What I’ve Been Wearing During the Pandemic

Wow, we sure are still doing this, aren’t we? It’s been about 6 months now since we were ordered to work from home and avoid unnecessary travel and have our lives uprooted by the pandemic. Working from home has presented a number of challenges for many people and one of those challenges has been what exactly should one wear? I admit it feels weird wearing a dress to make the long walk from my sofa to my dining area (where I have set up shop to work in a sad and sisyphean attempt to separate work from home when I work at home) but it also feels equally wrong to lounge around in my pajamas all day. Working from home often means video calls; that means looking at least somewhat presentable to human society. I’ve been more rigid with my style choices while working from home than some of my friends (no shade, they have said so.) and because of that, I’ve been thinking: maybe I should let you all know what I’ve been wearing during the pandemic. 

Velvet Leggings

You know good and damn well I am absolutely the kind of person to own a pair of velvet leggings. Well, I own more than just one pair. I own 7 at last count. I have them in two colors: green and black and they are effortlessly stylish. It takes a certain kind of boujee to wear velvet pants and despite the obvious luxury of having velvet cover your butt; they’re shockingly comfortable. Wearing something on my lower half does have its advantages: I can run out and pick up lunch without any guilt or worry about having to put on pants. Maximum luxury for minimum effort. 

Joggers

I never thought I’d see the day I’d own more than one pair of joggers but dammit they are comfortable. I got a pair for Christmas from my aunts during a very fun Costco run and they have very deep pockets, make my butt look phenomenal and mean that if I have to rush to the door; I am still technically wearing pants.  

Solid Color and Patterned T-Shirts

Listen, just because I’m working doesn’t mean that I have to dress up all the time. Sometimes a v-neck t-shirt in a tasteful pattern or color is all it takes to get the job done. If I have a client meeting or a big boss call, time to throw on a cardigan. Otherwise, just looking put together enough from the waist up is a solid start. Luckily, since my preppy youth, I’ve kept a small army of v-neck, crew cut, solid, striped, spotted and fruity t-shirts that can help me look just the legal definition of put together. 

Velvet leggings aside and t-shirts aside, this is an absolute departure from the dresses and tights and flats I’m used to wearing for work. If I had a client meeting or not, I took a ton of pride in how I dressed for work. Sure, I rarely wore makeup but I would never wear graphic t-shirts or sweatpants to work. What’s telling in how I’ve been dressing during the pandemic I think is what has been absent still: I’m still not wearing a ton of makeup and I’ve traded athletic socks for stockings. I’ve abandoned jeans, but they do still fit. I try to do my hair every morning I work even if I don’t put heat to my hair to keep it curled under or perfectly just; just to make it go in a direction that makes sense usually via lazy swipes of a paddle brush. I don’t wear earrings unless I have a client meeting now. Overall, I just dress like a more casual version of myself; albeit a version of myself that doesn’t have to wear shoes while working. 

It’s been very important to me not to slip into wearing pajamas or leaving my bonnet on because of how much routine matters to me. I still have to do all the pageantry of work to feel like I’m going to work even if my commute now is just from the sofa to the dining area. If I don’t go through all the steps of getting ready: showering, having breakfast, getting dressed, doing my hair, taking my medicine in the morning I don’t know if I’d have the mental fortitude to get on with the work day. I need structure and routine and I just don’t think I could be one of those people that rolls out of bed 30 minutes before my shift begins and drag my laptop into my lap and still have anything that resembles a productive day. 

I have recently missed having a reason to wear casual clothes. Typically my jeans, joggers, sweats and more were a reprieve from tights, dresses and nicer blouses but when every day is basically a day at home: casual versus dressy just doesn’t seem to matter. I did treat myself to a few new v-neck shirts to spice up my wardrobe and add to the rotation but as I add more t-shirts to my closet, I can’t help but look at all the dresses that have been neglected since there’s nowhere to go. But the new wardrobe additions have helped me feel a little less sad when it comes to getting dressed even if there isn’t always someone to compliment me on my outfit. 

The pandemic has changed every facet of my day to day life and by making sure that I keep the delineation between work time and not work time has been just one of the ways I’ve been able to try and stay sane. Making sure that each morning I work that I get dressed and look even a fraction of what is considered presentable has been a vital part of keeping up the routine that helps me focus on all that needs to be done during my work day. 

I hope you all are staying safe out there. I know this is a trying time; it has been for all of us. 

Fingers crossed, things will improve soon. 

A Cosplayer’s Look at RuPaul’s Drag Race

I have been cosplaying for over 10 years. At least 5 of those years, in my opinion, have been good. I also happen to love RuPaul’s Drag Race. Now, one would think there’s little intersection between drag and cosplay, but really, cosplay is drag for nerds and drag is a gateway for many to get into cosplay. Really, we’re doing similar things. Selling illusion and essence, punishing our bodies to fit impossible standards of beauty and expressing ourselves with fashion. 

