Saying ’No’ to the Dress
June has arrived and chapels, resorts, florists and function halls are all getting ready for their busiest time of year: wedding season. The big day is approaching for thousands of brides and grooms-to-be after months or even more of shopping, planning, spending, and stress.
Perhaps one of the most stressful and most important aspects of planning a wedding, one that has daunted brides far and wide since the dawn of the nuptial ceremony, is figuring out what to wear. White or ivory, long sleeve or strapless, beaded or lace? These are some of the traditional questions brides have asked themselves, devoted salespeople doting over them in bridal shops, in an attempt to piece together that perfect dress for their fairytale wedding.
But there is a new bride in town, and she doesn't wear dresses.
"I'm always dressing lesbians who don't want to wear a dress," said Bernadette Coveney Smith, leading same-sex wedding expert and founder of 14 Stories, the nation's first same-sex wedding planning firm. "It's one of the biggest stresses of the wedding planning process."
With 12 states and Washington D.C. now fully committed to marriage equality, gay duos, lesbian pairs, trans couples and everything in between are making it official, tying the knot and creating their own personal ceremonies -- often without a dress. And a whole new crop of entrepreneurs and designers are bursting onto the wedding fashion scene, ready to meet the demand of these non-traditional brides. Where once there were only two options, a dress or a men's suit, now there are small businesses sprouting up around the world that are forging a new path for women who are butch, gender variant or just don't want to wear either of those standard options.
"Men's suits are generally too long in the sleeves, the shoulders are too wide, they don't have room for breasts, the pants are not made for hips and they're often too long," Smith said, listing the reasons many women and trans men are turning their backs on the traditional men's suit in favor of a style more fitting with their body.
Smith, along with her design partner Marialexandra Garcia, have recently launched Fourteen, a new clothing company that specializes in ready-to-wear suits for the lesbian, queer and trans community.
"It’s not just for butch women," said Smith. "It’s for people who don’t want to wear men’s clothing. "
Smith got the idea for the line when she was exhaustively shopping for something to wear to her own wedding. The same was true for fellow up-and-coming clothier Mary Going, founder of the nonconformist suit design company, Saint Harridan.
"I wanted to dress up," said Going. "It was my wedding after all! But the dressier you get, the more gendered clothing becomes."
Going experienced the same difficulty as so many LBTQ brides do. She even considered changing the wedding location to the beach to avoid the dressing part altogether.
"I ended up having a suit tailored for me, which was incredible," she said. "Having something really fit me, I felt great and I looked great. I wanted to provide this to other people, but I really wanted to do ready-to-wear."
Saint Harridan creates impeccably tailored suits that "Make you look like you. On your best day. On your boldest day." They cater to "Saints", defined as "a founder, sponsor or patron of a movement." Not wanting to alienate any segment of the vast community they’re planning to serve, they chose this term, which encompasses all of them and pays homage to the movement they’re continually shaping and expanding. Harridan is a reclaimed term which has been used as a slur for "mannish woman."
The SH team announced that they will be manufacturing in Massachusetts and North Carolina and are eager to get the ball rolling. Last December they were but a blip on the radar when they launched their Kickstarter campaign asking users to help fund the startup. $137,000 later, a whopping $50,000 more than their original goal, it was clear that the demand for this product was there and fervent.
The $40 billion U.S. wedding industry just got a little bigger.
And Fourteen and Saint Harridan are just two of the trailblazers in this new industry. The options for LGBTQ brides and grooms are expanding every day. Kirsten Ott Palladino, founder and editor-in-chief of same-sex wedding magazine and digital resource, Equally Wed, wanted to bring those expanding options to queer betrotheds around the world.
Palladino recalls the "little bits of pain" she and now-wife Maria felt when faced with subtle discrimination or avoidance from vendors.
"We wanted to create a directory so future LGBTQ couples don’t have to experience any bit of heartbreak when planning their wedding," said Palladino.
The online mag is filled with gay-friendly venues, vendors, stylists and much more. Not only have they highlighted several nonconforming gender-neutral suit companies, but they also have done the footwork for anyone who wants to try the brick-and-mortar retail route.
"It can be a scary process," said Palladino. "You essentially have to continue to come out your whole life. It’s good to do your research."
Equally Wed works to give its readers the peace of mind of knowing that they will have a safe and comfortable experience, recommending only explicitly LGBT friendly businesses. In addition, EW’s readers become another resource all their own, providing answers, advice, and more personal recommendations to their online counterparts. Some of the butch/trans/queer/saint trends this season?
"Bowties. Really fun bowties," said Palladino. "And personalizing your wedding, not making it feel like it came out of a box."
"What’s great about increasing the amount of gay weddings is that more and more people are realizing they don’t have to follow traditions."
This is true in every aspect of the wedding, including attire. Where once there was a lack of choice for those outside the traditional men’s and women’s spectrum, now it seems there are more options than ever.
"Our mission is to keep making the wedding industry more inclusive," said Smith.
These up-and-coming moguls and their respective ventures are succeeding, allowing L’s, B’s, T’s and even G’s to feel comfortable, confident and ready for their big day.