Beyond the Binary: How Gender-Fluid Fashion is Redefining Weddings
Weddings are a celebration of love, commitment and personal expression. However, for far too long, wedding fashion has been constrained within the confines of traditional gender roles, perpetuating a one-size-fits-all narrative of a "bride" in a white wedding dress and a "groom" sporting a tux. Today, it's important to recognize that not all to-be-weds fit into these narrow boxes, and the wedding industry is finally evolving to embrace inclusivity and celebrate all expressions of gender-fluid wedding fashion.
Below, we explore the journey of wedding fashion, how the industry is changing, and what we can expect in the future of gender-fluid wedding fashion for all that is outside of the traditional white wedding dress and tux pairing.
What is Gender-Fluid Wedding Fashion?
Gender-fluid wedding fashion breaks free from the traditional gender binary and allows individuals to express their authentic selves on their special day. Hannah Croft, MSW (she/they), who is getting married in October 2023, is a TikTok content creator and genderqueer trauma therapist specializing in sexual healing and reclaiming pleasure. As she puts it, gender-fluid fashion "encourages folks to dress as themselves rather than as a specific gender presentation." For example, for Croft's upcoming wedding, they gave their wedding party a color palette and a vibe, allowing everyone to dress in a way that felt meaningful and authentic to them.
Nonbinary content creator, freelance writer and author Sam Slupski (they/them) believes that gender-fluid fashion is all about comfort, honor, and euphoria. It's about being able to wear what feels right and empowering your body rather than conforming to traditional expectations. As Slupski explains, "Being gender-fluid in fashion means being able to wear what is perhaps unexpected but is exactly what feels correct on your body."
For many gender-nonconforming individuals, weddings can be a challenge. Nonbinary Instagram and TikTok content creator Omar Ahmed (he/they) points out that weddings are often seen as traditional events, with predefined gender roles for the groom and bride. But why should you have to conform to these norms? Flipping the script and getting married on your own terms means wearing your outfits your way. It means rejecting societal expectations and embracing your own unique style and expression.
The History of Wedding Fashion (TL;DR Version)
Traditional wedding fashion has deep-rooted gender associations, with white wedding gowns symbolizing feminine purity and tuxedos conveying masculinity. However, history reveals that this gendered approach is merely a social construct and not an inherent aspect of wedding fashion.
In the Victorian era, wedding gowns were not always white but rather chosen based on the bride's personal taste and social status. It wasn't until the 20th century that white gowns became synonymous with brides, perpetuating heteronormative ideals. The Knot's Fashion Content Strategist and queer personal stylist Nic Seligman (they/she), points out, "Think about who gets to have pockets on their wedding day and who is perched atop stilettos, wearing a dress made with the sole intention of sitting still and looking pretty."
Fast forward to 2015, when same-sex marriage was finally legalized in the United States. This momentous occasion sparked a shift in the wedding industry, forcing it to reconsider its longstanding gendered norms. "There were no standards for how two people of the same gender should dress for their wedding day," Seligman adds. Suddenly, the wedding fashion landscape became a blank canvas, ready to be painted with limitless possibilities.
Enter the new generation, our fearless Gen Z. They grew up challenging social constructs, breaking through barriers, and embracing their true selves. Whether it's due to the pandemic, climate anxiety or the influence of social media, this generation fearlessly questions the status quo, including the concept of the gender binary. As Seligman says, "Gen Z boldly challenges social constructs, including the gender binary, committing to knowing and expressing themselves without fear of reproach."
So, how does this generation approach weddings and wedding fashion? They take the options they've been offered and turn them into something completely new. They shatter the old standards of traditional gender-specific attire and create their own rules. The wedding industry can no longer ignore the demand for inclusivity and self-expression. It's time for wedding fashion to reflect the diverse identities and love stories of all individuals.
Bending the Binary of Gendered Wedding Fashion
For gender-nonconforming individuals, shopping for wedding attire can be a daunting task. The retail industry has traditionally gendered clothing, confining individuals to limited options based on their assigned gender at birth. "For many people, your wedding is one of the most important days in your life, so going into that, you want to be dressed in the clothing that makes you feel most like you. Weddings are seen as such a traditional event, where the groom wears a tux and the bride wears a white dress, but what about gender-nonconforming people?" says Ahmed.
How Omar and Matt Crafted Wedding Outfits Outside the Binary
Omar and Matt had a clear vision for their wedding outfits. Omar, who identifies as nonbinary, knew they didn't want to wear a traditional tux or a dress. Instead, they wanted to blend the two ideas and wear something "flowy and light but with some structure on top". Matt, who identifies as cisgender, also wanted something non-traditional. They both agreed they wanted to show up in off-white. However, picking out gender-neutral attire was not an easy task.
They found themselves gravitating towards the women's section of clothing stores but faced sizing issues. "No two stores seem to have the same size guide, so it was all trial and error," Omar explains. The couple decided to opt for custom wedding outfits. Omar found inspiration from pieces they already owned and crafted something perfect for the big day.
Omar emphasized that they don't feel pressured to conform to societal standards, and that includes the use of gendered terms like "bride" and "groom." Their wedding officiant had performed hundreds of queer weddings and adjusted their language to fit the couple's needs. "This was our wedding, and we were always going to do it our way", says Ahmed.
How Hannah and Liam Embraced Gender-Fluidity in Wedding Fashion
Hannah Croft's wedding outfit shopping journey is a testament to breaking free from traditional gender norms and embracing individuality. Their approach to fashion celebrates the fluidity and uniqueness of their identities. Croft explained, "I consider myself genderqueer. Yes, I relate to the experience of womanhood, but it's also more than that. I've queered the idea of being a woman for myself." They expressed the fluidity of their gender presentation and their desire for it to be perceived in a way that feels authentic to them.