But cosplay and being surrounded by talented fashionable people means that the drag competition show for me is at times a conflicting mess of what I like most about drag and what I hate most about cosplay.

Let’s get a few things clear off the bat. I started cosplaying in the mid-2000s and I am a person of color. So, my brand of cosplay has always been detail oriented, mostly concerned about characterization and about having fun. I’ve never been a huge prop-smith (though I’m working on it) and I’ve never been one for giant builds like a Kamui Cosplay or the like. I much rather have bought a piece than immediately be clocked. As far as drag goes, well my favorite season is probably 7 and my favorite queens are ones that hold rather rigid standards of female impersonation like Trinity the Tuck and Katya. Not that I can’t appreciate more gender non-conforming queens or less fishy queens but when it comes down to taste, I’ll take a Brooke Lynn Hytes over a Scarlet Envy any day. 


I started to give thought to how cosplay and drag intersected when watching Fashion Photo RuView with Aquaria (of season 10) and Raja (an immortal wine-drinking, pot-smoking alien goddess here to make us all better people) were discussing the runway looks of Season 11’s episode involving fringe (Willam’s favorite color). Raja clocked Yvie Oddly’s look which was a jellyfish-inspired number and Raja commented on her having seen this look before and it looked a little pedestrian for a look that was mostly body paint and a modded umbrella.

On the runway, Yvie got a lot of praise about bringing something to the runway that no one had seen before. And while I was reading the comments of mostly newer fans of Drag Race giving Raja a hard time for having an opinion, I couldn’t help but agree with my one of my favorite winners. It is pedestrian. I have seen this done before and I’ve seen this done before better. I’ve seen someone attach scrap fabric from Jo-Ann Fabrics to an umbrella: it isn’t high fashion. If a Pinterest Mom can do it for a last minute kid’s Halloween costume; a drag queen can certainly do it; and thus, it does not earn a great deal of praise to me.

This feeling of a lack of awe while watching Drag Race is not new. I remember feeling it while watching The Future of Drag episode of All-Stars Season 2. Phi Phi O’Hara decided that cosplay was a good way to bring back her fading celebrity and make her likable and when she entered All-Stars 2 as a “cosplayer” I mostly rolled my eyes. Her Riddler look was good but nothing I haven’t seen at convention and her looks were increasingly mall drag as far as I could tell. The Future of Drag runway though featured Phi Phi in a skin-tight suit and an over-sized gun. Now, I would be a contrarian if I didn’t admin that she did look cool.

And I was a little shocked about how she brought that prop with her. But again, it was nothing I have not seen from Plexi, Kamui or IBlue.  It was cool but if you’ve seen a costume contest at a big convention, you’ve seen that look. 

Now, let’s be honest, I couldn’t make that gun. I couldn’t pull off that look. I’m not bashing Phi Phi, I’m just saying my wig was not gone, I was not snatched, I was not gagged. It was a look, it was a look I’ve seen before for years now. That doesn’t make it any less artful or beautiful, just that it takes a little of the luster off the diamond from my point of view. 

Another example of where cosplay knowledge meant that certain aspects of Drag Race were a little less than stellar was with Nina Bonina Brown. Nina was famed for being a makeup artist and could transform her face using makeup and paper.

Now, she’s talented and sickening in her own way but again, after years of being on the con circuit and seeing makeup tutorial after makeup tutorial…a paper peach does not rare talent make. After awhile, her gimmick wore thin for me, especially as other parts of her drag became repetitive: again I found myself agreeing with Raja and Manila when they said, we see what she can do and now a skull or a painted face is not enough. I, like the two immortal fashion goddesses, wanted more from her after seeing what Nina had to offer week after week.

Drag Race also echoes a lot of conversations said in the cosplay community: questions around whether you’re still a cosplayer if you don’t “make” your own costumes. The argument that if you don’t make every part of your costume thus invalidating your work is very real but I do think when it comes to Drag Race it’s a little different. I remember that talk on Season 9 with Farrah Moan and Kimora Blac being on one side of the “ugly girls make their own clothes” argument and Trinity and Shea and literally almost everyone else asserted that it is important to know how to sew to be a drag queen. I think once you make it to the show, you should know how to sew. But if you’re fine being a showgirl, I’m not here to judge. I know I don’t sew that well and you could not pay me to sew a dress from a pattern but that’s okay, that’s what online shopping is for. However, if I were to enter a cosplay contest, I would make as many pieces as possible. 

