When my fiancee and I got engaged, the first thing my son said to me was, “we have to go to Yes to the Dress!” I promised him that the next time we went to New York, we would absolutely schedule a trip to Kleinfeld Bridal, the home of Say Yes to the Dress.
I’ve been watching Say Yes to the Dress since it premiered back in 2007. I’ve always been obsessed with weddings and all that goes into them, and I love low-stakes drama, so a show like SYTTD is perfect. It’s a study in the human condition, and there’s a lot of really pretty dresses to look at. What’s not to love? As one of TLC’s most popular shows, it was always on, and over time it became one of my comfort shows. I legit signed up for Discovery+ just so I could watch SYTTD because I had watched the limited amount of episodes available on Hulu a million times and was bored. As a result, my kiddo became as enamored with the Kleinfeld crew as I was. My fiancee has also been subjected to watching the show ad nauseam, and now she has opinions and favorites as well.
In July of 2021, my kiddo, fiancee and I, along with my best friend, were all set to spend 90 minutes at Kleinfeld. My Say Yes to the Dress dreams were coming true, and I couldn’t wait. I did go in knowing I wasn’t going to “say yes” because we haven’t set a wedding date, but I wanted to get an idea of what was out there (I’m a Gemini moon/Libra rising. Indecision is in the stars for me). We had a lovely time with our consultant Amber, who was not only an absolute pro at picking out dresses but also at dealing with a queer couple. She didn’t bat an eyelash when I introduced her to my female fiancee; she was more confused by how adamant I was about not buying a dress that day.
I always find it interesting to look at the progression of how the staff at Kleinfeld handles LGBTQ+ brides. When the show started, same-sex marriage was only legal in a handful of states. One of the first episodes with two brides is “Family Dynamics” from season three, which aired in 2009. Middle aged brides Beth and Joy come in looking for pantsuits for their “informal” wedding. It’s hard to tell what flummoxes the consultants more: the mere existence of two brides or finding pantsuits in a store full of wedding dresses. Even though consultant Sarah isn’t new to the store, the couple is her first same-sex couple, but she insists it doesn’t matter. The challenge for her is going to be finding a wide-leg palazzo pantsuit at Kleinfeld. When Sarah pulls SYTTD mainstay Randy into the quest for pants, he also insists that even though there are two brides, they won’t be treated any differently, unless that bride is looking for pants.
Because this is one of the first episodes featuring a same-sex couple (they never say the word “lesbian” or even “queer” in later seasons) there are a lot of these affirmations that the brides won’t be treated any differently. It feels like overkill when you’re watching it now, but it was likely reassuring back in 2009 for brides who may have been afraid they’d be treated differently at the store. Here’s the problem: There’s only one suit in the store, and the two brides aren’t sample size. Joy, who says she never saw herself in a wedding dress, is more easily convinced to try one on than Beth, who is pretty firm on her desire for pants. “It’s like squeezing a 10 pound sausage into a five pound casing,” Beth admits after attempting to try on the only suit. Thankfully designer Amy Michelson is doing an in-store trunk show, and she designs the exact kind of outfit Beth is envisioning.
I’ll admit I don’t know everything there is to know about bridal fashion. But I know Say Yes to the Dress, and Kleinfeld is usually at the forefront of what’s new and trendy. It boasts over 1,500 dresses in the store, which means it really is the best place for options. So while there’s always some new “it” dress, the option for someone who wants pants is seriously limited. Also, as with all mainstream fashion sectors, bridal fashion is historically fatphobic and limited in its sizing options, especially when it comes to stores like Kleinfeld that rely on sample sizes, further limiting options for brides who don’t fit a conventional image.
In season 15, episode two, brides Jaimee and Lisa come in looking for outfits for their wedding. Jamiee wants a dress, and Lisa wants not a pantsuit, but a wedding jumpsuit. This episode aired in 2017, and unlike in 2009 when Beth’s pantsuit wants were seen as inconvenient, Lisa now has options for jumpsuits. Wedding jumpsuits have grown in popularity since the late 2010s, and even though consultant Shay had a total meltdown over the idea of finding a jumpsuit (or even a two-piece set with pants) for Lisa, he was able to do so without having to have something customized.
