Category Archives: (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY

F Bombs

Wonder Woman is a feminist fashion icon if there ever was one: the bustier, the hot pants (or is this a romper?), and of course her best accessory, her Golden Lasso of Truth.

“Is fashion feminist?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear when someone finds out that I write about fashion.  And I have to admit that I find the question tedious – not because it’s not important but because it’s the wrong question. It may be why we’ve never directly answered this question – though all our posts are informed by a critical feminist perspective.  A better question to ask is: How is fashion an instrument of gender oppression and how is it a means to feminist liberation? I’ve compiled a short list of mostly popular, mostly online texts that address this question – some, more successfully than others. It should go without saying – but in case it doesn’t – this is hardly an exhaustive list of texts. Note, for example, that I haven’t included any full book-length studies on the topic and only a few scholarly texts. It’s meant to be a quick reference list, a pocket-sized digital guide to beginning a conversation about this topic.

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And finally, here are a few posts we’ve written on the subject of fashion and feminism in relation to, among other things, queerness, popular culture discourse,  and academia:

Feel free to add on to this list in the comments!

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TIlda Swinton, The Hotness

Tilda Swinton poses in a dark suit and sweater against a dark gray and black background. Her left hand is on her hip and the other is up by her right shoulder, against the wall.

This post’s title says it all.

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Foot Fetish

Five-inch heels in perforated leather with multiple=

Kokon to Zai orthopedic heels, as seen on I’M REVOLTING, photographs by Shop It Right Now. I am considering, among other things: the figure of the disabled body as a problematic metaphor; the eroticization of medical apparatus as well as the disabled body; phenomenological prosthetics that transform consciousness of self in the world; the blurring of the always precarious line between medical-surgical discourses of necessary utility and rehabilitation and “elective” aesthetics and beauty; clothing (and shoes) as armor against access and intimacy; Seoul’s pink parking spots designated for women in high heels; and finally, this quote from Rosemary Garland Thomson:

“Many parallels exist between the social meanings attributed to female bodies and those assigned to disabled bodies. Both the female body and the disabled body are cast within cultural discourse as deviant and inferior; both are excluded from full participation in public as well as economic life; both are defined in opposition to a valued norm which is assumed to possess natural corporeal superiority.”

–Rosemary Garland Thomson, 1997, “Feminist Theory, the Body, and the Disabled Figure,” The Disability Studies Reader, Ed. Lennard J. Davis (New York: Routledge, p. 279)

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On the Seduction of Proenza Schouler’s Act Da Fool**

Somewhere in my future is a book – or at the very least a longer blog post – on the phenomenon of fashion films. I don’t mean films like Tom Ford’s A Single Man or documentaries like Seamless and The September Issue. I’m talking about the cinematic shorts that are increasingly being produced to help launch luxury fashion lines. I’ve already written about the Chanel film, Paris-Shanghai:  A Fantasy but there are many others.

In addition to Paris-ShanghaiChanel has commissioned a number of other short films (several directed by Martin Scorcese), and so has Missoni (directed by Kenneth Anger). Both Dior and Gucci have shorts directed by David Lynch (one featuring the most fabulous Marion Cotillard); Louis Vuitton has one directed by Zoe Cassavetes; and Alexander Wang employed Craig McDean to direct his. Most are little more than extended commercials or music videos with really expensive clothes. But some, like Paris-Shanghai and Proenza Schouler’s recent video Act Da Fool (2010), strive to be something more artistic.

Act Da Fool, directed by Harmony Korine (writer of the cult classic Kids [1995]), is not overtly commercial. We might even describe it as an audiovisual lyrical poem. Its narrative isn’t quite linear but neither is it nonlinear. Instead, it’s an episodic series of vignettes about a group of young black women who represent, as Korine puts it, “the greatest living delinquents.” Like another one of his films, Trash Humpers (2009), Act Da Fool is shot and based in Korine’s hometown in Tennessee and again like Trash Humpers, the production value of the video is intentionally low and gritty.