This can be said about a lot of the looks on Drag Race for me. I particularly notice when bodices don’t fit because not all queens wear breastplates anymore or when boy body is showing because not all queens pad or cinch in their waists as aggressively as others. Makeup, too, catches my eye but in a funny way. I find that I bring more makeup skills from drag queens into cosplay. For instance, I started wearing a lot more highlighter to really catch the eye when appropriate. I also contour more and I’m more aware of blending my wigs with a nice line of concealer. 

I’d be a liar if I didn’t mention that Drag Race inspires me. Seeing drag as the elevated and mainstream art form that it is makes me want to be better. Seeing costumes and wigs and makeup done so masterfully makes me want to be better. Seeing people living their authentic life in such an idealized and colorful skin makes me want to be my very best. 

But when the judges fawn over looks and hair and trends that I’ve been seeing from my brothers and sisters in craft for decades, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. RuPaul is a beacon of excellence in drag but to see her so out of touch at times when it comes to fashion (just in regards to fashion in this post) is sort of tragic. She has to see some of the looks at conventions across America. She has to see Instagram. She has to be aware that fabric on an umbrella avant garde does not make. 

I will never discredit the work the queens of Drag Race do. I will never knock the work my brothers and sisters in craft do. But being aware of the parts of the reality TV show that are a little less than gag-worthy after seeing so many talented people for so many years was an exercise worth going through.

Why I Started Wearing Jewelry

I almost never wore jewelry when I was in high school. Sure, I wore earrings but I never wore necklaces or rings. I did wear the occasional bracelet but I was born in the 90s so of course I did. But let’s back up. Why am I writing this? Well, I started wearing more jewelry as part of my great post-grad glow up and it’s interesting to go from someone who seldom accessorized to someone who loves necklaces and rings. But that wasn’t quick; it was slow, painful and involved many many lost opportunities to be even more fashionable than I was as a fledgling.

Let’s recap: in high school I had a controlling aunt who policed my image aggressively. There was absolutely an ideal I had to fit and while I don’t fault her for not letting me leave the house as I wished as a young person, that doesn’t mean that controlling nature was always handled n the best way. I dressed mostly preppy through most of high school and into college: lots of Old Navy v-necks, jeans and my one rebellious items were my black Chuck Taylors. I had my ears pierced as a teen somewhat against my will (another aunt was getting married and to be part of the wedding, I needed earrings) and I did love my earrings as a teenager. Because of hubris and an apparent lack of pain sensation, I ended up with three piercing holes in my ears and that was perfect. I could wear a pair of hoops and a stud that matched whatever color I was wearing (probably purple or black). I never wore a lot of necklaces back then for mostly two reasons: first is that I had and still have eczema and sensitive skin and that I did and still have more chest than my frame should allow. To the first point, the costume jewelry I wanted to wear reacted very poorly with my sensitive skin. Why did I want to wear mostly gaudy costume jewelry? I was a goth (still am a goth) and that meant vampire chokers, bat earrings and bracelets with broken heart pendants.  

My first job at the local goth barn (Hot Topic) meant more jewelry but it never really went beyond earrings and the off bracelet. Which brings us to the second point: I am a small and chesty thing and most necklaces I tried to wear ended up being eaten by my cleavage. That is something entirely preventable but it really soured me on the whole thing as I had a weird relationship with my chest that has continued on into my adult life. I didn’t like wearing a piece of jewelry that drew attention to a part of me that as far as I was concerned already drew too much attention.

This weird relationship with accessories stayed the same through most of high school and almost all of college except for when I began cosplaying more in earnest. Costumes meant jewelry sometimes and I continued to make costumes, I continued to wear the pieces that mattered to that character. And that’s an odd thing to consider sometimes. At times, an earring, bracelet, necklace or similar can be the difference between an okay costume and really hitting the nail on the head and knocking an outfit out of the park.

Office jobs were really what got me to wear jewelry. There’s something about wearing earrings regularly that just make you look like you’re more of an adult. Even if I’m wearing skinny jeans, ballet flats from Payless, a t-shirt that may or may not have been a gift; you look just a little better with earrings.

It was not until recently with my full acceptance of goth into my heart that I found my one true love: cameos. I’m at my core a moody Victorian poet so I love me a cameo. And after purchasing a cameo from a woman who sells them out of a trunk and claims to bless each and every single one, a long-lasting love affair began. But cameos don’t always come on chains: I had to make my own necklaces and thus, a match made in glorious Hell.

One Gifted
One Purchased
One Made

I love it now when I get a compliment on a cameo. I like building outfits around my necklaces now. I like being able to show off a part of myself in the things I wear, which brings us to another aspect of my personal style: rings.

I am not proud of many parts of my body but I do think I have nice hands. Delicate fingers, soft hands and small palms mean that rings look good on me. The problem is that I am right-handed so wearing a ring on my right affects how I hold a pen so I tend to wear my rings on my left. I am not married but it’s a good way to be fashionable while also scaring off unworthy men.

