The Queer Fashion Spotlight features queer and questioning students’ views and expressions of fashion. ‘Queer’ here is trans-inclusive. If you are a queer or questioning student and would like to be featured, please contact Ross Hickman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lyra Seaborn at email@example.com.
Q: How would you describe your style of fashion? Or, in our terms, do you have a ‘fashion identity’ based on what you wear?
A: My fashion identity is a kid in an outdated high school foreign language textbook from the 90s. One of my most pleasant memories is my eighth grade French class, when my friends and I would always make fun of what the stock models were wearing. I loved how they lived in this kind of utopian space in that textbook and they just always seemed so happy. Everything they were wearing was always so bright and it matched the late-’90s, early-2000s aesthetic—always very obnoxious but not self-aware. Fashion then, for me, was defined by this sense of indulgence and consumerism. I mean, thinking of the figures of the early 2000s like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, there was such this indulgence, buying things that were very bright and obnoxious and weren’t toned down. So I think my fashion identity is trying to be nostalgic for a time when I was a child. When I was a kid, I imagined what I would be like when I was an adult. From those foreign language textbooks, I saw what I thought I was going to look like when I was an adult, so my fashion identity hearkens back to the pop culture of the early 2000s—but more of the subtle aspects of pop culture like foreign language textbooks.
Q: Would you say your style is more masculine or feminine?
A: I would say my style leans more masculine. Whatever masculine clothing I’m wearing, I feel like I’m pretty self-aware of that energy I’m giving off. I don’t necessarily wear it to look more masculine or affirm my masculinity; I wear it because I either like how it feels or fits, or it could be a cute little subversive moment. My favorite shirt is a shirt for the NASCAR driver Chase Elliot who’s sponsored by Hooters. When I wear it, I feel subversive. I think that shirt kind of embodies a sort of hegemonic heterosexism that I think is really gross, but when I wear it as a queer man who likes to fall into femininity, I feel like it’s a political act in my head—I’m not wearing this because straight cis men are wearing it, but because I like it for what it is and how it fits me, and I also kind of like how it’s subversive that a queer man is wearing it.
But before buying a “masculine” piece of clothing I ask, “Would Elio wear that?” If Elio from Call Me By Your Name wouldn’t wear, I won’t. Obviously I’m not trying to wear very subtle color palettes like he does, but I do like how his fashion really embodies summer and really embodies this innocence that I try to capture with my fashion as well, which I think is found through foreign language textbook models. There’s an overlap with Elio and the textbook models. I feel like Elio would wear a lot of the same things that those textbook models would wear. And I like how simple it all is. For me, it’s an indulgence in the color palette and the stripes.
Q: Have you had to confront stereotypes about the ways queer men dress?
A: As a child and in high school, too, before coming out, I would always question whatever fashion choice I made. Literally every single day, I would put clothes on and be like, “Is this gay? Is this too gay? Are people going to think I’m gay?” Sometimes I wasn’t even aware of how ‘queer’ or ‘gay’ it was, but people would point it out and be like, “That’s so gay.” I spent so much time in my adolescence dealing with those stereotypes. But coming out meant I never had to ask those questions anymore. Being a visible queer person, especially on campus, runs the risk of being tokenized. I’ve gone down the hill with some people who are wearing heels, who identify as nonbinary, and straight men would make fun of them. When a straight man ‘dresses up’ almost in drag, it’s seen as kind of a joke. But when queer men play with their gender expression, it’s not as accepted, and maybe makes people more uncomfortable.
Q: How do you feel about people’s comments on what you’re wearing?
A: There’s this expectation for queer people to dress nice, to experiment with your clothing. Sometimes I get this sense of being tokenized when people will say, “Oh that looks so cute on you.” And I do the same thing to other people, like cis women. But when a cis woman will compliment how I look, I do feel kind of looked down upon. So ‘cute’ can be kind of a charged term for me. When I’m not trying to look ‘cute’ but more serious or even maybe badass, it can be frustrating and condescending when people say I’m ‘cute.’ It’s the ‘queer art of failure’—we’re ‘failing’ to express our gender, our sexuality how we want to, from this very heterosexist, cisgendered gaze.