Act Da Fool, like all good media events, is seductive. The images are visually arresting in the same way that Jamel Shabazz’s 1980s Brooklyn street photos are beautiful to me. (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Korine was somehow influenced by Shabazz.) The monologue is haunting and downright poetic at times, balancing on that knife’s edge between nihilism and hopefulness. Take, as just two examples, my favorite lines:

I believe that the earth is a big ball of shit – that’s why the dinosaur died out. And everyone gonna die sooner or later. That’s why I love cigarettes so much. I hope I don’t die for a long time though. I still got things I want to look at.

I ain’t going to church no more. Church can suck it. I think the stars hold the secrets.

Enough already with the telling, here’s the show:

Act Da Fool is seductive. (I know I already said that.) It’s an infomercial dressed in avant-garde cinema aesthetics (among Korine’s influences and fans are auteurs Jean-Luc Godard and Werner Herzog) and swathed in the luxury fashions of Proenza Schouler. It’s the turducken of fashion films. Its individual parts are good yet the sum of these parts is indigestible.

As a short film, I’m absolutely for Act Da Fool. But no cultural object exists in a vacuum. The cultural economy from which this film emerges is one in which the clothes worn by the young black women in the film, the very fashions around which this film revolves (Proenza Schouler’s Fall 2010 RTW collection), is in fact not available to the characters represented in the film. The working class black women whose life experiences and life chances are such that the narrator is forced to wonder, “How come God gotta be so violent?” could not afford the clothes displayed here – the high-waisted skinny paint-splattered jean that is the star of the film retails for $550. And if the characters lack the financial capital to wear these clothes, then the actual actor-models lack the social capital. It is important to point out that the models in the film the do not actually embody the ideal Proenza Schouler fashion subject on the runway. Of the 33 looks in the Fall 2010 collection, all but three were modeled by white models – two looks by Chinese-born models Liu Wen and Shu Pei Qin, and one by Lais Ribeiro, who is Afro-Brazilian not African American like the characters in the film. As we know by now, the fashion modeling world is a glaringly white one. The reality is that without playing the roles of “delinquents” in Act Da Fool, Michelrica Hughes, Elizabeth Smith, Kiara Smith, Miileah Morrison, and Rashaani Wilson – all models – would not have jobs modeling Proenza Schouler fashions.

(L) Lindsay Hoover; (R) Kate Kosushkina

The film reveals nothing about the lives of these characters. Their significance lies only in the difference they represent: the exoticism of their racially classed nihilism, the contradiction of their gendered optimism which serves to assure the viewer poverty is actually not too bad, and perhaps most importantly, their spatial and social distance from the luxury fashion world that excludes them even as they wear the clothes in the film.

The Korine-Proenza Schouler film invents in order to fetishize a subculture that is far removed from the elite white world that Proenza Schouler (the label and the designers) inhabit. Yet, the production of this racial spectacle enables Korine, Proenza Schouler, and their supporters to culturally tour without actually engaging with the racially classed experiences of these young black women. Their bodies, unlike the bodies of white models, do not represent a cultural standard of beauty but serve instead as screens onto which romantic and racist ideas about working class black women (“greatest living delinquents”) are projected and appropriated to symbolize and sell a brand.  The lives of these characters matter less than the fetish they activate.

In criticizing the film, I don’t mean to negate my own pleasures with regard to the film. In fact, its aesthetic beauty and its ideological problems are deeply interconnected – the former seducing us to forget or deny the latter. But as I’ve already said, cultural objects do not exist in vacuums – not even beautiful ones, and certainly not “avant-garde” ones.

**A huge thank you to one of our favorite tipsters, Jennifer Ayres, for cluing us to Act Da Fool!

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Sartorial Classification as a Weapon of War

"AUTHENTIC David Tabbert at Islam Fashion Inc. in Brooklyn, buying clothing for simulated war zones." Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times

ONE afternoon earlier this month, David Tabbert, wearing Ray-Bans and glinting metal earrings, headed out on a shopping trip to one of his usual Brooklyn haunts: Islam Fashion Inc. on Atlantic Avenue.