This ties back into the otaku part of me that is a constant undercurrent of my existence: decoden. Decoden is a artform that has an emphasis on cute, mini and kawaii items and I especially love decoden rings. I love being able to have a little tray full of cake or a tiny donut on my finger: I may be a brat prince but I am a fashionable brat prince. I pick up a few rings at any convention I go to and I am happy to add to my collection of decoden rings.

My relationship with jewelry has changed over the years. I’ve never been big on bracelets but I’ve worn more necklaces in the past few months than I have in nearly my entire existence. What prompted this change? I’m not sure. Maybe I am simply getting older. Maybe I am more fashionable than I was. Maybe it’s just part of growing up and changing? Will things always be like this? Who knows. Will I continue to enjoy all of my cameos and rings? You bet your butt I will.

Cultural Gentrification and You: Your Story, Your Style

“The point about pop culture is that so much of it is borrowed. There's very little that's brand new. Instead, creativity today is a kind of shopping process—picking up on and sampling things form the world around yo.png

Amber and I were having another one of our famous talks. We were discussing life and history as always but I was then quickly reminded of a recent style trend that dredged up every negative feeling I had about 2017: snowglobe nails. Now, if you are fortunate enough to not know what these are, I’ll take a moment and let you find out a little more about this “style” trend.

Now, this is extra. Really extra. Why do you need to turn your nail into a snowglobe? But it immediately reminded me of a trend when I was younger: back in the day of velociraptors and chunky blonde highlights. In my high school, black girls did extravagant nail designs all the time. But back in those days, the black women that did such elaborate nail art were considered to be ghetto or tacky. Now they’d be the stars of popular Instagram accounts and Youtube tutorials.

This is cultural appropriation and gentrification. It’s when things that were once maligned due to its attachment to minority groups without admitting to any of its history and sanitizing it for the sake of popularity.

We’re going to go over a few examples that particularly earn my ire.


Voguing

If you’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, you have a base concept of what Voguing is. It’s a dance move that was popularized by Madonna in the 80s and is rooted in a the traditions of ballroom drag which was formulated and perfected by drag queens and gay men of color. Voguing is throwing shade with body movements but when Madonna popularized it at first she paid tribute to the LGBT community. She admitted that drag queens and queers of color did it better than her and featured them in her music videos and on her tours.

But as time progressed popular culture associated the act with Madonna more and more and less and less with the queer people of color that inspired and created the dance move. Voguing is an important part of the LGBT community and is a secret language to queer people all over the United States. And with Drag Race now in the popular lexicon, more and more people are aware of Voguing and are not aware of the fact that it is rooted in decades of ballroom drag. It was not something that started in the 1980s and it was not started by white pop stars. My breaking point was watching the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars and one of the guest judges (Vanessa Hudgens) had the audacity to say she was very into voguing now. Like it was a recent phenomena. Like it was something she just discovered. It exhausted me and I still roll my eyes at it every time I hear that comment.


Hair Trends

Now, I’m relaxed. That is an important aspect of black culture, I was told that my natural hair was not pretty and that I was not likely to be hired or desired if I retained my natural hair. But since forever, folks have felt it necessary to try out styles that were created by black people. Dreadlocks come to mind. Dreads are often times maligned when black people wear them for a myriad of culturally insensitive reasons. Dreadlocks are a hairstyle that formed with the Rastafarian culture and religion. They happen because of the kinky nature of black hair. So when a black man or woman has dreads, it’s often times political, spiritual and important. When a white woman or white man does it…well, let’s just say it leaves a lot to be desired. Again, the locks in dreadlocks are formed because black hair is naturally a little kinky, that sort of texture just doesn’t really exist for many others but that stereotyping does not exist for a white woman at Coachella in dreads. So while Zendaya wearing dreads gets a racist comment out of an E! News hostess, a white person in dreads is just eccentric and “worldly”.

The same can be said for many of the trends in hair braiding.

I got my hair braided a few times when I was younger and mostly for those times when I would be away from my usual hair stylist. Braids were a way to protect my roots from breakage. But when I had braids I was as far as the world saw any other black girl with box braids. I didn’t feel pretty with braids and I still look at those photos with any positivity. I can still remember the hours in the stylist’s chair and the pain associated with getting your hair done.

But when a Kardashian braids her hair, heaven helps us. Now, it isn’t appropriative because some form of braiding is almost as culturally universal as Bigfoot, but it is disappointing that something is typically seen as a negative for one race while it’s fresh, cool and edgy for another.

