How do you think about style? What is it doing? Why dress a certain way and not another? What is style doing in the world?
I’m taking a class about fashion theory right now, so a thing that’s been on my mind a lot is what the difference is between fashion and style, and why it is that we (we as in The Atmosqueer) keep choosing to talk about ‘style’ instead of ‘fashion.’ I like the idea of style because it feels really capacious to me — there are infinite possibilities for what a person’s style can look like. Even within specific style genres (“health goth,” “queer witch,” etc), there are so many individual permutations — people perform their attachment to the genre differently, and everyone has different colors/shapes/materials they feel good in and like to wear. In general, style feels like something you have a say in, whereas fashion can often feel like this outside force that you have no control over and that’s always swirling around you whether or not you choose to have it there or not. Fashion — and when I say fashion I mean the system of taste-making created by designers and buyers and magazine editors — definitely exerts a lot of control over the clothes being sold in retail stores at every price point. (We can track the way that fashions diffuse outward — even clothing available at a big department store like JC Penney is influenced by what debuted on the runway a few seasons ago). At the same time, though, I feel that there are currently some semi-accessible ways to create a style that exists a little more outside of Fashion’s influence. I know people that shop exclusively at thrift stores, which are the places that seem to be the most free of the control of fashion (obviously not entirely free because what people donate to thrift stores is shaped by what’s not ‘in fashion’ anymore, but there must be other reasons too). That, to me, is where the transformative power of ‘style’ starts to emerge.
I’m not saying that style is something we can choose entirely — factors like class, race, gender, and social circles affect a person’s style in significant ways. However, the ways that different social worlds congeal in the body doesn’t feel inherently harmful to me, though I recognize that they definitely can be constrictive or violent when threaded through the lens of dominant power (a lens in which the farther you are from the fantasy of the norm, the more exposed you are to violence). But I also think that in some cases these worlds can be a good thing in that they offer ways of putting identifiers on the body that can help us find people who have similar ways of looking at the world (like helping you find fellow queers). And I’m also not saying I don’t like fashion, because I’m actually really interested in it and follow it pretty regularly. I think the world of fashion is incredibly beautiful and artistic and desirable, but it also can have a way of making me, at least, feel like I’m not enough — rich enough, thin enough, informed enough. Style, though, makes me feel potential, like it’s possible to explore and move closer to a self I want to be. Like I have more than enough to make something out of what I have.
When you’re making a new outfit, where are you drawing inspiration from? Is it someone you saw on the street, or trying to use a new piece in whatever way it will work?
I tend to have “phases” of style, where I’m inspired by a certain idea or theme for an undetermined amount of time. The phase, then, usually comes from something I’ve been thinking about recently, a new piece I’m really excited about, or a cool look I’ve seen somewhere. Right now I’m really into the idea of ghost-like clothes, which started with this super cool old nightgown I bought that’s really long and flowy and makes me look like a ghost bride. I’ve been (not as jokingly as I probably should be) calling my spring aesthetic “Fading Out of the Physical Realm: Ghosts Throughout the Ages,” which is a silly name for something that means I’ve been wearing a lot of white (including like 3 more white nightgowns of different lengths and materials that I’ve been wearing as dresses lol), and that I’ve been super into sheer things and capes and embroidery on sheer material and it’s all very exciting.
And I’m unsure whether or not this is super dorky, but I like using Pinterest as a tool of style tracking. I think it’s really cool and exciting to see a visual representation of the kinds of things you’re drawn to collected in one place, which also produces an archive of how you’re moving through style through time. Here are some examples of the kinds of things I’m currently inspired by (all of them come from my Pinterest board):
What is the property of clothing that you focus on – color, form, texture?
