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Lesbian problems: bridal outfits

What suited us

for The Brooklyn Paper
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My wife Sarah and I designed our Catholic-Buddhist-secular-humanist-lesbian wedding ceremony in four days. Ours was a low-key, homegrown affair with a homemade cake served on paper plates. Yet, despite our laidback approach, it took the entire length of our engagement — seven months — to figure out what we were going to wear.

I thought I was exempt from all that fuss — a bittersweet perk of my “lifestyle.”

In fact, my immediate reaction when the topic first arose was:

“Oh God, let’s just wear jeans and T-shirts.”

This seemed like the easiest way to deal with an uncomfortable world of clearly defined gender roles, parental expectations, and thousand-dollar dresses.

The standard conventions no longer applied, but I felt more stressed than liberated.

Plus, Sarah needed further convincing on the T-shirt front.

“I mean, we’re not going to spend hundreds of dollars on outfits we’ll only wear once, right?” I asked her. “That would be insane!”

We nodded in self-righteous agreement, never mind that straight people regularly engage in this sort of insanity without the least compunction. Why did we feel that we had no right to spend so much energy and money on something so superficial? Was it internalized homophobia? A principled boycott of the wedding industrial complex? A reluctance to beg for the scraps of a New York State-sanctioned marriage while the federal government refused to recognize our relationship?

Tablecloths never even occurred to us until the church facilities coordinator recommended them gently — unless the mismatched Formica folding tables were “our thing.” Sarah and I settled on butcher paper but dressed it up with table runners we cut by hand from something akin to burlap because, in the end, our wedding was a big deal to us.

And so were our outfits.

But what does a lesbian couple wear to their wedding, anyway? Two suits? A dress and a suit? Two dresses? Xena Warrior Princess costumes?

We decided to take a trip to a men’s formalwear rental store in lower Manhattan. It was a disaster. I looked like I was playing dress-up in my dad’s closet, outfitted in something purportedly designed for a teenage boy.

Women’s suits? They fit, but we looked like middle management. I didn’t want to wear business casual on our big day.

“I think maybe I want to wear a wedding dress after all,” I said sheepishly. For some reason, a piece of the fairy tale wedding fantasy still resonated with me.

So, we ventured into the J. Crew bridal boutique on Madison Avenue. I was drawn to one of the simplest and least expensive dresses on the rack. No lace, no ruffles, no train. Did I want something floofier?

Sarah took off her T-shirt that said “stud” with a picture of a muffin on it and tried on a dress.

“I feel like I’m in drag,” she said. I studied Sarah’s wool hiking socks and pondered butch-femme dynamics, gender expression, and societal expectations. Were we mimicking oppressive gender roles or reclaiming them? I worried that if I wore a dress and Sarah didn’t, suddenly I would be the focus of attention — I would be “The Bride.” But what of Sarah, with her sapphire blue eyes and well-muscled shoulders? We would both be brides that day.

We ended up wearing cream-colored vests, white shirts, and cream slacks. That sounds anticlimactic, but they were much fancier than they sound.

Sarah’s vest was made of light wool, mine of silk. Hers had clean, sharp lines and a shirt with a mandarin collar. Peeking out from subtly flared slacks, strutted her beautiful, well-worn cowboy boots of deep red-brown leather. My outfit had flowing sleeves and a corset back tied with a satin ribbon. We pinned slightly wilted yellow flowers my best friend picked up at a corner deli at the last minute to our lapels. Rumor has it we looked fantastic.

Our wedding outfits could not, of course, have been bought off the rack — at least not yet. We hired a wonderfully sweet, creative, and talented designer in Brooklyn who was referred through a friend of a friend we had bumped into at the New York City Dyke March. Our custom-designed clothes felt perfect when we tried them on because they were rooted in tradition, but true to our identities and relationship. The design played with gender subtly, combining men’s formalwear with a more feminine cut. The absence of suit jackets showed off our figures, not to mention reducing the cost significantly. The cream and white were a bride’s cream and white. We would wear these clothes only on this special day, which is good because I splashed red wine on my vest during a particularly moving toast.

At the reception, a friend asked me, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, if I felt different. I paused for a second.

“Yes. Yes, I do,” I said.

I know I would have felt the same warmth at my wedding that I would have felt wearing my favorite jeans with the hole in the knee, but I was so excited to be all dressed up.

In the end, it didn’t really matter what we wore. And yet, somehow, it did.

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