Though Mr. Tabbert, 28, personally prefers G-star denim and concert tees, he was on the hunt for 150 dishdashas, the ankle-length garments worn by men in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world. In July, actors will wear them in a simulated Iraqi village, posing as townspeople, clerics and insurgents at a National Guard training ground in the Midwest.

Mr. Tabbert is a costumer for a company that outfits mock battles and simulated Arab villages that the military organizes around the country.

“I was certainly not pro-war,” he said. “I looked at what we were doing as a positive way to train the soldiers, in light of the fact that they are being deployed anyway.”

Through his work, soldiers learn how to differentiate between villagers and opposition forces, he said, adding, “It’s teaching the people how to not kill people.”

As in New York, where the denizens of Bedford Avenue are clad in American Apparel, as if in uniforms, while Park Avenue wears Pucci, each Afghan or Iraqi social stratum has its own particular dress. Mr. Tabbert studies images on the Internet to determine, for example, the exact embroidery on the epaulet of an opposition leader’s military uniform, and provides some actors with wristwatches to signify the wealthier townspeople.

Aicha Agouzoul, a saleswoman at the store who is from Morocco, only recently learned the nature of Mr. Tabbert’s profession and was, at first, taken aback. Standing near a rack of DVDs with titles such as “The Ideal Muslim” and “The Truth About Jesus,” she said in halting English, “He shows the army what Arab men wear, who is the bad, who is the good.”

–Sarah Maslin Nir, June 23, 2010, “The War Is Fake, The Clothing Is Real,” New York Times

The first thing that strikes me is the appearance of what former student and favorite performer Stephanie Murphy dubbed, “gay fashion patriotz,” or what Jasbir Puar calls homonationalism (Tabbert discusses being a gay man who doesn’t tell when he’s on-base), those normalizing but also differentiating measures distinguishing between good gay patriots and bad “monster terrorist fags,” and also recruiting the former to aid in efforts to regulate and even war upon the Others who make up the latter. Published in the midst of rigorous critiques of homonationalism during the 2010 Pride season (with Judith Butler’s refusal of the Berlin Pride Civil Courage Award in protest of Pride’s commercialism but also its complacency towards, and even complicity with, racism in matters of immigration control and military occupation, and with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid facing and eventually overturning their expulsion from Toronto Pride), this profile about stylist Tabbert, who puts his “gay fashion patriotz” skills toward aiding US war-making, cannot be coincidental (the second half of June sees most of the Pride events in New York City). It is as such an imminently useful example of exactly the forms of homonationalism that came under such concentrated critical fire this year.

I’ve known about these “practice” camps for some time, but I hadn’t thought to consider until now the function of the “costuming” of the “insurgents” for these war games. But it absolutely makes sense that sartorial classification –and I’m curious how distinctions between “good” and “bad” Arabs are being collected and codified through differing clothing practices here– would be a part of such training. As I have said elsewhere about Arizona’s SB 1070, “The cognition of race has never been a simple matter of skin or bones. Especially for racialized others, their clothes are often epidermalized — that is, they are understood as contiguous with the body that wears them, a sort of second skin, as we see with hijab or turbans.”

(Just as “Muslim-looking” persons were targeted for extra surveillance of both the state-sponsored and vigilante sort after 9/11, “Mexican-looking” persons have long been similarly targeted as dangerous “foreign” agents — growing up in San Diego, I heard many horrible stories about both border patrol agents and vigilantes harassing and assaulting “Mexican-looking” persons as likely “illegals” or “criminals” available for such violence. In the perfect mash-up that demonstrates the ever increasingly blurred distinction between police powers and security concerns, as well as the racial-sartorial profiling that here links these distinct but not disconnected state operations to control the movements of bodies, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-North Carolina) frets that Hezbollah might be sneaking across the US border disguised as Mexicans. )

