Lesbian Bridal Fashion 101

Dame CoutureIn the fall of 2005 we met a Chicago-based wedding planner named Keely Harris of An Urban Affair. She was kind enough to refer us to a wonderful list of wedding-vendors in Chicago; a path which led us to the gals at Dame Couture. They have an amazing collection of custom-designed dresses, many of which were featured at the NuptEquality Fashion and Vendor Showcase at Catalyst Ranch in Chicago on July 22, 2006.

Dame Holly has pulled a few apron strings and tightened a few girdles to produce a special “insider’s” look at shopping for a bridal gown. Those of you who have recently done this shopping or soon will be embarking upon the journey know how stressful this can be!

So, sit back, relax, and read on for…

Butch & Femme Bride

Bridal Fashion 101: Courtesy of Dame Couture

So you’re getting married! Congratulations. Among other things, that means you’re probably about spend more money on a new dress/suit/outfit than you ever have before. That’s OK. What you wear will affect how you feel that day, it will be immortalized in pictures (yours and other people’s), and if it’s very bad or very good it will be talked about, especially if you’re a woman. What the bride (or brides) wear is one of things wedding guests remember the best, along with food and music.

Dresses can range anywhere from $300 for a department store cocktail dress to $60,000 for one designed by Ms. Wang herself. Before you spend that chunk of change, it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with a few facts about clothes:

(1) Buying your wedding outfit is not like buying a new sweater: give yourself enough time to consider all the options. If you’re having something custom-made or shopping in a bridal salon, start at least six months before the event date. If you’re buying off the rack in a department store or from a men’s clothier, three months is usually sufficient. Remember that you need to coordinate at least with your spouse-to-be, and often with a whole wedding party. On top of that, custom-made clothing and wedding garments sold at retail are usually not returnable, so you want to make the right choice up front.

(2) Good clothes don’t have to be made just for you, but everyone looks better (and thinner, and richer) in clothes that fit them properly. There are lots of small custom clothiers out there (try looking in your yellow pages under “custom clothiers,” “clothing design,” “dressmakers,” or “tailors”). If you’d rather buy off the rack, it’s almost always worth it to pay a reputable tailor (probably not your dry cleaner) for alterations. If you’re buying something you know you want to alter, look inside it before you buy. Is there really enough seam allowance to take out? Enough hem to let down? When in doubt, buy a bigger size; you can always have something made smaller.

(3) Natural fibers last longer, feel more comfortable, look better, and cost more than manmade ones. Avoid polyester (omnipresent in the traditional bridal market) and go for silk (dresses) or wool (suits). Off-the-rack clothes (including bridal) are required by law to have a label declaring their fiber content; if you’re shopping someplace where there are no fiber labels, be suspicious.

(4) There are lots of alternative places to get clothes. Shop vintage stores, call the local fashion design school to find budding designers, look online for mail-order tailoring services. Just remember: buyer beware!

If you’ve decided to have your outfit custom-made, here are some things to keep in mind:

(1) Custom clothing will be totally one-of-a-kind, it will fit perfectly, and it’ll be produced in the U.S. (i.e., not in a sweatshop). Decide in advance how much that’s worth to you, and be honest with your clothier about your budget. In Chicago, custom-designed dresses can start anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500, while custom-made suits can start anywhere from $600 to $4,000. Most clothing makers will do a consultation for no charge. Once you’ve committed, you’ll put one-third to one-half of the price of the garment down up front.

(2) At your initial meeting, ask to see samples and/or photos of past work. Don’t be afraid to ask for references. Come with ideas, and learn the lingo! Clothing parts have names (there are trumpet skirts, flounces, wing collars, etc) and so do fabrics. If you don’t know the name of the specific look you’re interested in, find a picture. Most clothing makers will have swatches of fabrics they like to work with on hand.

(3) Expect to come back at least once, and probably several times, for fittings. At those fittings, be sure to speak up about your concerns! Getting the position of a neckline or a sleeve just right is the whole point of a fitting. If you’re being unreasonable, your tailor will let you know.

Above all else, trust your instincts and don’t let someone else make the decision for you! This day, and everything that goes with it, and really just about two people.

Some great words of advice. Thanks, Holly!

To see what other brides & grooms have had to say about this topic, check out our discussion in the Gay Wedding Forum.

About Dame Couture

Dame Couture is based in Chicago, Illinois. Owners Julie Fehler and Holly Greenhagen have been sewing for a combined total of more than 40 years (we’re older than we look, though a lady never tells her age). Julie earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion design from the University of Cincinnati. Holly has an associate’s degree in fashion from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and a bachelor’s in journalism from Northwestern University.

Photo Credit: Bradely I. Morrow, Dreamstime.

Photo Credit: Dame Couture