The last hair trend I’ll cover is weave, extensions and wigs. I’m a cosplayer and I spend a lot of time in wigs and I’m a very handsome blond.  But there’s a special relationship black women have with their hair and that means that many of my sisters in melanin have hair that they were not born with. And back when I was young in ye olden days, they were dissed for it. My great-grandmother was a snake of a woman but her wig collection was enviable. And as soon as I started collecting wigs, my aunts immediately made comparisons between my love of hair that was not mine and my great-grandmother, Ida. But let a celebrity throw on a neon wig and she’s a trendsetter.  

Long weave is a staple for many ethnic communities in the United States. They became an important way to express style for many black women and for some black men.

And that does not mean that all my brothers and sisters with hair not their own do it right. And many  of the criticisms of my think piece will be on “ratchet” and “ghetto” individuals. And while yes, there are plenty of folks who are not the pinnacles of fashion or design, the double standard is real and exhausting.


Being “Extra”

Now, in hindsight, I realize I’ve been extra my whole life. From the velvet jumpers to the always perfectly done hair, I’ve been extra since between it was a word used to describe people and not food. And back in my day, I realize now, that many of the girls and ladies I went to school with back during the days of raptors were extra as hell. Weaves that were several feet long, nails that sparkled like the hot white sun, velour tracksuits and purses that cost more than my rent payments. Today, that woman is extra. Years ago, that person was ghetto. And the big difference between what made a person “extra” versus “ghetto” was often tragically, race. Being extra is seen as a thing mostly now done by white people but comically, it’s something that many queer people and people of color have been doing easily for decades.


Speaking of queer people and drag queens, let’s take a small sidebar to talk about appropriation of language.

Queer people made up our own language decades ago. Shade, vogue, work, look, trade and more all mean something very different to the average gay man or drag queen. This language was created first and most importantly out of safety. Moons ago, being a gay man was not a fashionable thing to be and these codes and secret languages kept gay men and women safe from a hostile world. This secret language kept gay people alive and safe during the AIDS epidemic, during Stonewall and during the rough and tumble conservative eras in American History that you won’t learn about in history class. And as much as I love RuPaul’s Drag Race there’s been an entire generation and section of the populous that gets to “speak Drag Queen” without any of the background knowledge about it. And what’s even more frustrating is watching a woman at Walmart say “YAS, QUEEN. SLAY!” while also refusing to let LGBT people have the save civil liberties they deserve.

You don’t get to say “Yes, queen! Work!” and also think that gay people are still going to Hell because of religious dogma.  


Cultural gentrification and appropriation are one of the most exhausting aspects of the modern pop culture landscape. It’s right up there with microaggressions as far as things that just wear me down. Gentrification and appropriation suck the life and history out a thing that matters to a minority community, sanitizes it and re-sells it at a higher rate that often locks out the original owners of that media, act or pattern for mass consumption. But through education, careful research and analysis of media trends and a decent level of empathy: we can combat cultural gentrification together.

But Vanity’s a Sin

Fashion is about dreaming and making other people dream. Donatella Versace.png

How many dresses do you own?

Didn’t you just go shopping?

How often do you polish your shoes?

Why are you so obsessed with where this came from and how much this cost?

I get asked questions like this more than I like admitting. And that may surprise people. We see fashion and clothing as vital parts of self expression. What you wear isn’t just about clothing your vulnerable meat shell from the elements, it’s an important part of expressing gender, race, interests and more. It sends a message when I wear a graphic t-shirt, jeans and a hoodie. It sends a message when I wear a 50s skater dress. And cosplaying shows very clearly that I obviously like being the center of attention.


Heavy. Short. Scarred.

Those are the things I have to say about myself.

But you’d likely never know that based upon how I dress and take care of myself.

I have a multi-step Korean-inspired skincare routine that takes me from clay mask to face wash to sheet masks to serums. I dress well. Many of my friends give me a hard time about how extra my fashion sense is. Recently, I’ve been stepping up my clothing for work, as well. And people have taken notice. My signature timeless style of dresses with pitch black tights have been well-documented. I like shoes and purses and clothes. I like looking good and I like attention.

But I am also hilariously insecure about my body and my looks.

I’m worried about my stomach and how short my legs are. I’m worried that my butt is too big and that my chest isn’t big enough. And despite my skincare routine, I suffer from acne, large pores and hyperpigmentation.

I take care of myself because in those moments of self-care I am aspiring to feel more beautiful.

I dress well, I value my face and I discuss fashion because it helps me feel beautiful at least for a moment or two.

I cosplay to, for a moment or two, become a character with a level of confidence that I clearly lack.

I write characters with more self-confidence than I have.

I do these things in hopes of one day being able to pull that confidence into my daily real life.

Now, there’s no conversation about vanity that isn’t also met with all of the hypocrisy of being a woman and being encouraged to be modest while also being so confident that it hurts.

