There are certain pieces of clothing that bond women across generations: the first bra, the prom dress, the wedding dress.
I’ve always adored traditionally “feminine” things—nail polish, lipstick, flatirons, crimping irons—even as I started coming to terms with my sexuality as a teenager. Special occasions and holidays, especially, called for a new dress. But those milestone shopping experiences were a struggle.
In 12th grade, I was going to prom with a girl, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the poufy Betsey Johnson confection I wanted to wear would feed into this archaic tradition of feminine heterosexuality. That was pretty much the opposite of everything I stood for. Still, when I tried it on, I felt like myself: a woman who could openly love and date women, but with sparkle. It was superficial, sure; but gay or not, I deserved to feel amazing that night, like generations of female prom-goers before me.
Flash forward nine years. When I got engaged, I was prepared to commemorate my wedding with new outfits, except I quickly understood that buying a wedding dress was going to be complicated.
As I thought about what I wanted to wear, I realized I’d never envisioned myself in a wedding dress—not once. My fiancée, who hasn’t worn a dress (or any girl’s or women’s clothing) since the early ’90s, already knew she would be ordering a custom suit from her tailor at Brooklyn’s Bindle & Keep. But I felt a little lost when it came to my own outfit for the big day. I didn’t have a lot of inspiration images from rom-coms or from the traditional wedding mega-industry. Though there have been some improvements on the latter front: Reformation debuted its Fall 2018 bridal collection with a same-sex couple (see below), and David’s Bridal released a similar campaign earlier this year.
As a femme lesbian, I’ve always, by default, “fit in” when it comes to my appearance and gender presentation. But in the bridal industrial complex, that was impossible. As soon as I became a “bride-to-be” I felt like an other.
My bridal shopping journey started where so much of my money is spent: online. I scrolled through the usual sites, loading page after page of images of white gowns, not liking anything (price included.) It brought me back to being a high schooler, conflicted about prom dresses. I wanted to wear a beautiful gown, and yet felt guilty about how that would make me look like a straight woman.
Eventually, I found a dress I liked, with a price tag only slightly higher than the rent on my first Manhattan apartment. (I’d originally wanted to rent a dress, but that feat proved too difficult—and also pricey—to be worthwhile.) I made an appointment to see it, bringing a friend who I knew would offer the right level of enthusiasm and healthy skepticism for the overall bridal culture.
I’m not sure what you’re supposed to feel the first time you try on a wedding dress. Teary? Emotional? Elated? What I felt: Awkward.
I met the bridal consultant, and within five minutes she had me stripping down to my thong. Then, she secured me into the sample with what looked like the plastic clips you use to close a bag of chips, and directed me to pose in front of a mirror, to see if I felt “bridal.” Really, I just felt silly.
Afterward, my friend and I left to eat spaghetti and drink margaritas at a gay bar—much more my speed—and it all started settling in. I’d never, ever thought I’d be here: trying on a wedding dress, discussing the details of my wedding with a friend, paying for things I wanted with my money, going home to an amazing woman at the end of it all. But there I was, doing all of it.