Liam, on the other hand, doesn't quite identify as a man but also doesn't reject the label. So when it came to wedding fashion, the couple embraced the concept of gender fluidity. Croft described it as "whatever the fuck you want it to be." They wanted everyone involved in their wedding to feel comfortable and true to themselves. Instead of dictating specific attire, they gave their wedding party a color palette and a vibe, allowing them to express their personal styles.
But the road to finding the perfect wedding outfit was not without its challenges. Gendered retail selections played a significant role in Hannah's experience. They knew they wanted to wear a dress but were wary of being confined to a specific gender expression. High-femme dresses and androgynous jumpsuits didn't quite capture their desired look.
To navigate the wedding outfit shopping process, Hannah found it helpful to communicate their needs and desires upfront. They wrote a note to the bridal shop when scheduling an appointment, requesting a queer stylist if possible. This ensured they were paired with someone who fully understood their vision and could provide a supportive and inclusive experience. Hannah also encouraged those who may feel intimidated to ask a close friend for assistance. Eventually, they found the Jenny Yoo "Beale" gown, which became the cornerstone of their wedding ensemble. It was a versatile piece that allowed them to accessorize based on their gender expression for the day.
As for the language surrounding "bride" and "groom," Hannah and Liam approached it with humor and a bit of camp. While those terms didn't give them dysphoria, they saw it as an opportunity to embrace drag performance and have fun with it. Hannah explained, "Any time anyone calls me "bride," I take it as an opportunity to really camp it up and be silly about it."
Retail is Gendered – Clothing Isn't
The journey of retail shopping can be a unique and often difficult experience for gender-nonconforming individuals. In a world where societal constructs often dictate specific sections like "men's clothing" and "women's clothing, finding styles that truly reflect one's identity can feel like a maze. And while the language may be limiting, clothing doesn't have to be.
"When you begin dismantling social constructs, labels lose their relevance, making way for more nuanced worldviews," says Seligman. It's a powerful statement that speaks to the heart of the matter. As they explain, it's time to shift the perspective and reframe the idea of traditional "women's clothing" or "men's clothing" sections. Instead, they suggest we refer to it as "clothing from the women's section" or "clothing from the men's section." Gendered clothing labels no longer serve modern society, but that shouldn't stop anyone from buying and wearing what feels right.
Jeanne Foley (she/her), co-founder of SuitShop, a retailer known for its gender-fluid wedding fashion, eloquently expresses the importance of inclusivity in fashion: "It's about being accessible to all who want to get suited. That means creating sizes, styles, prices, and an environment that welcomes all genders," says Foley. SuitShop not only offers a coordinated collection of suits and tuxedos in mix-and-match pieces, but they have also gone above and beyond to ensure their brand reflects a gender-fluid space.
In fact, they recently rebranded from "The Groomsman Suit" to "SuitShop" to better represent the diverse range of communities they serve. While they do have collections categorized by men's and women's, there is also an "Everybody" category along with the option to shop all suits and tuxedos in order to welcome anyone to any fit. This allows anyone, regardless of gender identity, to find a fit that feels comfortable and representative of their true self.
Gender Fluidity Is for Wedding Parties and Guests Too
Wedding fashion isn't limited to just the to-be-weds. When it comes to bridging the gap between traditional gender roles and inclusive fashion, gender-fluidity is becoming increasingly popular for wedding parties and guests alike.
For example, instead of the typical "bridesmaid" and "groomsmen" labels, couples are embracing gender-fluidity in their wedding parties by simply giving a general color palette and vibe guidelines instead of requiring a specific dress or suit. This approach allows individuals to dress based on their personal style and comfort, regardless of their gender identity. For Croft's wedding, they explained, "It's meaningful to us to have everyone involved in our wedding feel like themselves."
This inclusive approach has also influenced wedding guest fashion. More and more guests are embracing gender-fluid outfit options that allow them to feel comfortable, confident and true to themselves. Whether it's a non-binary guest opting for a suit instead of a dress or a guest choosing a colorful, gender-neutral outfit rather than traditional formalwear, wedding fashion is becoming a reflection of the diverse identities within our communities.
The Future Is Gender Fluid
The wedding industry is shifting towards a more inclusive and diverse landscape, acknowledging that love knows no bounds and fashion should reflect that. Many retailers, like SuitShop, Loud Bodies and Christian Siriano recognize the importance of inclusivity and are actively providing plenty of stylish gender-neutral choices beyond the traditional white dress and tux. Custom-made suits, flowing gowns, jumpsuits, and accessories are now available to suit every individual's style and identity.
As we look ahead to the future of gender-fluid wedding fashion, As an industry leader, Foley predicts the potential for growth and innovation in gender fluid wedding fashion. She emphasizes that by embracing gender inclusivity and catering to gender fluidity, the industry can experience a wave of innovation in products, language and marketing. "SuitShop is on a mission to help anyone and everyone feel comfortable and confident in a suit. We're always working towards becoming more inclusive and offering even more innovative suiting solutions, and we hope to see the rest of the industry go in a similar direction."
"The old rules are crumbling, and in their place is a brave new future where weddings are about love, unity, and self-expression," says Seligman. Let's celebrate this transformation and rejoice in the breaking down of barriers. Look for stores and brands that celebrate diversity and offer gender-neutral or inclusive sizing and styles. Seek out communities online that share resources, experiences, and fashion inspirations. It's time for wedding fashion to be an inclusive celebration of love and identity.