As a lady, I am told to be modest and not try too hard to be noticed. But I am also shamed if I go out in sweatpants I’m told that I should “dress up just in case”. I have vivid memories of my grandmother saying that I may meet my future husband anywhere so I should always look good.

This doesn’t even begin to cover the strange junction between a woman looking good and feeling good about herself while also then being called “stuck up” or “vain” or “high maintenance” for caring about how she looks. Let’s also not forget that if I wear a low cut dress or a tight shirt that as a biological female I am “asking for it”.

The whore/virgin dichotomy that extends even to how I dress fascinates me and that applies to females as well. To women, at times, my choices for black tights, vintage patterns and low cut dresses and shirts is just as scandalous and offensive as it likely would be to one of my other Southern foremothers. I’m judged for wearing shapewear because I should “love my curves” while also then being judged for not having a smoothed out silhouette. That barely even covers the fact that people still feel the need to judge and comment how much I spend on clothing, serums, sheet masks and shoes. And unfortunately, I am not always mature enough to simply write off such comments. I’m happy to say where I get my sheet masks and where the dress was from and that only adds to the at times uncomfortable silences between “Where did you get that dress?” and “What did you do to your hair?”

It was only a few decades ago that a woman was more than mention that she spent hundreds on her hair, at least fifty to make sure she was entirely hairless and that her outfit was likely hundreds of dollars not to mention the thousands in jewelry or additional hundreds in makeup, shapewear and more. But humility is once more en vogue so mentioning how the more attractive sausage is made is now less a virtue and more a vice. The rise of social media influences has reversed some of this modesty. Now, it’s once more to spend a lot of money and time on some things. It’s alright to have brushes that cost you hundreds but your clothes should be perpetually thrifty. I’m supposed to wear little to no makeup but am also judged for letting my hyperpigmentation and dark circles remain uncovered on my face. Not long ago, an older acquaintance commented on the fact that I should wear lipstick more often.

Vanity works in a certain price bracket. It works for a Kylie Jenner or a Violet Chachki but it doesn’t always work for a social media manager who has a penchant for cameos and too much foundation. It’s not always alright for me to spend forty or so dollars on concealer but the dress I got at Goodwill equally raises concerns.


My perceived vanity helps me cope with my insecurity. Wearing a nice dress or getting my highlight just right help me feel better about how I look. When I was younger, I was told to value my looks and as I got older, I was told to value my mind. There was no middle ground. Either I focused on looking great or I focused on being a studious young woman. The idea that one is judged based upon clothing and style were drilled into me as a young one. I had a part to play and my family knew that no matter what I wore I’d face being sexualized, exoticized and fetishized: there was no room for error for sloppy dressing or anything like that. But all the while I was told to worry about how I looked and told to make sure I looked my best and took care of myself.

That all took a backseat for a while and I stopped caring about how I looked outside of costume because I was sexualized and fetishized no matter what. I’m fortunate enough to have come back into my own style-wise and hope that what many read as vanity in me just trying to cope in a world that doesn’t always value a lady with cellulite and acne scarring.

Stay beautiful, fair readership: in all the ways that word entails.

 

At the Intersection of Fish and Fab

 

“And now, I'm just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time.” ― Lady Gaga.jpgThis may be a surprise to literally no one but I love drag culture. And while I have my issues with the LGBT community and even my issues with RuPaul’s Drag Race, I am proud to call Ru “Mother” and I love the roots and history behind what drag is today. I love the steps between Tandi Dupree and Sasha Velour. I love that when faced with a mainstream culture that would not yield that so many LGBTQ folks just built their own culture. And while drag culture has been influential it has only recently been mainstream. All of that mainstream limelight has now become an influence to so many other creators. So today I want to talk about cosplay, fashion and how I connect to being a better cosplayer and person through drag, music and high art.

I love fashion. Clearly. I cosplay. You don’t get into cosplay and not want all eyes on you. And that being said I also do love fashion in general. It’s no wonder that Paradise Kiss is one of the few shojo animes I can tolerate. I love watching a good garment come together. I love the styling and the efforts people have to do so an outfit comes together. I’ve been watching a lot of Marco Marco shows online. Marco Marco is a designer who specializes in men’s underwear and leggings but that also extends to conceptual dresses and avant-garde body pieces. If you’ve never seen a Marco Marco show, you should. Like seriously, it’s all on Youtube. Just watch one. I’ll wait.

Are you done? Awesome, back to the show. I love the way that Marco Marco plays with gender, body shape and uses elements so foundational to the LGBT culture like voguing and ballroom couture as parts of his show. The way music plays into every show and every look is pivotal. But you already know that since you watched at least one show now, right?