Such a culture of danger as that we have lived with for far longer than this most recent iteration as “the war on terror” –warning against the Others whose presence near us, among us, “out there,” “lurking,” is understood to threaten “our” freedoms– draws upon a politics of comparison that is also practices of classification, about the world and its populations with differential access to freedom and security, and thus civilization and humanity. In this regard, the “war game,” and its extensive behind-the-scenes machinations, involves a series of measures for a certain kind of knowledge production about the alien body, producing knowledge for the calculation of danger, in the service of a broader imperative of liberal war. Liberal war, we can understand in the most basic conceptual shorthand, is conceived of as a “good war,” a rational war, a “war for humanity,” even if its violence is horrific, devastating, and otherwise completely fucked up. It is as such that sartorial “accuracy” –Tabbert studies images on the Internet, he teaches soldiers to distinguish between “bad” and “good” Arabs by their clothes– is just one of many procedures understood as a piece of a rational (and thus liberal and “good”) system of racial differentiation, contiguous with other identification-and-classification projects, such as developing biometrics systems for mobile forensics labs, scanning the irises and fingerprints of Iraqis in order to catalogue persons in an enormous database and determine their degrees of danger.

But in the collection and production of data, details, and descriptions –problematically rendered light-hearted activities with the profile’s invocation of Bedford and Park Avenues as more familiar locales for distinct “tribal” styles–  the war’s wardrobe stylist renders populations as knowable, and measurable objects, but also divides them into actionable categories for “taking life and letting live.” Or, as Tabbert says, ““It’s teaching the people how to not kill people,” with the unspoken corollary of teaching soldiers how to kill the right people, who might be wearing the wrong clothes.

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Japanese American Women, Interned

Thinking about encampment and incarceration in the long history of US empire; racialization and its effects on individuals who “resemble their crime before they commit it;” dress and beauty as forms of discipline and control, as uncertain signs about an interior “self,” as practices of resilience and defiance.

From the Library of Congress Flickr: “Japanese-American camp, war emergency evacuation, [Tule Lake Relocation Center, Newell, Calif. 1942 or 1943] 1 transparency : color. Original caption card speculated that this photo was part of a series taken by Russell Lee to document Japanese Americans in Malheur County, Ore. Re-identified as Tule Lake because of similarity to LC-USW36-789, which shows Abalone Mountain. Title from FSA or OWI agency caption. Photo shows eight women standing in front of a camp barber shop. Transfer from U.S. Office of War Information, 1944.”

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LINKAGE: Maria Bustillos at The Awl on the “Rodarte-MAC Fiasco”

DEATH WARMED OVER

And is it remotely possible that the Mulleavy sisters were trying to make a Guernica-like statement with their art? It is possible. Except… they’ve responded to the criticism by backpedaling furiously, which says something about the authenticity or seriousness of the original statement. So maybe it’s as simple as it looks: for Rodarte to exploit the catastrophe in Juárez in order to sell dresses and makeup demonstrates the dehumanizing effects of a debased, pathologically materialist society that has evidently gone clean off the rails. It would be easy to make that observation and dismiss the whole affair.

It’s worth asking, though: what is really going on when violence and horror are appropriated in order to create a consumer product? Because quite often the makers of newpapers, books and films are involved in creating consumer products based on real horror, just as these raggers tried (and failed) to do.

To take this comparison to an extreme, let’s consider the novel 2666, by the late Roberto Bolaño. This book, like the M·A·C Rodarte makeup, is both a comment on the Juárez femicides and a consumer product.

The Part About the Crimes, the fourth section of 2666, is something like a catalogue of the femicides, deliberately dry, without poetry. It’s more or less a list of bodies, with details of their height, their hair color, their clothes, written with a police-procedural air. It is punishing to read, the longest part of a long book, written in deliberately ugly, dull prose; this, from a man capable of the utmost inventiveness, wit and penetration. So what’s the difference between selling eyeshadow “inspired by” these terrible events, and writing a novel about them?

I submit that the difference is one of vanity. Rodarte was posing alongside the victims of Juárez, in a way, asking you to be shocked and titillated by the real live goth corpses, the disturbing juxtaposition of horror and beauty. But nothing was meant to change in Juárez or anywhere else as the result of this aestheticized rubbernecking. Bolaño, on the other hand, wasn’t asking anything at all (aside from asking that you read his book.)

