How Bridal Wear Is Changing to Cater to Same-Sex Couples Post-DOMA

At the end of June, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, marking an historic victory in the fight for marriage equality. As the LGBT community took to the streets for Pride to celebrate just a few days later--and as scores of gay couples proposed to their partners--the wedding industry was celebrating too, as market insiders predicted a million dollar boon to the industry. With the influx of same-sex weddings, comes issues unique to gay brides and grooms--what to wear, chief among them. Here's how businesses from The Knot, to Zac Posen are working to address them.
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Hayley Phelan
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At the end of June, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, marking an historic victory in the fight for marriage equality. As the LGBT community took to the streets for Pride to celebrate just a few days later--and as scores of gay couples proposed to their partners--the wedding industry was celebrating too, as market insiders predicted a million dollar boon to the industry. With the influx of same-sex weddings, comes issues unique to gay brides and grooms--what to wear, chief among them. Here's how businesses from The Knot, to Zac Posen are working to address them.
Photo:  Kristin Korpos; 14stories.com

Photo: Kristin Korpos; 14stories.com

At the end of June, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, marking an historic victory in the fight for marriage equality. As the LGBT community took to the streets for Pride to celebrate just a few days later--and as scores of gay couples proposed to their partners--the wedding industry was celebrating too, as market insiders predict a million dollar boon to the business.

Yet even as the industry prepared for a wave of new business, insiders we spoke to cautioned that the boost would be short-lived.

"Overall, I would say you’re probably going to see a bump," says Shane McMurray, founder of The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks and forecasts number of weddings, spending, and consumer trends for the wedding industry. "The likelihood that it's going to be this big boom is probably not true. If you look at any of the States, that have legalized gay marriage, there is a small bump and then it levels off to regular patterns."

One reason the post-DOMA boost will likely level off is that, while gay marriage might have only recently be legally recognized in many States, gay weddings are certainly nothing new.

The Knot has been covering gay weddings for years now, but, in a moment of fortuitous timing, they launched a separate gay wedding vertical just days before DOMA was overturned.

"It was actually something we've been planning for a while," Carley Roney, The Knot's Editor in Chief, told us. "We introduced the separate vertical really just as a way for the content we've already been creating for same-sex couples to live in one place."

The Knot's recent wedding study, which surveyed 17,500 couples in 2012, found that while gay couples tend to have smaller weddings, they spend more per head and go all out with lavish details. "When a gay couple who likes to throw a party gets married, it's out of this world," Roney says.

The study also found that gay couples, overall, had higher incomes than straight couples and that 86% of them chose to split the cost of the wedding equally.

Then there's the issue of what to wear.

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"I think it’ll be really interesting to see stylistically how gay marriage defines itself," says Zac Posen, who is launching a line with David's Bridal. "It's still an open book, it's an open chapter. As a community that has had to have their relationships alternative for so long, not being accepted by the mainstream, it's going to be really interesting to see now how people want to dress or represent themselves for their weddings."

Bernadette Coveney Smith is the owner of 14 Stories and Fourteen, a same-sex wedding planning service and bridal tuxedo line respectively. When she was planning her own wedding to wife Jen in 2009, she had trouble finding exactly the right garment for her big day. She didn't want to wear a dress but she didn't want to look "masculine" either--she was looking for the perfect "in-between" outfit, a suit that felt special but could be tailored properly to fit a woman. After months of fruitless searching, she ended up finding a white suit from Banana Republic.

"I really lucked out--it fit me great and it was like a white sateen suit, perfect for a bridal suit."

Many of Coveney Smith's female clients encounter similar problems. "What does a lesbian bride wear? That issue comes up a lot. I've had brides in black cocktail dresses or in bridesmaids dresses or in tuxes."

The lack of enticing options for the same-sex bride was the impetus behind Coveney Smith's line of bridal tuxes Fourteen, which launched eight months ago. Since DOMA was overturned at the end of June, Coveney Smith says Fourteen's sales have doubled.

Posen thinks there's a lot of opportunity right now for businesses like Coveney Smith's, which cater specifically to same-sex brides and grooms, to flourish. "I think that's a huge open opportunity," he said.

That's good news for graduating Pratt student Madeline Gruen, who won the Pratt Fashion Entrepreneurship Award in April; Gruen told us she hopes to open a salon catering to gay men looking for “outfits to wear and shine at their own weddings.”

As for if Posen will ever do a line, the designer told us, "Potentially. We’ll see." He dressed Portia de Rossi and Ellen DeGeneres on their wedding day and said it was "a really important public move, from a designer house, to embrace an alternative marriage."

According to Sonny Oram of Qwear fashion blog, "there are several queer brands already in place which caters to formal wear for people in the lesbian, queer, and trans community who prefer not to wear dresses." Fourteen is chief among them, but Oram also mentions Tomboy Tailors, The Butch Clothing Company and Androgyny. She adds that brands like TopMan and Indochino, both of which market to men, are queer-friendly and make--or custom tailor--suits to fit the LGBT's needs. Another trend Oram says we might start seeing is for bridal companies to start selling two wedding dresses that go together, for the same-sex couple that both wants to wear dresses.

"There are more are [queer-friendly brands like this] cropping up all the time!" says Oram. "I can hardly keep up."

There's certainly money to be made. Even McMurray, who was unconvinced of the supposed gay wedding boom, said that as more States continue to legalize gay marriage, there'll be a 10 billion impact on the wedding industry over three or five years. That's nothing to sniff at, considering McMurray estimates the market is currently valued at "about 50 billion."

Photo: Closed Circle Photography; 14stories

Photo: Closed Circle Photography; 14stories

That said, businesses like Coveney Smith's or Gruen's, and publications like The Knot's Gay Weddings, will likely remain niche. Why? Because, same-sex couples are pretty similar to hetero couples when it comes to finding their soul mate and getting dressed to marry them.

"I don't think we're going to see too many 'gay wedding dress' lines because that would just be stereotyping," says Roney. "I think what we'll see is existing companies embracing same-sex couples, making sure same-sex couples know they're welcome, and that they want them as customers."

Oram agrees. "At the very least, [bridal companies] will hopefully open up their language to include queer couples (i.e. not assuming that every woman shopping there is marrying a to-be-groom)."

Considering what Coveney Smith said about same-sex couple's #1 concern when planning their wedding--"that some vendor will make them feel like shit [because of their sexual orientation]"--this is no small thing. But it's not exactly going to make millions either. "If they [overturned DOMA] to make money, they did it for the wrong reasons," McMurray says.

Maybe we won't be seeing too many bridal companies coming out with lines of queer-friendly wedding gear... but two brides kissing in a Vera Wang ad? Or two grooms holding hands for Men's Wearhouse? It might not be too far off in the future.