But let’s take a step back. Let’s go back to a simpler time. Let’s go back to the 70s. Voguing in the drag community is a dance style. Depending on who you ask Madonna did it first but most drag mothers will say she took it from the drag scene. And it’s exactly what you think it is. It’s serving fierce looks and fierce dancing mostly with your hands and arms but a good Vogue routine should be a full body experience. Think disco ParaPara. And being able to pull a look together that you could lip sync and serve face to was vitol and influenced drag culture for decades. Things didn’t get impractical until the Club Kid era in the 80s-90s. And that has continued even now. We’ve seen mainstream fashion take cues from drag and LGBT icons like Grace Jones and RuPaul. We’ve seen fashion shows become pop culture spectacles again as opposed to these haughty affairs for the upper crust. The way music plays into fashion is huge for me and as a kid who grew up with things like DanceDance Revolution and ParaPara where your clothing can actually impact your score. ParaPara is what got me to always end in a pose when it comes to cosplay and having to remember that your gender affects your score in ParaPara links it back to music, fashion and form. There’s nothing like cosplaying while dancing and having your friends cheer you on or egg you on so you either graciously succeed or comedically fail.

Fashion’s a tricky subject for a girl like me. At my smallest I was still plus-sized and I did my best to dress my body and dress to my tastes which is always something in between sailing in Martha’s Vineyard and prep who probably took your boyfriend in sophomore year to androgynous vaguely edgy but somehow still preppy bog creature. My style has evolved some from high school to college to young professional. But drag has always inspired me. Playing with shape and proportion. And despite how plain my exterior can be, I do have a serious passion for fashion. I love Project Runway and shows like it but more importantly my heart always comes back to RuPaul’s Drag Race.  The way big girls dress themselves and the way the majority of these biological men can use the power of clothing and makeup to transform into women that are not gonna lie prettier than me.

Needless to say, I watch a lot of Drag Race when I’m working on costumes. It’s good background noise and the beats of the music and the sounds of men as women fighting over who wore it well. And all the while RuPaul’s encouraging words keep me steadily sewing and painting within the lines when required. And when I have to sit down and think about it, I am so inspired by these fashionistas and trendsetters when I work on my costumes. I want to be a better makeup artist because I can see what Kim Chi can do. I want to style and put pieces together because I know Latrice Royale can style her body so well. I want to conquer my anxiety and perfectionism because I know Katya can and did get over hers. I look up to Violet Chacki and Raja for how well they can serve face and I think about that every time I overdraw my highlight line or don’t go far enough with my eye shadow.

We all have plenty of different inspirations and drag and fashion happen to be two of mine. I work hard to be a better cosplayer because I know Mother Ru would want me to. RuPaul is like my patron saint of fashion, a statuette of her sits on my mantle that I have to provide offerings of thread, lace, ribbon and glittered candles. Drag motivates me to try dyeing fabric and painting my nails even though I’m wearing gloves. Drag motivates me to be more aware of my accessories in and out of cosplay. And when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you let that light show to the rest of the world.

 

Body Positively Shamed

Fashion is made to become unfashionable.Coco Chanel.png

I am a shapely thing and by shapely I mean I have a shape. Round is a shape. I think at my smallest weight post-puberty I was maybe 180 lbs. I’m also only 5’1’’.  But in all of that, I’ve always struggled with finding myself “empowered” by my body. I’ve never felt attractive or pretty in conventional senses and I feel the most “in my skin” when I’m in costume. So with the recent trend of “body positivity” I’ve been caught between a rock in a hard place.  How does one stay true to who they are while also embracing positivity and not shaming anyone and not be shamed themselves?

I’m not one for crop tops. I’m not one for super short shorts. I dislike short skirts and dresses. I don’t like showing off my stomach and if I can hide my imperfections, I’m much happier in a one-piece swimsuit than a bikini: hell, I just recently started swimming in just the suit and not in a full t-shirt and shorts over my swimsuit. But with this lovely trend of “being body positive” and “ignore the haters” it’s been encouraged that women of all body shapes should wear whatever they want. And they should. If it makes them comfortable.

I love seeing big girls in crop tops and skinny girls in oversized t-shirts. I love seeing men in skirts and women in suits. Wear whatever the hell you want. But don’t feel like you have to compromise who you are. At the end of the day, I’m a relatively conservative dresser (even in costume be it male or female). As said before, I’m not comfortable showing off my midriff. So even though I think the girl on the boss rocking a crop top is fierce, it just isn’t my style.  And I will never condone anyone shaming someone who feels comfortable in what they’re wearing. It’s difficult seeing plus-sized models rocking an outfit and being shamed online with some of the most hateful venom I’ve seen online. It’s disappointing. What’s even more disappointing is mentioning that it isn’t exactly my style to wear something so short and being told that I should just “loosen up” or “be more in tune with myself”. I am in tune with myself. And that means I don’t want to show the world my stretch marks.  

