. My lack of makeup is as much about my personal preferences as my belief that women don't need eyeliner to be beautiful. I don't wear makeup because I don't feel like putting it on. I don't wear heels because I don't like to hobble myself. None of this made buying a wedding dress easy.

Now I love a pretty dress as much as the next girl, but trying to find a wedding gown that suited my personality and my budget was one of the hardest things about planning my wedding. Part of it was dealing with difficult sales people. I had one woman who would comment while pinning me into every single gown that I was going to "need some padding," or that I was too short for the dress. It got to the point where I finally had to tell her that I was not getting any taller and my breasts weren't getting any bigger so she needed to just deal with it. But even when the sales people were perfectly fine, nothing worked for me. I hated everything. I didn't want a formfitting dress but somehow I couldn't fit the notion of those giant cupcake dresses in with my lack of femininity.

To make matters worse, I was running out of time. I knew that I needed to order my dress soon in order to have it ready for the big day, and that ticking clock wasn't helping at all.

One night just for the hell of it I stopped into the bridal section of a major department store to try on some more dresses, completely forgetting that I was covered in bruises from the mosh pit I'd been in that week. The sales woman was great, but after the fourth dress I was waiting for her to get annoyed. Finally she brought in a dress that had a tight bodice and a whole lot of poof at the bottom. I didn't even want to try it on but the lady pressed me not unkindly as to why I was so uncomfortable with it.

"Because it's not me. I don't dress like that. I don't wear giant girly things."

"But it's your wedding day. You don't have to wear what you wear everyday. You can wear whatever you want even if it's girly."

On went the cupcake dress. As I stood there in my bruised rocker glory, pretending to be Bridezilla destroying Tokyo, I realized she was right. I was having a hard time finding a dress because I was uncomfortable with the fact that what I wanted was something super-girly. I was ludicrously afraid that by dressing up like a princess for a day I would somehow compromise the person I thought I was. I had to come to terms with the fact that wanting to wear a cupcake dress doesn't make me feel like less of a badass. It makes me a woman who often gets dressed in the dark but who also wants to look like the belle of the ball occasionally.

While I didn't find my dress that day, that moment made me ready when I finally did find it. My jeans and beat-up sneakers don't make me a tomboy the same way my wedding dress didn't turn me into royalty. I needed to stop worrying about what my dress "said about me" and more about whether or not I liked it — because that's all that mattered.

  1. I love, love, love this post. I grew up a tomboy, but part of me is still fighting to figure out what it means to be girly. My dress came from Lane Bryant, and it's just a regular church-going style of dress to most people, but it's dressy to me. I feel like me in it, just a few notches higher than everyday wear. Be who you are and rock it! If you like something, own it and that's all that matters!

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  2. Thanks for this excellent post. I'm having the same stresses about dresses for the same reason, and I've only been engaged for a month! I have the big aversion to white dresses, probably for the same reasons you disliked girly dresses. Will be interested to see what I end up in on the day!

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  3. This hit home for me, thank you! I don't identify as a tomboy, but I do identify as "low-maintenance to a fault" – same way about not wearing makeup due to laziness, and dressing up being my less wrinkled blouse and less holey jeans. I am also a singer, and spend more time than average on stage in some pretty dressy attire and makeup – and I love both personalities. They're not incompatible, they're just different ways of relating to life depending on the context. For me, a wedding is closer to the "singing on stage" part of my life – it's a time where I can make some special effort because I know there will be focus on me. But that's not any different as my low-maintenance strategy of fading into the background the rest of the time – in fact, that's how I maintain my sanity as a pretty introverted person. I think it's always just a matter of doing what you love and looking the way that's comfortable for that context. If that's ripped jeans in a mosh pit, great! If it's a cupcake dress as a wedding… awesome. After all, that's what it's all about, right? Choice and comfort.

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  4. My goodness, it's like this article was wrote for me. I am a tomboy at heart, I learned at an early age that I would rather play outside in the mud with my brothers than go for "tea" at my neighbors house. I've been known to wear makeup, but only for special occasions. I'd rather be in jeans, sneakers and my sports gear than dress up in heels and dresses. After I got engaged, my mom and I tried to get my dress at David's Bridal and it just wasn't working out. Every single dress the salesperson put me in made me look flat-chested, puffy and/or excessively girlie. I ended up ordering my dress online after some heavy internet inspiration. My dress is much more "feminine" than I imagined, yet, it's perfect for me. I get married in about three weeks and I can't wait to get transformed into a bride. I'm doing the hair, makeup, nails and pedicure for my big day. I know my fiancee' is going to flip when he sees me totally dolled up and I can't wait to see his reaction! I totally agree with this article, you do what you want, wear what you want, it's your big day; your time to shine!

