Interview On Queer Fashion Blogging And Industry With Sonny, talking finding clothes that fit, why I blog, and tips for gender non-conforming fashion.
The Tumblr presence of Qwearfashion.com, a Boston-based style blog for queer women, trans people, and the dappers who love them.
For modeling oppurtunies, email Sonny: email@example.com
Interview On Queer Fashion Blogging And Industry With Sonny, talking finding clothes that fit, why I blog, and tips for gender non-conforming fashion.
Sonny was interviewed by Play Out about Boston Pride! See full interview here.
Designer Angie Chuang brought a refreshing look to dapperQ’s show last weekend with her modern street style infused spin on Teddy Boys in a growing collection called “Teddy Girls and Bois.”
See my interview with Angie!
Valerie Steele (from: nymag.com)
Author | Sonny
Our racks of bow ties and closets full of leather dresses might carry an emotional backstory for us, but now academics are also showing an interest in our fabulous wardrobes. The Queer History of Fashion Exhibit at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is the first major exhibit to focus on the queer community’s contributions to the fashion industry. Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of FIT, together with colleague Fred Dennis, spent over two years researching and collecting pieces for the exhibit, which spans 300 years.
All further images courtesy of queerfashionhistory.com
How did your interest in queer fashion emerge?
It was my colleague Fred Dennis who came up with the idea of the show. We were just crossing the street, talking about various shows we could do next, and he said, wouldn’t it be cool to have a show about gays in fashion? We realized that no one had done it before on a large scale. A few LGBTQ centers had done shows. Through our research, we found that small center in Switzerland had done a show, but it was more about gay male sexuality than fashion. We were excited to put together the first show that would really highlight the LGBTQ community’s contributions to fashion.
So how did you get started working on the exhibit?
We put together an advisory committee of people who gave suggestions. That was international. Some of them wrote essays, others came to New York and had long sessions, others loaned clothes. We worked for more than two years, identifying things we knew they wanted to have in the show. For example, we knew they wanted the Versace Dress and Jean Paul Gaultier’s sailor outfit. We were surprised at how far back we were able to go. At first we thought it would be a 20th century show, or start with Oscar Wilde. But then we found a lot of research about gay male fashion, and found it was exciting to get to go back that far.
How did you collect the items?
It’s always like a treasure hunt. It’s the fun part, if you’re not too rushed. You just start looking up who might have something; you ask people who were associated with certain people who are still alive. One of our advisors said, you’ve got to get something from The Cockettes.That’s a queer performance group from the 70s. We thought none of them would be alive anymore, but we asked around and followed a trail of emails until we got in touch with one of the members who was able to lend an outfit.
Was there anything you wished you could get that you weren’t able to?
Only one thing. I had wanted to get the Chanel couture wedding dresses from 2013. They were perfectly willing to lend them, but there was a problem with the feathers that they couldn’t get past the food and game administration.
Do you believe that queer male and female designers influenced one another, or did you find that they worked independently?
That’s a good question. It wasn’t so much about influencing each other, but drawing on queer vernacular style. So many queer women wore menswear. Yves Saint Laurent said Marlene Dietrich inspired him when he designed his tuxedo for women. Liz Collins, a lesbian designer and artist in the show did a dress made out of plaid shirts, which is referencing a gay and lesbian style of plaid shirts that goes back to the 1970s.
Marlene Dietrich, Lesbian Elegance
How do you feel about the term “lesbian chic?”
I think it’s a term that is not just a media creation of the 1990s. There’s a book called Paris Gay 1925, which was a series of interviews with French gays and lesbians. They interviewed one lesbian who talked about “lesbian elegance.” They had a style through which they could all recognize each other. Then in the 1970s you’ve got this movement that was anti-fashion. They would wear denim overalls, plaid shirts, Birkenstocks, Doc Martens. People forgot that there had been all these chic lesbians a few decades before. Once it turned around to the 80s or 90s, people took elements from punk, rock and roll styles, and it was more overtly sexy, playing with stereotypes of femininity and masculinity.