2666 isn’t a call to arms. It offers nothing in the way of judgments, let alone solutions. There’s no self-aggrandizement, no style; the author of 2666 has erased himself right out of the picture, leaving just a mirror of the human condition for you to look in. This is a matter of telling the truth, a deliberate avoidance of the “sensational.” Where Rodarte attemped to steal the terrible emotions evoked by the fact that hundreds, maybe thousands of girls have been abducted, raped and murdered in Juárez, and trivialize (and then, “monetize”) those emotions by turning them into eyeshadow, Bolaño asks that you stop being horrified, and just look at the truth; nothing more. What happens afterward is left for us to determine.

I’m musing upon Maria Bustillo’s thoughts on art-making and politics in her AWL essay, “When PR Goes Wrong: The Rodarte-MAC Fiasco,” as Rodarte and MAC furiously issue statement after statement to recover their footing after the “Juarez” collaboration hit the fashion blogosphere. The latest missive declares that all profits from the M·A·C Rodarte collection will go to “a newly created initiative to raise awareness and provide on-the-ground support to the women and girls in Juarez.”

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Mary Sibande

Inspired by the explorations of race, gender and sexuality in the work of American artists Kara Walker and Cindy Sherman, and London-based Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, Mary cast her own body in fibreglass and silicone to create Sophie. She then painted her a “flat black,” so that she stands out like a dark and static shadow … Sophie’s eyes are always closed as if in a “constant ecstasy of fantasy” and it’s in her mind that her dress becomes a thing of voluminous Victorian splendour. “If she opened her eyes, it would be back to work – cleaning this, dusting that. Her dress would become an ordinary maid’s uniform,” said Mary.

Elle Decoration ZA (Cited at M. Dash)

The body, for Sibande, and particularly the skin, and clothing is the site where history is contested and where fantasies play out. Centrally, she looks at the generational disempowerment of black women and in this sense her work is informed by postcolonial theory, through her art making. In her work, domestic setting acts as a stage where historical psycho-dramas play out.

Sibande’s work also highlights how priviledged ideals of beauty and femininity aspired to by black women discipline their body through rituals of imitation and reproduction. She inverts the social power indexed by Victorian costumes by reconfiguring it as a domestic worker’s “uniform” complexifying the colonial relationship between “slave” and “master” in a post-apartheid context. The fabric used to produce uniforms for domestic workers is an instantly recognizable sight in domestic spaces in South Africa and by applying it to Victorian dress she attempts to make a comment about history of servitude as it relates to the present in terms of domestic relationships.

Gallery MOMO

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War, And The Clothes Brought “Here” From “There” (Punk Rock Flashback)

I wrote this excerpt for one of my Punk Planet columns (PP 36, March/April 2000) over ten years ago. Apparently, I’ve been writing about the politics of fashion and beauty for a long time. I’m leaving town for several weeks, so updates will be sporadic at best. Meanwhile, check Thread & Circuits for the continuously updated archive of my wayward youth as a pissed-off punk rock feminist zinester.

A photograph of author Ann Caddell Crawford in Saigon, 1963, in a bun and an ao dai.

Photograph of author Ann Caddell Crawford in Saigon, 1963, wearing an ao dai.

Browsing through cardboard boxes, I bought a library discard called Customs and Culture of Vietnam by Ann Caddell Crawford, published some time in the early 1960s, a sort-of guidebook. (I always buy this stuff, old LIFE magazines with “exposes” on Viet Nam and garishly colored desserts, Third World travelogues with “tips” for dealing with “the locals.”)

Apparently “comprehensive and authoritative,” the book is typically full of pastoral descriptions and shoddy pseudo-anthropological observations, snippets like, “The first things that newcomers usually notice in Vietnam are the smiling faces of countless children, and the lovely fragile-looking women in their flowing dresses reminiscent of butterflies. The people are a gentle type who are shy, yet can be outgoing with foreigners, especially Americans.” The Vietnamese are thus described as docile and submissive, never mind the lengthy history of native Vietnamese struggles to oust the Chinese, French, and Americans from the region, of course. (I roll my eyes.)