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    • I love what you said but still i cant even walk in a heel never mind the dress been looking for one since Feb not sure what to look for since i don't even buy a dress for myself always gets one as a "present " from a friend who likes to c me on 1.

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  5. I loved my dress and shoes but that didn't stop me taking them off and changing into more casual clothes at around 9pm so that I could dance more freely. I loved being a bride and dressing up but there was something about it that all felt a little surreal. I had just an amazing time when I'd put my regular clothes on to party!

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  6. Hahaha I always called them cupcake dresses too . . .

    It's interesting to relate the moral of this story with other aspects of a wedding, too. Takes some of the pressure off from "our wedding has to represent us in every facet". Not that a wedding shouldn't be a representation of who you are, but it doesn't need to be a definition.

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  7. Hah- I agree with this so much. I am a big tomboy- I dress for comfort, unless I'm working (and even then its still comfortable). I teach ecology/environmental science so I'm all about the mud, bugs and critters. I found that when I went to pick my wedding dress then one that made me super excited was the biggest poofiest ruffliest thing ever. I bought it, it made me happy- I wanted to spin circles when I put it on. My fiance says that my girly apparently comes out in bursts, since my ring is super girly too, but not much else about me is.

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  8. I didn't even try to find a dress that was "me". My wardrobe is decidedly jeans, hoodie and flip flops, and the only thing that's farther from a poofy wedding dress would be a burlap sack. I didn't want to feel like regular old me on my wedding day, though. I wanted to play the part of the blushing bride. My wedding dress felt like a costume, but it was a beautiful, flattering costume. My wedding was a play, and I was the main character. I mean, really, how often do most of us throw parties for hundreds of our friends and family? Not this girl, that's who. The whole concept of marriage is "once in a lifetime", and not "just another day". My clothing wasn't me, but it reflected that sense of escaping the every-day and being the main character. Love this post!

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  9. I tried on a lot of shift-like, casual, unstructured dresses when trying to plan a small wedding in less than two months, and everything looked bad. Then my mother threw a blush pink cupcake dress over the door and I fell in love. I had to change a few things about the wedding to make it a little more formal so the dress wouldn't be ridiculously out of place, but I felt gorgeous in that thing and was glad I broke my preconceived notions to wear something I loved.

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  10. This post reminds me that you don't even have to wear a dress! So many rituals about weddings don't really even matter, it's just embedded in our brain. Many cute ideas, first of all, a skirt and shirt would work. Any bridesmaid dress ordered in any color you want would work. You could take two vintage, thrift store, consignment dresses and have someone kick ass redesign your perfect dress to fit your body, budget and taste!

    Really any dress, any color, as soon as you put on your jewelry, veil, head piece, bird cage hat.. whatever it may be and carry your bouquet, BOOM instant bride!!!

    It really clicked with me when I saw lesbians at weddings, some wear vest and bowties.. as a photographer at weddings, I was like …why am I wearing dresses?… when I could be wearing a vest and tie, I would still be festive, professional and be able to move around comfortably. Guess what I'm wearing this weekend!

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  11. Great post! I know you'll remain badass skirt n' baubles n' all because a soul shines through every little bit of draping, even the flouncy fancy kind. I had to honestly walk out of 3 bridal shops because I couldn't handle the 'sales' pitch and ooohing onlookers, not just strangers, some of them were even my own friends. It was fake, I didn't see me in the mirror. I ended up designing my own dress and let me just say, my seamstress is a waaaaay more realistic enthusiast for my vision of lovely awesome than a commissioned salesworker. She's happily bringing my vision to life not yankin' it off the rack and using utility clips to fit it on me. Shine on tomboy heart!

