Bordeaux in southwestern France is home to a small but elegant bridal salon called Mary Mariées, a shop that despite research, yields little information for those of us ill-equipped to read French. The most I could squeeze from a ‘translate this page’ website snippet is that the store’s customers are brides-to-be. Ms Mariées features wedding gowns by designers well-known for bridal fashion, but apparently, carries nothing at all for men, leaving the groom to find his own simpler attire. But then, it is surely the bride who is most excited by shopping for a wedding dress and choosing the bridesmaid ensemble.
I can only imagine that a Japanese tourist wandering around Bordeaux one summer day happened upon the Mariées Salon and was intoxicated by the notion of transplanting the idea to Japan and offering wedding fashions and ball gowns to ladies for whom marriage and fancy dress is an unfulfilled dream. Nothing odd about a plan to open a rental clothing shop, but as it happens, the business expanded in another direction. Within months word got out and the store was inundated with requests from men dreaming of a secret debut. And thus was a new market discovered, one for men—men with a secret desire to wear beautiful drag.
For a low price under $600, Mary Mariee (no connection to the French salon) in central Japan offers men the chance to dress up and be photographed in a ball gown. The price package includes a haircut, shampoo and close shave before moving on to make-up and hair, or wig selection. After a choice of favorite gowns and a two-hour session for hair and make-up, the "man" moves to a studio where a professional photographer does an extensive shoot showing off the "new woman" in a panoply of gowns. Princess for a day.
Among the many dresses offered to women customers are racks of 100 gowns exclusively for men. Choices include a selection of sumptuous white wedding dresses, as well as traditional kimonos with a seamstress on hand to alter clothing for a male figure. The store manager explained, “Enquiries from men were so overwhelming we concluded that men too yearn for that princess feeling.” Naturally, the store’s services are offered without any judgment of men who choose to wear a dress and heels on occasion. The manager added, “We provide the opportunity for people to enjoy showing their real selves, whether they are men or women.” In line with that philosophy, Mary Mariee has extended its services to cover fashion shoots for women who dream of being dressed and photographed in men’s clothing.
Should the reader with delicate sensitivities be shocked and open-mouthed at this phenomenon, rest assured that it is unlikely to turn heads among average modern Japanese people, who probably buy lettuce from a vending machine, pay to have "cute" crooked caps put on their teeth, frequent coffee shops where waitresses wear the costumes of animation characters, and where the Takarazuka all-female theatre troupe is wildly popular and where strawberry and whipped cream sandwiches for lunch are ordinary fare.
Lettuce from vending machines in combination with the Mary Mariee fancy dress salon puts me in mind of New York drag entertainer, Hedda Lettuce, but who’s to know if the salon has any wigs and dresses in verdant green, trademark of the queen of green.