Daily Archives: May 11, 2010

Work Wear: Five-Day Outfits and “Dykes and Their Hair”

Both Minh-Ha and I are neck-deep in manuscript writing, so while there are some things I’d love to write about (the new prison memoir with the sartorial title Orange Is The New Black, for instance), I’ve got to concentrate on Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Jennifer Gonzalez’s Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art, and ao dai calendars. (I promise it will someday make sense.) So, for our momentous 200th post, I’m doing the rare outfit post!

Taken in the women's bathroom at the public library after a long day's work.

I’ve been wearing this outfit for the last five days, working in the garden and writing at the library. (I changed my clothes today, though I still look like an ’80s throwback. And even though she’s keeping the same hours as me, I’m betting Minh-Ha is not wearing the same thing day after day…) You can’t see my red cowboy boots with the bas relief of guachos roping a calf in this photograph, purchased in 2003 at the Ashby BART Flea Market with former Maximumrocknroll coordinator and filmmaker Arwen Curry, but rest assured these are awesome. My Lux black jeans are an Urban Outfitters buy from 2004; about a month after I bought these in Ann Arbor during my postdoctoral stint (the UO was across the street from my office!), I slipped on some ice walking to campus from my house and ripped a big hole from seam to seam. You can sort of see my carabiner, which carries my keys, stuffed into my right pocket.

I bought this black leather two-row studded belt in 1993, I think, after a year of trying to resist this punk rock staple of “the uniform.” This means that my belt is almost as old as my undergraduate students! There’s also a peek of a gray ribbed tank top I bought at a Gap outlet in Tuscola during an outing with friends to tiny Arcola’s El Taco Tako (also home to the recently closed Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum), that also included a visit to a giant barn dubbed Amishland and in which we found that all the other visitors –all three of them– were also Asian. And, that apparently you can buy a cozy for any appliance you can name (like a microwave)! The sweatshirt I bought last year from Urban Outfitters during one of those periods of depressive online shopping, which happens to me quite a lot here in the cornfields. It’s super-soft and the sleeves extra-long, which is nice for keeping my hands warm while typing or blotting my eyes when I’m so allergic that tears are streaming down my face. The scarf is one I’d had since high school, let’s say 1991, junior year.

I had my girlfriend cut my hair, which had been for several years long, long, and long, with a thick fringe of bangs. I’ve done hair this short before, and always I like to think that I look like a teen-aged skater from the 1980s classics Thrashin’ or Gleaming the Cube (which even has a post-Vietnam War storyline, with refugee intrigue!). I was gratified last week when I stepped into the office of a friend-colleague, the stylish and smart J.R., who greeted me with, “You have my hair from 1987! Where’s your skateboard?”

Hair is of course a hugely significant metaphor and medium for “reading” race, nation (the premise that you can tell someone is “fresh off the boat” by the cut of their hair), gender, and sexuality, and in the past I’ve written about my hair in particular quite a lot. I’m not going to do that now, except to note that yes, I do realize that I am now wearing one of a handful of the most recognizable contemporary forms of “dyke hair,” and yes, it is something of a relief to not have to wash my old head of hair or feel the echo of a ponytail on my scalp. Instead, I’ll just point to the zine Dykes and Their Hair, by Teresa Chun-Wen Cheng and available for download from The Queer Zine Archive Project, which offers some succinct but smart commentary on how so many forms of “dyke hair” are racialized (these depend on not having super-curly hair, for instance) and a good chuckle (or more).

As Cheng observes, “The following ‘exhibit’ showcases normalized dyke hair styles that sometimes act as very public hints into reading someone’s sexuality (do so at your own risk. heh.). […] Thing is, only certain hair styles have had the privilege of making it into the dyke category. Because these particular hair styles have been normalized and become signs, the dykes and the queers who cannot and/or choose not to wear the styles become invisible even within their own communities.”