I flip to another chapter, the section on “costume,” in which Crawford writes at length,

“The women of Vietnam have, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful national costumes in the world. It is called the ‘ao-dai’. The over-dress is form-fitting to the waist, with long tight dresses. At the waist, two panels extend front and back to cover the long satin trousers underneath. Correct fit dictates that the pants reach the sole of the foot, and are always slightly longer than the dress panels. Occasionally lace is sewn around the bottom of each leg. Tradition has kept the color of the pants of the ao-dai to black or white.

“When a woman sits down, she takes the back panel, pulls it up and around into her lap. When riding a bicycle, they often tie the back panel down to the back fender to keep it from getting tangled in the wheels. Often, girls can be seen riding along the streets of Saigon on motor bikes with the back of their ao-dai flying loose, causing foreigners to comment that they look like butterflies, and beautiful ones at that.

“Many Americans have become so fond of the dress that they have some specially made to send home to their families. They make excellent hostess gowns.”

It bears mentioning again (or more explicitly) that this book was written at the height of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and that the author’s husband was a U.S. Army officer assigned to the Military Assistance Command in Viet Nam. The appendices include “Useful Phrases in Vietnamese,” some of which are too obvious: “Show me some identification,” “The wound is infected,” and “They are surrounded.” These are, after all, the material and historical conditions that made it possible for suburban American housewives to sport the next new “exotic” look at their dinner parties, “reminiscent of butterflies” while serving casseroles and blood-red meatloaf.

Fashion has politics and (sometimes-bloody) histories, you know.

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Threadbared’s Haphazard List of Queer Fashion or Style Blogs, Finally Published Due to Peer Pressure & Imminent Departure

A photograph of model showing the pistol design on the back of an Rigged Out/fitters tuxedo shirt.

Tuxedo shirt from Rigged Out/fitters.

I had been working on this list on and off for a few months, and had put it aside until Autostraddle released their list of the “15 Best Fashion Magazines & Blogs, Hand-Picked For Queers.” “Doh!” I said, “I need to finish mine!” Then I promptly dropped this list once again, until Jezebel posted about a new London-based bespoke tailoring outfit called The Butch Clothing Company, which claims to be the “first clothing line for butch women.” “Double doh!” I cried out. (None of the photographs of suits, shirts, etc., on the site right now are actually garments made by The Butch Clothing Company,  because they are just getting off the ground. See the Guardian essay for a photo of BCC founder Shaz Riley in a sharp suit of her own making. Commenters also usefully pointed out that there are queer women also designing in the United States, such as Dykes in the City and Rigged Out/fitters, with clothes running toward the casual.)

So here you have it, Threadbared’s Haphazard List of Queer Fashion or Style Blogs, Finally Published Due to Peer Pressure & Imminent Departure. I leave with my girlfriend in a few days for London (conferences as well as fun times), so I expect that new posts on my end will be sporadic at best for the next few weeks. Meanwhile, feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

From hipsterdykes.tumblr.com, of course.

If you’re in need of sartorial prompts (or just pretties), there’s lots of blogs to choose from. Tumblr hosts an enormous number of image-heavy blogs, including dapperqueers (here’s their link list), tomboyfemmes, fuckyeahfemmes, hipsterdykes, androstyle (“blogging androgynous, queer, LGBT+, and eccentric fashion and more”), Sappho’s Closet (featuring many an O.G. riot grrrl and queercore lady), fuckyeahtashatilberg (“fan photo page for the beautiful and openly gay model tasha tilberg”), girlsinsuits and many more. That said, be aware that a certain sartorial sameness often emerges from some of these collections (e.g., skinny jeans, bandannas, and over-sized plaid shirts), and there may be only so many photographs of famous people (who may or may not be queer wearing skinny jeans, bandannas, and over-sized plaid shirts) a person can take.

