Bridal suit shopping because I’m a combo platter of femininity and masculine traits

Guest post by Emily James
Photos by Hannah White Photography
Photos by Hannah White Photography

Ever since the day I proposed to my lovely future wife, I have had the overwhelming, looming dread that I knew would accompany shopping for my wedding outfit. Being in a same-sex relationship (or “a relationship” as most of us know it…) I have been subject to a barrage of questions regarding what I would be wearing for the wedding. I might be described as an athletic, makeup-free, combo platter of femininity and masculine traits, therefore people were overly concerned about my attire.

My future wife already had an image in her head of what she would wear before I even proposed, so she had no problems finding her wedding dress within two weeks of the proposal. It was very apparent that my journey would be much longer, and would involve far more bourbon.

I hated thinking about all this because on one hand, I really don't care what I wear. Ultimately, regardless of what I wear, I am going to marry the most amazing human being I have ever come into contact with… so it's an irrelevant issue. On the other hand, I want that jaw-dropping moment where we both look as gorgeous as possible, and the image that is engrained into our brains forever is as stunning visually as it will feel. What to wear… what to wear…

As I began preparing, I initially thought that I would wear a wedding dress. Something lacy and elegant, yet modest and covering. I began searching online for inspiration, and found some absolutely stunning gowns. I went as far as to try on some dresses, which was an awful experience. I walked into the bridal store begrudgingly, and was asked if I wanted a strapless. A strapless what? I am a woman who happens to date women… so my mind went somewhere that I could only assume that this innocent woman had not been planning on. OH. A strapless bra. Did I need a strapless bra? Shit… did I have to buy one now?

I tried on a couple of the dresses and felt more uncomfortable than I have felt since the fifth grade, when I allowed a girl to put makeup on my face for the first time. I saw the beauty in it — it just didn't feel right.

This led me to a serious contemplation situation. Why did I want to wear a dress? All I could think about was my desire not to fulfill a stereotype that I actually fit into — the dress/pants lesbian wedding. Was that worth the discomfort that I knew I would encounter on what is supposed to be the best day of my life? NO.

I fulfill a stereotype: I wear pants, and my future wife wears dresses. I have been so caught up in not fulfilling a stereotype that I have driven myself crazy. I was done. There were two months to go to the wedding. I had to buckle down.

Then we had our engagement photos taken… I decided to take a more comfortable approach and wore jeans, a blue shirt, a grey men's suit vest, and a fun pink and turquoise bow tie with some color-coordinated Chucks. I loved how the photos came out. So I decided that if I was confident enough to rock that outfit in the photos, then why the hell was I so stressed about what I would wear for the wedding.

I did as I always do, and began researching online about butch women shopping for men's suits. I came across some articles about women going into various department stores and being treated in a variety of ways when looking for a suit. It seemed like a crap shoot. I have been out for years, being okay with being gay, and not a stereotypical feminine woman living in Iowa, is second nature at this point. I went to the several stores with failing results. After these failures, I decided to suck it up — it was time to go to the mega center of all men's suiting: Men's Wearhouse.

Oh, Men's Wearhouse. I was really uncomfortable going into this store. I took a friend along, who is far more outspoken than I am, to attempt to translate my grunts and rather unexcitable personality. There were two sales people when we walked in: a man and a woman. I figured that, because she was a woman, she would be more sympathetic and understanding to my needs. As we struggled to get past the fact that I was shopping for a suit for me, not my husband, and that no, my husband and I were not wearing matching suits… she finally suggested that I wait for the man who was helping another customer at the time.

Once the gentleman was done assisting another customer, he came right up to my friend and myself to introduce himself. A strong handshake with a good look in the eye — so far so good. I gave the rundown of what I thought I was looking for: pants and a vest. No suit coat. I suggested grey as a color. He retrieved a “sharkskin” suit and proceeded to educate me on what this animal print meant. But I determined that it looked like a giant tuna can. I didn't know how to articulate this to the gentleman. I babbled for a bit, then I finally stated very plainly, “you can't make me look like a boxy bull-dyke.” (Please note: I have a lot of love for all people, boxy, dykey, everyone.)

The gentleman looked at me, in fact the whole store looked at me, then he doubled over laughing. “I got you now. Now I know where we're going,” he replied. It may have been some harsh language, but it certainly got the point across. Now we could get somewhere. As the gentleman began assembling other options, he stated, “you thinking you want a tie?” I replied to him by asking if the Pope was Catholic… and then he stated, “you're a bow tie type of woman, right?” “Absolutely I am,” I stated, followed by, “And don't even try to put me in one of those pre-tied bullshits. I am a grown-ass woman and can tie my own, damn it”. He again doubled over in a fit of laughter.

I was getting somewhere with this guy. This was going surprisingly well. Sadly, after all the work we put in, they didn't have an outfit that I liked. Eventually I found it…

Outfit: Pants, Banana Republic (men's department) -- Shirt, Brooks Brothers (women's department) -- Vest, J. Crew (men's department) -- Bowtie, Tommy Hilfiger from Men's Warehouse.
Outfit: Pants – Banana Republic (men's department) Shirt – Brooks Brothers (women's department) Vest – J. Crew (men's department) Bowtie – Tommy Hilfiger – Men's Warehouse

Moral of the story: Be honest, be bold, and don't go into situations assuming that they are going to be bad. The boldness and honesty sets the sales people at ease, and allows for a much more simple transaction.

I have found that most people I have interacted with were completely shocked that I was marrying a woman, and often times didn't know how to respond. The more normal you respond to them, the more normal they will act. As more and more folks are getting married, I like to think that those of us who get the shocked response are helping to pave the way for the folks who will be married years from now. Therefore, absorbing the shock and awe is just our contribution to younger folks — not to mention our response to their reaction will set the stage for how they believe all “non-traditional” couples will interact with them.

Ultimately though, it's not worth the hours and hours of research and stress that I have put into it. I get to marry the most amazing woman I've ever met, who loves me unconditionally, including when I look absolutely horrible. That is what matters.

Comments on Bridal suit shopping because I’m a combo platter of femininity and masculine traits

  1. I never knew there could be so much loveliness in one post! I am getting married soon and I thought I was over looking at wedding blogs until I came across yours! You guys do a fabulous job keep carry on.
    For me, when I heard word “wedding day” or “bridal dress” the word comes in my top of mind is, they have excellent clothing with high quality, good support and quickest delivery. My experiences with this store is excellent, so far.

  2. I’m going to be wearing a tux jacket with tails over…..something. I’m a tomboy, my soon-to-be husband loves me as a tomboy, so why not? I’m just not into big poofy dresses. Whenever I see a picture of a dress I like, it’s always labeled a “bridesmaids” dress. Argh! I want something knee or calf length, some lace, a-line, and maybe off white. Why is this so hard to find?

  3. I LOVE the photo of you, your wife, her bridesmaid, and your groomswomen at the end! That is the sweetest ensemble I’ve ever seen, to have coordinating colors!! How has this never been done, or how have I never seen this before?! Kudos to you for assembling your own masterpiece, it’s understated and epic. I love your advice of responding calmly and setting the tone too – it helps us all be recognized as people, gay, straight, purple unicorn, what have you, and is empowering to forge a new path in a positive way. Mazeltov!

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