When Birdie Buckley-Ball was planning to walk down the aisle with her wife Megan, she never even considered wearing a dress. But a dearth of clothing tailored to women with Buckley-Ball’s taste, as well as butch women, transgender men, and gender non-conforming individuals has made finding a tuxedo or a suit to properly fit their bodies challenging and expensive.
“I always wear clothes that make me feel comfortable and make me confident,” Buckley-Ball explained. “For me, that was always pants and shirts. So for your big day you want to feel confident, so I decided on pants and a dress shirt. I also had the bow tie and vest. Just no jacket. We got married in September and it was already hot enough.”
Though Buckley-Ball makes it sound easy breezy, there are challenges for those individuals who want to wear tuxedos and suits to their wedding ceremonies. Not every person, depending on their measurements, can rent a tux as often the bustline makes standard alterations inadequate.
That means they would have to buy a custom-fitted suit, something that can be quite costly. While opting to go without a jacket, Buckley-Ball did simplify things. But still there were issues.
“I rented a tux, and the funny thing is it was easy,” she said. “But the people took my measurements as if I was a guy. So when I did try on the shirt it fit me perfectly fine in the neck and that was it. So the clerk, she realized at the time that she didn’t take the right measurements. Eventually, she found me a shirt that was a little too big. But it was my own fault for not getting a custom-fitted shirt.”
The dilemma for many butch women, transgender men and gender non-conforming individuals is finding a shop where they feel welcome and respected, and a clerk adept at the differences between fitting women and men’s bodies.
“It is complicated for women to get tuxes,” said Buckley-Ball. “If you go to a place and they’re not comfortable with women wearing tuxes then they’re going to be uncomfortable. And they’re going to be uncomfortable with you.”
More and more, the formal wear industry is catching on to the demand for gender-bending clothing designs. In metro Detroit, there are places like 1701 Bespoke and the Tux Shop on Woodward that are trying to make the process a little less complicated for everyone to find the perfect tuxedo or suit.
Jeff Nelson of the Tux Shop has been helping members of the LGBT community look the way they feel for some time now. He admits it’s still something of a challenge, but that there are more options now than ever for those who want to wear a tux or suit.
“It’s the difference between what’s rental and what’s purchase only,” said Nelson. “Even years ago there were ladies tuxedos but they were for purchase only and still are for the most part. I think with more options with fit and style it kind of helps fit women better. Everyone’s still got their own taste and desire as far as styling. If I can successfully fit a woman in men’s clothing then we’ll go for it. Otherwise they’re just left to buy and get a tailor.”
The Buckley-Ball couple, Megan and Birdie, at the Joe Louis Arena on their wedding day, Sept. 28, 2012. Photo courtesy of Facebook.
Nelson said that starting this spring the Tux Shop will begin carrying a line of tuxedos designed specifically for a female’s body, which is an exciting option for cisgender women and feminine lesbians also that choose to say ‘no’ to the dress. The line is called Little Black Tux and is by designer David Tuterra. But still, the line will be for purchase only.
For those that still want to rent, Nelson points to a few options.
“I had two ladies wear whitetail coats to their wedding last year and they fit well,” Nelson said. “Just the sleeves needed to be altered. But the overall fit was pretty good because the tail coats didn’t need to be buttoned.”
Tail coats not your thing? Well, don’t give up just yet.
“I’ll still successfully outfit women,” said Nelson. “There’ll be ladies I’ll meet this Sunday at the Expo and depending on the shape, the cut, maybe they’ve had experience wearing men’s clothes before, I know I can successfully fit them. With today’s cuts, the slim fits to low rise, I usually can fit them. If they’re looking for something else we’re going to steer them toward buying something.”
Even if the process can be a little complicated, Buckley-Ball said it’s worth it to be able to walk down the aisle feeling confident and comfortable.
“I’m seeing that more people, like my friends and people that I know who are LGBT, are going the more comfortable route,” she said. “They throw out their traditions because there really isn’t a traditional wedding for the LGBT community. This is new. So we got to do it as we wanted to do it and no family or friends could say ‘well tradition calls for this…’ Because we were making up tradition as we went along.”