Moving away from skinny jeans and plaids, who wants to recreate some amazing men’s fashions from ’60s film stills or snapshots of ’30s bohemians, or ’70s musicians? Nerd Boyfriend does. There is also, for fun, the now-infamous Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber, which we started to discuss in the comments to my post on Teresa Cheng’s zine Dykes and Their Hair. (And which should by rights be called Lesbians Whom Justin Beiber Looks Like, considering.) And, featuring lots and lots of outfit photographs and occasionally her beloved tomboy, Fit for a Femme asks, “Ever wonder what, exactly, lesbians are hiding in those closets of theirs? Lucky for you, this femme publicly chronicles her daily wardrobe choices, working hard to fight femme invisibility one outfit at a time.”

There are also a good number of more text-heavy blogs targeted toward fashionable femmes and sartorial butches, blogs that by necessity deal with what it means to “look,” “feel,” or “be” feminine, masculine, some genderqueer iteration of these, or neither. (I put these states in quotes because there is no easy slide from one to the other.) There is, of course, Bevin Branlandingham’s Queer Fat Femme which regularly features smart commentary on  fat and femme and its sartorial politics (and the occasional nod to butch fashions); Sublime Femme, composed by an anonymous “high femme queer theorist who appreciates dapper butches, classic pin-up girls, and a good Manhattan;” and The Femme’s Guide to Absolutely Everything.

There are also butch and transmasculine style blogs like Butch Style, Sartorial Butch and Dapper Q, offering style advice for those inclined to don a good suit and some hand-crafted leather shoes. DapperQ even hosts a whole series of videos, such as “How to Tailor A Men’s Shirt.” Others butch or transmasculine blogs, while less style-focused, nonetheless venture thoughtful notes on gender presentations and emotional attachments to certain garments as signifiers of selfhood, or not self-hood, such as How To Be Butch (excerpted in an earlier post on professionalization’s regulatory demands), Can I Help You, Sir? (“Are Those Boy Shoes?”), Yondergen (“On Masculinity“), and Dear Diaspora, which published this moving meditation on the function of certain items as a sort of armor for facing the world:

My boots are giving out.

In some ways they look better than ever. The leather is scuffed, a history written in the patterns of wear — still sleek where the cuffs of my pants cover it, rough at the toe-tips, almost worn off. The laces are an olive drab replacement pair I bought a few years ago, when the originals got too frayed to tie proper knots. For months and months I saved the old laces, that tangled fistful of dirty string.

Inside, they’re falling apart. The lining, torn years ago, is almost gone, and the guts, ridges of cardboard and plastic, are starting to poke out. Sometimes I have to try a few times to get my foot to slide over the mess just right, holding it in place instead of pushing it, sharply, into my heel.

I got these boots when I was sixteen, just barely. Hanukkah present. I requested them. This was six months after I figured out I was a lesbian and boots were in order. My dad gave them to me, and I felt dizzy when I saw them in the box. They were new then, all smooth leather, gleaming black, never worn, never even touched. They scared the shit out of me. For weeks they sat in my room, just sat there on display, because I was too scared to wear them. I was too even put them on. My friends would come over to watch The L Word and admire them, cajole me. “You’re scared of your boots?” I was petrified.

I would have died of embarrassment then trying to pronounce a word like butch. All I knew was that I wanted motorcycle boots, tattoos, a leather jacket, a knife in my pocket. There were stories that tugged at my heart in ways I didn’t understand, and I remember saying, helplessly, when asked again why I didn’t have a crush on some butch or androgynous dyke, “I like girls. I just like girls.” There were no words then, no labels, only aches, a choir of little voices I halfway wanted to snuff out.

The boots were the first thing — I hadn’t even cut my hair — and once I finally put them on, they never came off. I looked at them, at me, big black boots on my feet, and for the first time in my life, I looked right. I made sense to myself.


An altered image from the Sartorialist of a young woman.

The Fake Sartorialist strikes!