Les Garçonnes, 1920s
The press release talks about “The garçonne look,” saying that it brought 1920s lesbian style into high fashion. Can you tell me more about this look?
That was the very short hair and boyish or mannish style. Not many pants, but it included skirts and a jacket with a monocle or necktie. Together with the short hair and relatively flat chest, it struck contemporaries as androgynous. A lot of heterosexual women liked it too. The name was taken from a novel La Garçonne, in which the heroine sleeps with another woman.
The subversion of gender expectations is queer in itself, but what queer attributes can you tell us about Katherine Cornell’s lavender dress and Madeleine Vionnet’s dress?
It’s partly a question of highlighting who the players were. We now know that Katherine Cornell was a lesbian and Madeleine Vionnet was almost certainly bisexual, and inspired by beautiful women through their fashion.
So it sounds like it’s not so much about the item itself, but who was wearing it.
Well, it’s about who designed it, who wore it, or the context. Lavender was a color associated with queerness.
One of the issues raised through my readers and femme friends is that, if you’re a feminine queer woman, it’s hard to be recognized by your own community. Do you have any thoughts about that?
That’s been an issue for a very long time. It’s very clear that lesbians and gay men have had to conceal their sexuality for safety reasons, but they also had to reveal it enough so that they could find each other. Over the course of that, dandyism became important to both lesbians and gay men. On the one hand, it’s masculine and seems straight, but if you carry it to an extreme, it becomes almost a parody of itself and become a function of queerness. Oscar Wilde had a great line where he talks about the “dangerous and delightful distinction of being different.”
Dandies and Aesthetes
How would you recommend queer women with feminine presentations express their queerness if they aren’t interested in the dandy look?
It’s gotten much more loose, and very much a generational thing and it changes constantly. Younger lesbians are taking tricks on what their friends are wearing. There seems to be a lot more diversity among lesbian style today than among gay male style today. I think a lot of gay men are emotionally invested in being fashionable, whereas a lot of lesbian women are interested in creating a look for themselves. There seems to be less investment in high fashion. Although when Hedi Slimane started designed menswear for Dior, a lot of so-called “power lesbians” started buying his suits in their size.
A Queer History of Fashion: From The Closet To The Catwalk at The Museum at FIT runs though January 4th, 2014. View more on the exhibition website. They are also holding a free symposium with an international array of scholars, authors, designers, and curators November 8-9. I will be there!
I got the chance to Skype with one of our readers Lauren about her experience working sales at the Topman in LA. Her enthusiasm for Topman showed through as she described the music they play, her interactions with her coworkers, and the quality of their clothing.
Like me, one of her favorite things about Topman is their small sizing, allowing more smaller framed queers to buy grown-up clothes. Lauren sees between 1 and 5 women/female assigned people shop at Topman every day, and loves helping them pick out the right ﬁts.
I’ve heard from a lot of you about looking for the best fit in men’s pants. Lauren recommends Topman’s trousers in the skinny and ultra skinny cuts. Even though a lot of us get nervous about men’s denim, she reports always seeing good ﬁt on the women/female assigned people who come her way. She said that the vintage slims and skinnys in particular are designed for people with wide hips who still want the slim look.
For people with big chests, she loves the ﬁt of their oversized T-shirts, and recommends tailoring for everything else (Here’s a guide on tailoring a men’s shirt to ﬁt your chest!). She also pointed out that compared to other fast fashion locations, Topman’s clothes are very high quality. She got a shirt there 3 years ago that she still wears all the time and looks like new. So the extra $20 to get it tailored is well worth it if you have the cash.
Lauren describes her style as minimal, alternative, and void of much color. What are Lauren’s top 5 Topman looks for Fall? She chose their boots (US size 7 ﬁts her) collar studs, a cardigan for quality layering, a leather jacket, and coated or waxed denim.
