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It wasn't until I started attending a bunch of weddings in my late 20s that I began to question how I wanted to present myself as a woman in formalwear. In almost every culture, traditional gender norms dictate that women wear dresses or skirts. From the gown-like hanbok of South Korea, to the draping of saris of India, to the ruffly tiered silhouettes of the Spanish flamenco dress, to the floor-length kimono robes of Japan, women just don't wear pants to formal events. But it's that exact feeling of wearing something so decidedly feminine to a wedding that has always irked me. Wearing a dress to a wedding feels like something I'm supposed to do, not something I want to do. And I don't enjoy putting my body into girly clothing for the sake of what's considered gender-appropriate.
It's that exact feeling of wearing something so decidedly feminine to a wedding that has always irked me.
There's a certain level of anxiety that comes with selecting a wedding outfit. I always end up putting too much pressure on myself to look elegant, which is a word I'd never use to describe my everyday getup of slacks and a boxy top. But elegance is expected at a formal event like a wedding. After all, my engaged friends are putting down thousands of dollars for a picture-perfect day. The very least I can do is put on a shiny, new fancy outfit for them. Anything casual would feel downright disrespectful.
And while looking elegant is usually not my forte, it tends to be fun because getting fancy gives me a chance to surprise people who normally don't see me all gussied up. It requires little effort when you think about it—all you have to, once you figure out the ensemble, is put it on your body.
The other kind of pressure I put on myself is looking "sexy" for weddings (LOL). I say this in a cheeky way because I don't usually feel sexy in a physical sense: I have a short frame, a shapeless and rectangular physique, a babyface. But as a single woman who usually shows up stag to weddings, there's always this clichéd notion that there might be someone to hook up with (thanks, Wedding Crashers), so I should at least attempt to look at least a little "sexy" for that potential. (Although, for the record, I've never hooked up with anyone at a wedding.)
I've always envied schlubby men who only need to put on a crisp suit, shave, and comb their hair to look handsome. Women have more to consider when it comes to the attire: We have to determine the color, the fit, the length, and all the accessories. Hair and makeup is a whole other thing to figure out. So the idea of squeezing myself into a dress makes me feel like I'm getting into a costume, as if I'm getting into my "sexy character" for the evening. It feels unnatural and gross to me.
In a dress, I always looked like I was trying too hard. Which I was.
And what does dressing sexy mean anyway? For me, it always meant zipping up a dress that is a bit too tight and a bit lower cut than I'm used to. When I first started going to weddings, I wore the following: Micro shift dresses I wouldn't dare bend over in unless I wanted to show the world my ass. Overwhelming maxis that made me feel like I was drowning in way too much fabric. Weird asymmetrical hemlines that made it impossible to tell what my outfit was supposed to look like. Bodycon dresses that made me super self-conscious about eating too much at dinner. Cut-out back dresses where wearing a bra would ruin the look. And the list goes on! I always looked like I was trying too hard. Which I was. I hated having to readjust myself throughout the night, pulling down the hem here or pulling up the top there.
Dressing for weddings is tricky because it's about hitting that ultra sweet spot, where the Venn diagram of the "sexy" and "elegant" circles overlap. After attending seven weddings in dresses (and consequently feeling all sorts of regret), I've finally decided to wear pants.
My first pants-free wedding of the year was in February in New Jersey, so yes, it was very cold. I've worn dresses to previous winter weddings and the subsequent freezing was both inevitable and, when you think about it, upsetting—I have to forego warmth so that I can look appropriate? So I already felt like wearing pants was a solid decision.
Before I went out shopping for my wedding outfit, I did some Google Image research on nice-looking pants that were also ankle-length. Emma Stone, Lorde, and Patti Smith all wore incredible pants outfits to the 2015 Golden Globes and they set me on a mission. The last thing I wanted was to look like I was at a corporate office party, so I had my heart set on an outfit with a funky pattern in a rich jewel tone.
What I landed on was a coordinating top-and-bottom set in navy blue with a crab print all over. It was from H&M, which is the most casual store I've ever shopped at for a wedding outfit. The pants even had an elastic waist. I may have teared up in the dressing room. It was perfect. The streamlined head-to-toe matching set made it look cohesive like a dress would, but the separates allowed for the comfort I was looking for. Just some heels, a great updo, and a swipe of lipstick was all I needed.
The pants even had an elastic waist. I may have teared up in the dressing room.
My foray into wedding pants turned out to be a huge success—I was blown away by all the compliments I received that night, even from strangers. I think there's something about seeing pants on a woman at a wedding that catches people's eyes because it doesn't happen often.
During the reception I ran into another wedding guest in the restroom who wore pants. We complimented each other and I told her it was my first time wearing pants to a formal event. She told me that she never wears anything else. Out of the entire party that night, only three of us female guests wore pants. It felt like we were in on a secret that no one else had caught on to yet. Not only were we able to really get down on the dance floor, we also looked commanding. For once, I was super confident in what I wore and it allowed me to be completely myself. I wondered if this was what it felt like to be "sexy." It was by far the most covered-up look I've ever worn to a wedding.
Since then I've found a renewed joy in wedding outfit shopping. I re-wore the same crab outfit to a ceremony down in New Orleans in March because that was a no-brainer, and I wore silky culottes with a light-knit sweater to a wedding in April. I can't even tell you how much fun it is to wear something super billowy without the fear of having a major Marilyn Monroe exposure moment. For the next few weddings I've got jumpsuits, wide-legged pants, structured shorts, and cropped skinny trousers on my radar. There are truly a ton of great options out there, and it's surprisingly easy to find silhouettes in luxe-looking fabrics.
I highly recommend any woman to take a pair of dressy pants out for a spin at a wedding. For me, it's been a life-changing transformation. So much that I've stopped wearing dresses altogether. And while I'm nowhere near getting married myself, when and if the time does come, I can't wait to search for my perfect white pantsuit.