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  12. I love this post because it's exactly the conversation I had to have with myself. I couldn't have it with my fiance because he doesn't even know I am buying a dress. But this was a huge struggle for me because like the author I don't wear make-up because I don't think we need it to be beautiful. I'm also a punk rock/riot grrl so I've never been "girly" the norms that have been constructed by our society. So me and dressing shopping as never really jived even though I do enjoy wearing them from time to time. But I just had to remind myself that this is one dress, one time, and it doesn't have to "define" me. It's just an outfit and if I like a lacy, fitted dress then fuck yeah I'm gonna wear that But it took a lot of me pep-talking myself and a lot of me just looking online at dresses to get comfortable with the idea that I could buy one of those, it's not betraying who I am or what I stand for because I like it, and there is nothing wrong with things I like.

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  13. As your wedding photographer, I nearby declare that the dress you chose was absolutely gorgeous and perfect for you, and your wedding was amazing. :) That is all.

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  14. Thank you for this! I'm about to have my sixth bridal salon appointment in a week, since apparently six months is ZOMG CUTTING IT TOO CLOSE and I need to choose a dress now. I've seen some lovely things but i just feel so…other than myself when I try them on. I can dress up or down and still feel like me – I wear suits every day for work and live in dog-hair-covered yoga gear at home – but I'm not a big 'occasion' person and I'm afraid of feeling like I'm playing dress up at our wedding rather than being fully present in the moment. Wish me luck this afternoon that the consignment boutique ladies can hook me up ;)

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      • Thank you! For what it's worth, the owner was incredibly sweet. But I don't think they have 'my' dress, either :\

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  15. Thank goodness! I thought I was the only girl in the world who hates the idea of getting married in a dress, when really all I want is my jeans and t-shirt! I am forever a tom boy and proud of how capable and independent I am. But I too hate wearing make up, doing my hair, and most of all being the center of attention. With that said, this is my wedding, I do want to feel special, and to be honest if I wasn't wearing a dress, I don't know what I would wear. So with this being the most dreaded aspect of planning a wedding, I went dress shopping at a chain store, and felt like a product on an assembly line. Trying on several different dresses, all while the clerk was busy helping three other girls. I felt put on the spot and rushed to "say yes to the dress". So now, I have a dress, that I am not that excited about (in fact, I haven't even taken it out of the bag once since I bought it two months ago). I don't feel like I am going to feel pretty on that special day. The thing I am looking forward to most is that I am wearing sneakers instead of heels!

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  16. THIS! I've always, always loved wedding dresses (my fiance was warned about this when we first started dating; I didn't want to panic him if he noticed me looking at a bridal mag in a bookstore or something) but now that we're engaged, I CANNOT imagine myself in a gown. I keep telling people that I don't wear dresses and can I please just go to city hall in jeans, because a big poofy dress just isn't ME…but really, it's what I want.

    I'm glad I'm not alone in this! Thank you for sharing.

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  17. I had a lot of difficulty finding a dress because the idea of wearing white frightened me. I'm a bit of a clutz, always spilling food and drink on my clothes; I didn't want to wear a white dress for an entire day with people watching my every move.

    So for a while I was just looking for red dresses (since we're having a Vietnamese tea ceremony). But I couldn't find any that were appropriate.

    In the end, I ended up picking out a white wedding dress from a thrift store. The white isn't me but buying something secondhand is. And because the dress is fairly cheap, I don't mind if I accidentally spill some red wine on it. Plus my partner likes it. Bonus. I think it's a happy compromise.

    Sometimes, keeping an open mind is the way to go.

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    • I hear you about that open mind! I had major doubts about the dress I did end up buying while it was in the bag. The sales lady I had was amazing and had chosen the dress for me so I decided to just try it on. She was right, I loved the dress I bought and so did my partner :) But we also had a legal ceremony separate from our wedding, the dress I wore to that ceremony is just as special to me as the one from my wedding day because it happens to be what I wore when I made this awesome commitment. I think that even if you spill some wine or maybe aren't 100% feeling your outfit whatever you're wearing will be made special to you just because it's tied to that event.