There are a lot of things that changed for same-sex brides between 2009 and 2017 of course. The main thing being that same-sex marriage became federally recognized in 2015. But even before that, the slow trickle of legalization across states in the earlier part of that decade saw more brides going to Kleinfeld for their wedding dress dreams. After that first episode, it became less about the fact that two brides were welcome in the store and more about the fact that wedding dress shopping is hard, no matter who you’re marrying.
When two brides come in together, it means they want a level of coordination, which is hard, because they are ultimately two individuals with their own styles and opinions. So when the consultants are running around and freaking out, it’s because they’re being tasked with something difficult: How do you blend two different styles into something that looks cohesive? Some brides want to see what the other is wearing, and some don’t, which poses a fun challenge. We see this in Jamiee and Lisa’s episode, as well as in a season 16 episode featuring celesbian chef Cat Cora and her then-fiancee Nicole. It’s sweet that they want that element of tradition.
Tradition, of course, is baked into the bridal world. One of the first things the consultants say is: “tell me about the groom.” Over time, that question became “tell me about your fiancee.” It may seem small, and to be quite honest, I don’t even know when the question changed. But it’s a big deal when it comes to inclusivity. It may cause more of a guessing game, especially when you get a queer bride without her partner, but it shows you how far we’ve come.
In 2017, Say Yes to the Dress had another first in the name of inclusivity and progress. Episode four of season 15 introduces audiences to Gigi, Kleinfeld’s first transgender bride. Paired with Shay, the store’s first male consultant (who is a gay Black man), Gigi showed the store (and audiences) that trans women can be just like any other bride. Much like in season three, there is a lot of explaining as to what it means to be a trans woman, geared toward straight, cis viewers. It’s uncomfortably invasive for those of us in the know, but when you think about the people who watch the show, it makes sense. They ask Gigi and her mom when she first knew she was trans and what it’s like to be the parent to a trans woman. One question Randy asks Gigi’s mom is “did you ever think you’d be here?” to which she honestly answers that it’s a journey. Cringey as it is, it’s an important step to show a Latina trans woman who has an affirming parent in her life.
The way they presented Gigi paved the way for Chloe, a trans woman bride in a same-sex couple who we meet in season 20. Chloe’s trans identity is presented as fact, and while they go into her backstory, there are less invasive questions from those around her. Chloe’s story comes from her. (Fun fact: We had the same consultant!) She’s clearly still finding her way, but she’s so excited, and again, it shows viewers that trans brides are just like any other brides.
Tracking these changes on SYTTD goes to show that progress can be found in unexpected ways and places. A few episodes before Chloe’s in season 20, there is an episode featuring a throuple who are all marrying each other. One of the brides is married to a man, and they both fell in love with another woman. The wedding is between all three of them, so not only do you have a two-bride wedding but also a poly relationship. It’s presented as a matter of fact instead of being sensationalized, and while their entourage admits the situation is unconventional, they’re very accepting of the union.
When you juxtapose that against another season 15 episode, it’s fascinating to see how our understanding of polyamory has evolved. In episode nine, we meet Jennifer, a woman who is in a relationship with a man who is married. Due to some personal mental health issues, his wife is no longer able to be intimate and allowed him to be with other women. Consultant Debbie is aghast, which to be fair, same. This is the same network that airs Sister Wives, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but to see them being so open when most people may not be accepting was cool and kind of fascinating.
Say Yes to the Dress is definitely more than just a show about wedding dresses. It gives you glimpses into parts of the world that you may not see in your everyday life. It shows people that no matter who you are as a bride, it’s all overwhelming. But when it’s presented in a way that makes queer people less of a spectacle (save it for the dresses), it’s a weird place to find affirmation.
Whenever there’s an episode with a queer bride, I always get excited. Even if I’ve seen it before (which at this point, I have), it still brings a bubble of excitement to my chest. My understanding of my queerness has evolved significantly since the first lesbian brides appeared on Say Yes to the Dress. I don’t even remember seeing some of those early episodes, even though I was watching the show. Back then, my queerness was almost a secret, and now here I am preparing to walk down the aisle for my own same-sex wedding. And I knew that when I walked into Kleinfeld with my future wife, we would be welcomed with open arms.