Black Leather Look Stretch Skinny Jeans, $80 (Waxed Denim)
Gold Centre Studs and Collar Tops, on sale for $4
And I have good news for students: For a limited time, Topman is offering a 20% student discount online and in stores.
When Lauren’s not at Topman, she’s doing graphic design and working on an app that will help queer women ﬁnd events and people to meet up with in their area. Keep up with her on her Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.
Now that Ryley Pogensky and I are the best of bros, we set aside some time to chat about their career. Ryley, owner of queergrub is a freelance writer, model, and MC, hailing from New York with a gumption for all things queer and Brooklyn. Yesterday, over sandwiches by our favorite coffee shop in my neighborhood, we spoke about about their experiences navigating the gender normative spaces of the mainstream fashion world.
How did you get into modeling?
I was on the subway, and this woman comes up to me, and she was like, “Do you model?” And I was like, “noooo.” It’s a city, and people come up to you all the time and ask you weird questions, so I was kind of brushing her off. I started laughing, and she turned to the girl I was with, cause we were both laughing, and she was like, “Wait, you don’t think he’s attractive?” And then we started laughing even more and I was like, “Oh, actually I’m not a guy.” And she was like, “AH! I must have you!” She just gave me her card, and I realized that she was a kind of famous top model. So then she took me under her wing, and we made my book with a bunch of really dope and famous photographers in the city. And then a bunch of queer magazines and websites like yours started asking for features, and I did some shows with them. It’s been really hard though, after my book was finished, convincing agencies to take a chance on a genderqueer model.
So okay, the first thing you did was make a book?
Yeah, so anyone who’s a graphic designer or illustrator knows that you compile all your shit together like a portfolio so you can then present that to like jobs, agencies. Models do the same thing, but we call it a book. It’s just a collection of shoots that you’ve put together yourself, different shows that you’ve done. If you’re looking at Tyra Bank’s book for example, it would be like magazine covers that she’s been on – it’s like a visual resumé.
Got it. So this model got you a bunch of photoshoots for free?
So it was just like, all of a sudden you were going to photoshoots every day?
Yeah. But the payoff is that the photos belong to me and them, and they could technically use them. Because the person I was working with knew these people I was okay with it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend just going to random photographers and getting your picture taken, because they can then use your likeness for whatever the fuck they want – because you didn’t sign a contract. And not pay you for it. They can sell it to a magazine and not say shit to you. For example, I did a shoot for dapperQ and they used my photo in The New York Times, and I didn’t get paid for that. But I’m happy about it because of the exposure, and I love dapperQ.
Okay, so you put together your book and started presenting it to people, and what did that look like? Was this person kind of your agent while this was happening?
Yeah, she isn’t any longer, but we’d go to agencies and she’d speak for me. Now I’m doing that on my own.
So what would it look like when you’d go places?
If you were going to an agency to get signed, like an agency that would then represent you, you’d probably make an appointment. A lot of agencies in New York have open castings on certain days. You would sit in a room with a ton of models, and then you would be seen. They’d usually take a Polaroid of you and then call whomever they are interested in. Or, if you knew someone - like I knew this model, and she is friends with the head of this one particular agency. So she called them and made an appointment. And then I went in and spoke with everyone. So it really depends on the agency and if you have someone gunning for you, versus if you are on your own. If you are on your own a lot of agencies will see you, but you might get dismissed quickly.
I like how she italicized some of the things I said. Super cool and fun interview! Thanks, Charlotte!
Understand what I’m saying? Neither do I! Here’s My interview in English:
What is Qwear?
Qwear is a fashion blog geared towards the lesbian, queer, and trans community; as well as folks who are gender nonconforming. Since its inception in June 2011, Qwear has emerged as a community for dandy queers and fashion enthusiasts to ask questions, share experiences, and submit photos of their sartorial triumphs. It’s a blog that celebrates gender nonconformity and body positivity. It’s pictures of pretty shoes. It’s the love of my life.
Who is Sonia Oram?
