Daily Archives: May 7, 2009

Queer + Fashion

Some weeks ago, my brilliant sister-friend Iraya Robles (formerly of San Francisco’s queercore outfit Sta-Prest) told me about a performance she wanted to put together about Tina Chow, the iconic mixed-race model and socialite who died in 1992 from AIDS-related complications. Iraya wants to bring Chow’s couture collecting and connoisseurship to some of her own concerns about the psychological processes of collecting –picking and choosing, or even sometimes hoarding– and how these might relate to outsider status. I can’t do the project justice (and I should probably talk to her about it to be sure I got it right!), but it did send me on a quest to find some new sources of queer + fashion inspiration.

Now, I can enumerate academic sources at length, but what about the fashion blog-o-sphere?

Luckily, I just stumbled across What’s Her Tights, a newish blog (that somehow manages to post much more often than ours!) dedicated to “Queer Fashion, Radical Politics.” Hers is some serious whip-smartness, with posts about the gendering of our technologies (cell phones, et cetera); disappointing drag king performances; immigrants and the informal dress codes that signal assimilation or its absence (something Minh-ha and I have discussed in terms of the so-called, and somehow understood-as-self-evident, “fresh off the boat” aesthetic); how superstar MIA’s clothing becomes “style” (instead of “trash”) after her fame; and a really pointed set of questions about how charity clothing donation creates and circulate certain sorts of feelings (delight in another’s reuse of an item that might also, and problematically, assume gratitude on the part of those “less fortunate”) that need to be unpacked; and much, much more. I hope she doesn’t mind that I want showcase a bit of her genius here with this excerpt from an entry about the hipster accessory, the cowboy boot:

There is so much I just don’t know about this country-singer-turned-ironic-hipster fashion footwear. The transformations in cowboy boot design—the array of pointed toes, evolution of steel inserts, and varied shaft height—are all masked and narrated (especially if you look up cowboy boots on wikipedia) as practical accommodations for horseback riding and improving riding maneuvers in general. But what pop sources won’t tell you is that these shifts in design also had to do with facilitating the larger project of white supremacy and coercion, in essence making it easier to injure “Indians” through physical combat. This footwear has roots in something so unmistakably violent (not only toward the animals of which they’re made)… a real piece of Americana. And that’s a fact. Or a hoax. There can only be two “choices” right? 

Also, I totally get her little opening post about the Milwaukee mullet (“mom or lesbian, or maybe both?”). Shhhh, I’m hoping that we can be fashion blog friends!

For those of you in the Bay Area, the 2009 National Queer Arts Festival includes an exhibition called Threads, housed at SOMArts from June 7-26 (here’s the information for the opening reception). There doesn’t seem to be much information about the exhibition , but for this brief and somewhat vague blurb from the reception announcement:

Threads is not just about fabric and costume but also how queerness weaves the threads of our physical, social and moral existence together into a multi-dimensional fabric of community and our selves. What are the threads that bind, mend and sometimes unravel this spectacular fabric? How do we fashion, perform, subvert or display queerness in our art and lives?
 

I desperately wish I could be there for Laye(red), a performance by Thisway/Thatway (a.k.a. Stephanie Cooper), which explores the work of fashion in fundraising, and “conscientious” consumption as a human rights instrument, as practiced by the GAP (red) campaign. While focusing (it seems) on the “pop-cultural appropriation of blackness for profit,” I’m hoping this performance also queries the idea of “Africa” circulating throughout such campaigns as a “dark continent,” which is so incredibly critical for how we understand the place of “Africa” (and I put that in scare quotes on purpose) in global discourses of sex and development, disease vectors and health initiatives. I mean, “AIDS in Africa,” both as an epidemiological crisis and as a humanitarian campaign, signifies certain colonial and imperial notions that require careful untangling.

The Gap (PRODUCT) RED campaign is a collaborative effort between celebrities, multilateral organizations, and Gap Inc. Half of the proceeds from signature items will become charitable contributions to “help eliminate AIDS in Africa.” In this cultural moment where Gwyneth Paltrow declares, “I am African,” and Bono advises we, “Shop ’til it stops,” Laye(red) takes on this pop-cultural appropriation of blackness for profit. 

I wonder if there’ll be video of this performance? I feel I could teach this in at least two courses (Politics of Fashion and Transnational Feminist Studies)!

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Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, FASHIONING RACE