Color is one of the main lenses I think about/view the world through — it has always been something that really fascinated and spoke to me, and was my sole way of stylistically expressing myself for most of my life. My struggle has always been to limit the color palette of my outfits; the idea of wearing all black was unthinkable to me until about a year ago. “Matching clothes” used to only mean matching color — I remember a deeply cringe-worthy outfit that was a favorite in middle school, pairing a dressy (lacy!) tank top with sporty capri pants because they both had details in the same shade of blue. Only in the past year have I truly realized that there is more to clothes than color, which probably stemmed from actually learning about both color and fashion. Since taking a color theory class, I’ve been making more of an effort to limit my number of colors/shades of colors, and instead to focus on making sure those few work really well together. And it’s been really exciting! Freeing myself from the busyness of having 10 different colors in my outfits has given me space to think about the other properties of clothes for the first time. I love touching things, so I’ve recently been really into texture and material, as well as combining pieces made of fabrics that don’t necessarily match but create an interesting feeling together. I also used to be really scared of tight clothes and tended to stick to wearing loose, formless things that I could hide myself in, but I’ve recently been losing that fear and trying to infuse more form into my outfits.
Are you ever torn between wearing things that you think are cool versus things you know will go over well or that you think people will like?
I think it’s definitely hard not to be conscious of what people will think about your clothes — it feels so good to get compliments on outfits! But I do feel that so much of people’s perceptions of your clothing are based on how you feel in it, and how much confidence you project (confidence shows through any kind of clothing tbh). And I think recently I’ve been able to trust my ~style instincts~ enough so that I can feel pretty good in anything I put on. (That being said, I do have a list of “foolproof outfits” I know I look great in that I can always fall back on if I’m feeling uninspired/not confident in the morning lol.)
How has your style changed over time, and where is it going?
For a lot of my life, the main word people described me as was “cute”, and my style pretty much reflected that. I figured that if people assessed me as being “cute” first and foremost, I would dress to meet their expectations, and I adopted a hyper-femme style, full of twirly dresses and polka dots and bows. I did genuinely like those things for a while, but even when I stopped feeling good in them, it felt really hard for me to break out of that aesthetic because I thought that cute was the only thing I had going for me. I didn’t realize that it was in my power to change this way of portraying myself — and I don’t know what exactly caused me to realize it — but thank god something shifted, because I think the past year has been the most transformative phase of self-style I’ve ever been in. I feel so many changes happening! I’ve started wearing pants for the first time since high school; I’m experimenting with form; I’m even moving away from patterns into solids (seeing polka dots now sort of makes me want to vomit). I really have no idea where it’s going but I’m super excited to find out (+ will keep y’all updated for sure ;).
What’s an aesthetic object that represents your style now, and where it’s going?
One of my favorite questions to ask people is “If you were a plant, what kind of plant would you be?” My answer has always been sunflower, but one of my close friends recently told me that he thinks I’d be an orchid. I bought this orchid a few weeks ago (from Trader Joe’s! pro tip: they have a rly good orchid selection), and it’s one of the most beautiful plants I’ve ever seen. I remember not being able to take my eyes off of it; Helena and I were grocery shopping and I kept pretending I was going to find things in other aisles but actually just going to look at it. I felt some sort of intense connection with it as soon as I saw it, but it was only after my friend did this photoshoot of me with it (shoutout to my friend Sydelle for her amazing photog skills!!), that I realized how well we vibe together, and also that orchids are a really good representation of what I’d like my style to be. They’re so weirdly beautiful (like, they actually have a super weird form if you think about it) and it seems like they really shouldn’t be objectively beautiful but they’re somehow so so lovely. And this particular one fits well with what I’ve trying to do recently — it has the classic all-white orchid form, and the spots are these flashes of edge and interest and allure. That’s something I’ve been doing a lot recently, trying to create sort of a simple and “elegant” (I sort of hate that word but idk what else to use here) look and add some weird elements that change/complicate the vibe and make it feel sort of off but in an interesting way. And the purple spots are so unexpected — they pattern each flower so randomly — which I like a lot as well, because I never know where in my outfits the unexpected, weird elements will end up being added in.