I’m that kid in the back of the classroom with the big glasses who can’t stop drawing all over the assignment. I love anything visual, artistic, musical, and creative. I’m not myself if unless I’m in the middle of a project. I’m white, Jewish, female assigned, queer, genderqueer, and among the tiny percentage of the world that is privileged enough to get the chance to answer this question.
How would you define the concept of “queer fashion?”
I suppose technically the concept of “queer fashion” expands into an alternate universe every time someone queer identified gets dressed in the morning. I hope not to dictate what is it via Qwear, but rather to explore it according to what people are putting out — as well as share my personal style aesthetics.
While queer fashion is limitless, I do believe that queers have our own unique experiences and identities that affect our clothing choices. Those of us who are feminists and environmentalists love a good thrift find and comfortable fit. We also like to break down gender norms through fashion, whether our presentations don’t fit the binary, or we choose to mess with the idea of what women/men are supposed to wear. In my circles, certain dandy menswear items — such as bow ties, suspenders, and vests — have become “markers” to express our queer identities.
We have read that you are a graphic designer. Would you at some point design fashion also?
I love the position I’m in now where I can promote all my favorite brands and help direct them on the community’s needs. I generally enjoy working from the marketing end and the blogger’s perspective, but I’m always open to new possibilities! I’ve been kicking around ideas with my friend over at Unbound Apparel about collaborating on a small line of casualwear that spreads a message about our values on freedom of expression, but nothing concrete yet.
How long do you take to pick your outfit in the morning?
Occasionally if I’m trying something new I end up with my entire wardrobe strewn over the room. Otherwise, not long at all. 10 minutes or less. But my wardrobe is still fairly small, so I don’t have that many options.
Do you think that lesbians have a different fashion style from straight girls?
I think that lesbians have unique experiences that affect their clothing choices (whether it’s conscious or not.) It’s not an either/or situation, but I think it’s nice for lesbians to have a fashion outlet outside of all the heteronormative blog spaces. The lesbian community has a history of feminism and other types of political activism that may affect their wardrobe and style choices, but this is not to say that many straight women don’t share a lot of the same values and styles.
Is it possible to achieve this look for an affordable price?
Absolutely. Some styles are more expensive than others, but many of my best-dressed queer buds are expert thrifters and their wardrobes look far more expensive than they are. I do recommend setting some money aside for nice shoes, if you have the capability. Shoes so often make or break an outfit, and the right pair can turn a budgeted ensemble into a fashion goldmine. I’ve had some of my best luck getting designer brand footwear marked down at TJMax or the Tannery.
What is the essential type of clothing to achieve the queer-look?
There isn’t one queer look, but there are plenty of essentials I could recommend for any wardrobe — like at least one pair of brown and black shoes, matching belts for each, and blazers.
Who is your favorite fashion designer?
I’m pretty much obsessed with all Jenna Lyons’ outfits and everything at J.Crew.
Can you give us some fashion advice?
Don’t be afraid to mix colors and patterns in your outfits. People can get bogged down thinking they need to match everything. Also, button that collar button, baby!
What are the essentials for this summer?
Patterns, jewel tones, boat shoes, shorts, seersucker… NOT Hawaiian shirts!! (Omg… seriously Tommy Hilfiger?)
Helllllo Qwearlings! Many of you may have already jumped on the Saint Harridan bandwagon, but for those who are new to the world of fashion boihood, Saint Harridan is a growing company that intends to make suits for women/butches/bois/transmen/etc. Rather than custom-making each suit like many queer companies, they on mass producing them and make them more affordable and accessible. If all works out according to plan, every Joe queer and their boyfriend will be filling the streets and offices in amazingly tailored suits.
Right now they are recruiting models with a diversity of sizes, races, ages, and genders. And you can be one! Submit an entry here. They will visit each city that gets 100 applicants, and those with the most votes will get tickets to their pop-up fashion shows and some other sweet prizes! (Yours truly submitted in Boston! Vote for me here!)
