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

Guest post by Sarah McDaniel Dyer
finishing touches

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.

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Comments on My dress doesn’t define me: How a tomboy learned to love taffeta

  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!

  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!

  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.

  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!

    • 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.

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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!

  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.

  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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