Same-sex weddings open the door to finding the right male attire for women

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When Robin Cloud told her friends she was getting married, they offered to help in the way that friends offer to help, at least for straight weddings.

"They said: If you need anything, I'd love to go dress shopping with you."

And Robin responded in the way she had learned to respond, at least to straight people.

She said: "I am the Ellen of the relationship."

That, says Cloud, a 35-year-old lesbian who hasn't worn a dress in more than a decade, "seemed to clear it up for them."

There would be no pilgrimages to Kleinfeld, no debates on the merits of satin vs. charmeuse.

What the woman needed was a good man's suit. A good man's suit can be hard to find if you are a woman.

"Honestly, I don't know how it's supposed to fit," says Cloud. Though she normally dresses in masculine apparel, her job as a comedian rarely forces her to explore further than the casual convenience of Club Monaco or Uniqlo. The wedding "means I have to go to a real men's department, and that will be a little more intense. It's going to be an education."

This is the sartorial plight of the sporty, the butch, the soft butch, the tomboys, the bois, the "Ellens," the Big Dykes on Campus, the women who love women but don't love wearing skirts and really don't love those girly pleated pantsuits with princess seams and scalloped collars. The women who know how to buy work pants, play shirts, clubbing shoes and everything else, but who do not know how to buy formal wear (really, who does?) and are now navigating the experience for their now legalized weddings.

"I've been really thinking about this," says Nancy Blaine, a book editor who, like Cloud, lives in New York but will hold her ceremony in a state where same-sex marriages are legal. "I've been wearing men's business suits to work for 20 years, but I still don't put on a tie. That's the one step that would raise eyebrows just a little bit higher." In the past she's shopped at warehouse sales to avoid potentially awkward interactions with salespeople. But for her wedding, "I want to be able to ask somebody. If I'm going to do it, I want to do it well." She wants the custom tailoring, the professional eye. She wants to pull out all the stops and wear a tie, and she wants to look darn good.

"Everybody knows where to go for ladies' night, where to go for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] books," says Eboné Bell, whose Washington area marketing firm sponsored the annual Capital Queer Prom. "But for clothes? It's a free-for-all." Every year before the prom, or for other formal events such as Mautner Project Gala, an annual lesbian fundraiser held Saturday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Bell fields dozens of questions from women who want to wear tuxedos but don't know where to go or what to look for. She test-drives several stores herself, walking in unannounced and seeing how the clerks respond to her request for a man's suit. She steels herself for the sidelong glances, the leading questions: So you're getting this for . . . a prom? So the person wearing this . . . is you?

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