I had some additional questions for Saint Harridan, so I decided to interview their founder, Mary Going, and get more scoop on the suit construction, the growth of her business, and how we can help get those suits on the shelves.
Saint Harridan Model Mayumi Taylor. Photo by Ryan Anson
In your latest blog entry, you discussed the elements of a great suit for a Saint’s body. How do you intend on working around curves for a perfectly fitted suit jacket with no darts?
What I mean by “no extra darts:” Men’s suits are designed to protect the body. They have an outer layer, an inner lining; and between those two layers, in the chest area, a third layer which is actually called “armor.” They are designed as if going into battle. It’s not about the body; it’s about the man. Our suits are built to make the suit about the wearer and not about their body. We are not anti-breasts or anti-hips; we are simply designing so that the wearer can step into the power of their body.
And, what plans do you have for creating trousers for people with hips?
Similarly, the trousers are designed to allow the wearer to move and function. The pants will have functional pockets, will not highlight hips or curves, and will be designed so that if you gain or lose a few pounds, you can alter them. Rather than giving them away, or having them sit in the “someday” section of your closet.
How are the suits going to be constructed?
Anyone with enough money can have a custom suit made. But, most people won’t, even if they do have the money. They’ve never done it before; they don’t know what to expect, and it can be intimidating, particularly if they’re also having to cross gender boundaries to do it. The revolution is in making suits accessible. I’m interested in the revolution. Saint Harridan’s suits are made ready-to-wear. They will be sewn in factories where the workers are treated and paid fairly. (We can’t have a revolution while exploiting other people!)
You’ve also discussed investors not believing that you’d have enough customers to be a successful business. What are 5 things we can do to show that we exist and help Saint Harridan get started?
Thanks for asking this question! We are pre-selling our first signature suit via a Kickstarter campaign which starts on November 23. On November 23rd, you can do these things:
1. Buy a suit! Or, buy just the trousers, shirt or jacket.
2. If a suit is out of your price range, pledge a smaller amount of money and get a tee shirt, tie, tie clip or any number of other great rewards.
3. Post the Kickstarter campaign on your Facebook page, Tumblr site, etc.
4. Personally email everyone you know who might remotely be interested in this idea.
5. Post to every queer/trans/butch/stud email list or web site you can think of.
Thank you! These five things will help us tremendously. Lots of people say to me “it’s finally time somebody did this.” And, I’m SO excited to do it. Manufacturing a clothing line requires a good bit of money. For example, it costs about $12,000 to develop a suit from scratch — just to get it ready to produce. Imagine if you add a sweater (or 3!), a vest, shoes, many different cuts of the suit, etc. This adds up pretty quickly, and we still haven’t actually produced anything — we’ve just gotten to the “ready” phase.
What kinds of suit customizations are you planning on offering?
It’s important to me that Saint Harridan provide suits for a wide range of sizes. I naively thought when I first started this project that there were standard sizes, and I’d do the whole range, making sure to have every size. What I’ve learned, though, is that there are 6 billion people on our planet, and therefore 6 billion different body shapes. No two bodies are alike. We will offer a wide range of sizes — but for some people, their suits will need a bit of tweaking in order to fit perfectly. We can do that tweaking for them, or help them find a tailor in their area who can do it for them.
Will you be designing suits for every model? And will the winners get to keep the suits?
Models in the pop-up stores will be modeling the ready-to-wear/off-the-rack suits that we’re producing. Each model will get Saint Harridan schwag, discounts on all our merchandise, entry into the fashion shows (or perhaps the chance to be IN the fashion show) and professional (digital) photographs of themselves modeling the suits.
Founder & Managing Partner Mary Going
Sonia says: p.s. While I was working on this interview post in a cafe, the guy next to me glanced at my screen and mentioned that his girlfriend wants to buy one of their suits. Woordd!!!
Here is another great article about Mary Going’s business process and goals: Saint Harridan: 'Men's' Suits for Women and Transmen, by Liz Gold on 14 Karat Living