      1 agrees
  18. I love this, i grew up a tomboy but i learned that clothes do not define me. Most of the time i dress comfortably, but if one day i want to wear a dress and high heels i will, if the next day i want to wear my metallica t-shirt and jeans i will! i started ignoring people a while ago that stereotype you because of what you wear.. it's not so. On my big day i would love to get in touch with my feminine side and wear a fishtail gown, after-all i love my curves ;)

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  19. Your post totally resonates with me. This is the reason I knew I had to join the Tribe. Even the photo at the top of the article could be me. I have no idea why, but for some reason, I'm really leaning towards some ultra-girly stuff, nothing like what I find myself comfortable with in everyday real life. Thank you for writing this article. It's so nice to fit in instead of getting aggravated from reading all the 'regular' bridal advice.

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  20. This post definitely resonated with me as well. I am perfectly comfortable in Carhartts wielding a chainsaw. But I also enjoy dressing up. So my wedding day "look" is far far more girly than I ever expected. Think lace, tulle, and pearls. But as the saleswoman said, it's your wedding day. You're not wearing your every day clothing. Thanks for making us feel better about being girly!

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  21. I found this article while going through OBB's pinterest boards & I'm SO glad I found it! I tried on wedding dresses for the first time this past weekend & I was so set on a certain style (very anti-wedding dress) but when I tried on one dress in particular, a champagne colored A-line gown with an intricately beaded strapless top & flowing tulle skirt, I was shocked by how much I loved it. I was never that girl who dreamed about a big poofy white dress & began to rethink everything. I began talking to my MOH about it & she put things into a similar perspective. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I do want to be that princess for a day.

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  22. I grew up somewhat as a tomboy and wore jeans and tee shirts most of the time and had very few dresses.even on easter,i wore just a simple dress.We are catholic,but didnt attend mass much,as my parents,brother and i did other family things and went on short overnight trips.When i was 15,my parents decided that me and my twin brother should make our first holy communions and be confirmed.I was in for a rude awakening!After completing the class, our parents went to the parents meeting and came home with the sheet listing the required 1st communion outfits brother and i had to wear for the ceremony.My parents showed me the list and i read thru it and was totally shocked! The list for the girls required outfit read as follows: White,poofy,short sleeve,communion dress,Veil,Gloves, Cloth diaper,Rubberpants[plasticpants],White tights,under shirt and white shoes! I was in shock after i read the list and thought this is going to be weird,me being somewhat of a tomboy and having to wear this girly outfit.My brother had to wear a white suit and tie and there was no undergarment requirements for the boys.Mom took me out dress shopping and i felt weird wearing my tee shirt and jeans and walking into stores and trying on white communion dresses.We found a poofy communion dress and veil i liked in my size,then got the gloves and tights and shoes.We then went to Walmart and got the package of the flat cloth diapers in the required 24×27 inch size and the diaper pins and the white under shirt.Mom ordered the rubber pants in adult size medium thru our parish.Mom sewed the 10 cloth diapers together to make the one diaper out of them.the morning of the ceremony,she pinned the diaper on me,then i put the rubberpants on over it,then the under shirt,followed by the tights,then my shoes next,then the dress and veil and gloves.I felt weird and like a baby in the outfit.Went to the parish and i joined the other little girls and bro went with the little boys.I was somewhat out of it,as if it were a dream and the cloth diaper was bothering me.We both made our first communions and i was told i had to wear the outfit for our party as well as did brother.My friends and relatives all remarked hor different i looked in the outfit! After our party,i took the outfit off and went back to my jeans and tee shirts!

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    • To Brittany-Hi,I too made my First holy communion at 15 in Fall River,Mass. and i had it even worse than you did! my parish was very strict and for the ceremony,us girls had to wear communion dresses with the boufant shoulders and that came down to the top of our knees and flared out with a full crinoline under it.our veils had to be flowered headwreaths with waist length veils attached and then we had to wear white lace anklets and white Mary jane shoes.We too had to wear the cloth diaper,pinned on with diaper pins,and white toddler size plastic pants[rubberpants] and a white under shirt.even tho i was 15,i was told i had to wear the toddler size rubberpants over my diaper to be the same as the little girls.mom got me the Playtex toddler extra large size rubber pants and even tho they were stretchy,they still fit me tight over my diaper and the leg openings left a red ring around my leg joints.I felt like one of the little girls in my class and wore the outfit for my party and naturally most of my friends and female relatives lifted up the front of my dress at my party to check out my diaper and rubber pants.

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  23. Love this! I feel like everyone expect me to wear something really quirky and 'different' but I kinda just wanna be pretty haha

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