New to the scene is The Ironing Board Collective, featuring Michelle Tea, Michael Braithwaite, Leo Plass, Page McBee, and others, writing about their obsessions with fashion with heavy emphasis so far on style icons and shopping suggestions. CLASS is an also newish blog by a queer and trans person of color, Wu Tsang, who is particularly interested in the intersection between trans and immigrant politics, as well as the politics of nightlife — which of course must involve acts of dressing up (or down). Of fashion, Wu writes:

above all fashion is costume. it’s the INDUSTRY of costume – so what better prism to think about race/class/gender? fashion is the direct link between appearance and money. fashion is in bad taste – admittedly a guilty indulgence within say activist intellectual artist circles for example. so this contradiction is deeply pleasurable for me to say the least – if not queer, radical etc. it’s in the street, it works, it belongs to everyone. it challenges me to think about femininity in terms of construction of materials around bodies. it’s feminine but not anti-feminist. feminine, as in a spectacular fabulous thing we can create and rule and there is no opposite counterpart to it. it’s powerful whether we like it or not so why not engage with it riiiight?

The Boulevardier, composed cheekily by a young “mansy” who herein combines his love of anarchy and fashion, promises to ponder “the perfect blueprint for what a radical mansy should wear when tending to the community garden on your La-La-Land project, fixing a roof on your dilapidated punk house, building a seditious greenhouse or just generally building more lofts to cram more anarchists into your Casa del Squalor.” How can I resist a blog that astutely observes, “For fashion, masculinity is defined in extreme situations such as war or natural disasters, the army utilizes these situations to engender masculinity with the credo ‘always be prepared’ and this is then implemented across the boards as the only acceptable garb.  Poor radical mansies! Even they fall into this game when they dress like they’re in the Indie Army or they are sporting the L.L. Bean’s post apocalypse line.” I love the sartorial and political inspirations taken from anarchists and radicals of days of yore, I love the serious exhortations that radicals find new ways of wearing their politics. I can’t stop pulling quotes; here’s a last one from the first entry by the Boulevardier:

[L]et us consider exactly what it means to be a male-identified radical in 2008.  While radicals of the past might have gotten away with adherence to a hyper masculinity (for example Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman or Bobby Seale) the contemporary radical presumably has vanquished the specters of patriarchy and homophobia and in doing so embraced a pangendered, feminist, queer or queer-positive identity.  This, of course, is the appropriate standard to which radical men are held in this day and age, but are we living up? That is the truly the question of the moment and I think most critics will answer with a resounding no. From anarcha-feminists to queer anarchists to anarchist people of color, most theorists argue that there is still a big problem with the way radical men conceptualize their masculinity.

This is a very complex question and fashion doesn’t have all the answers of course, but it is an important tool, and one that has a lot to offer radical politics.  Fashion is the most community oriented art form.  It deals exclusively with the way you are perceived by your fellow community and those outside your community.  Since anarchism is the politic of community, fashion is one of the most important anarchist expressions.

Ignoring fashion can be detrimental as well. Like it or not, there is no such thing as an absence of fashion. Everything we wear or don’t wear communicates a fashion message and it is up to us to decipher that meaning and make sure it is what we want to say.  In the case of men’s fashion, this message has been encoded in the language of patriarchy, nationalism and racism for so long that what may seem implicit or natural is actually constructed in the highest degree. If we ignore these messages we run the risk of looking vulgar and performing bad fashion, something that no matter how radical your politics are will always set the teeth on edge and churn the stomache.

On questions of queer aesthetics, the Denver-based radical art collective Free Boutique puts together some truly amazing collaborations and events, and the Fake Sartorialist‘s artfully transmogrified parodies of the “street style” photograph (a wholesomely gamine Parisienne, for instance, might be given a vicious bird’s head and another decade’s quaint notions of futural fashions) queers for us our sense of time, space, and the suddenly unfamiliar bodies that occupy both.

Of course, I cannot praise enough Julia Caron’s A L’Allure Garconniere, a thoughtfully smart and imminently accessible source for “critical fashion lovers,” and Good Morning Midnight, for the goth girl who reads feminist theory. I’ve also mentioned our love for the following two blogs previously, the tragically neglected What’s Her Tights, addressed to “Queer Fashion, Radical Politics” (whatever, graduate school!), and Joon Oluchi Lee’s lipstickeater, featuring strange and moving meditations on queer femininities and girlboy bodies, masochism and tight jeans. Joony, you’re forever in our girl gang!

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