Body positivity from what I’ve understood it means accepting who you are and I’m not ready to accept that I have zero torso and wide hips. I’m also getting older. I’m a Southern lady. There’s no excuse outside of a Truman Capote beach party that I as a person pushing 30 to wear a mesh crop top. No shame to the gents and gals at Pride rocking the same look, though. I’m short so that doesn’t mean that I want to wear heels that would make it easier for me to reach the dishes on the top shelf. But it comes from a legitimate place. Women’s bodies are hilariously (and by “hilarious” I mean it’s demeaning, cruel and disgusting that this is still a thing that happens in 2017) policed by mostly men and sometimes other women. Women are told not to wear certain things and they become the targets of criticism if they dress a certain way. And with such a history of being told what and how to wear things I get how bigger girls and guys can bristle at being told simply to lose weight or diet before wearing something. Fun fact, if it was that easy sometimes to lose weight I doubt obesity would be the problem it is in most of the developed world. And there are such a variety of body shapes that occasionally even relatively healthy people can be bigger in clothing sizes then you’d expect. Additionally, telling plus-sized models all the “health problems” that come along with being of size is just tragic at times. I am fully aware that my size puts me at risk for countless things, you know what the number one cause of mortality is? Being alive. If cheesecake shortens my life then viva la cheesecake.

But one thing I keep coming back to is there’s a difference between dressing for your body and dressing as you want. I can’t wear maxi dresses, I’m short, I look like someone threw fabric over me and left me to rot in a cloth coffin. Ill-fitting clothes, shorts that are too short and show me more of your business than you may expect and other moments when fashion fails you are somehow different from “policing bodies” as it is just “fashion knowledge”.  

When I was younger, I loved What Not to Wear and I still love Project Runway. Fashion is important to me and knowing how to dress your body is vastly important: and it’s easy to be a feminist and still desire modesty. I don’t consider myself any less a feminist if I’m showing off my neckline than I do if I’m covered up. And what I wear to mass or a sacred place is vastly different than what I’d wear out with friends or even to convention. There are sometimes that certain pieces of clothing just aren’t appropriate and claiming “body positivity” isn’t helpful when it’s used to excuse inappropriate fashion choices. A flower crown may be great for Coachella but less than ideal for a job interview.

I mentioned cosplay earlier and it’s one I wanted to pick back up briefly. I started cosplaying many years ago and quickly felt uncomfortable as insert generic Japanese school girl costumes. So I found crossplay and made a mark cosplaying as male characters. I felt far more empowered bound and in pants then I ever did in a skimpy miko costume. Suddenly, if I was objectified, it was on my terms. Suddenly, I had control over how much skin I was showing. It wasn’t until I was much older that I felt comfortable cosplaying Fem! or female characters again but I did so my way. I don’t show a ton of skin. I keep my dresses and skirts long. I cover up. I wear tights and usually shorts under dresses. I pick alternate character costumes and the times that I do show off skin it’s for small photo shoots. And it’s my history with cosplay that made me so comfortable at times ignoring or augmenting clothing items. When you’re my height and weight it’s very difficult to buy anything off rack to tailoring, hemming and adjusting colors and seams became second nature.  The additions or subtractions got to be fun signatures to me while also asserting that somewhere under the confused former punk turned prep aesthetic of my current wardrobe that there was something uniquely me in there somewhere.

The moral of the story is stay confident in what you want to wear. I leave the house plenty of times in a graphic t-shirt and a skirt or skinny jeans and I’m damn near 30. Tall girls, wear heels. Short girls, wear flats. Men, continue to slay the makeup game and contour better than me. Wear what makes you feel comfortable. And respect what others are wearing to make them feel comfortable. For so many people fashion and what you wear is so much more than just fabric. It’s an expression of gender identity. Of pride. Of what you love and what you stand for. And whether you’re out and proud or modest, be kind to each other and what their wearing. Each outfit tells a story and each story deserves to be told.

Coming Out of the Style Closet

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.”- Gore Vidal

I am a young advertising and marketing professional.

I am an otaku.

I am a cosplayer.

I’m a traveler and filled with wanderlust.

I am a Southern belle and African-American woman.

I support multiple fandoms both Eastern and Western.

I am a theater brat.

I am a choir sister.

I am an orchestra member.

I am a writer.

I’m a lot of things. And the best way I express myself is through clothing. That’s true for almost all people. I have a lot of patterns and colors that I like. My personal style seems to be constantly at odds with who I am. Clothing is one of the most basic means of personal expression that we have but it’s also an amazing way to not commit to a particular style. As a cosplayer I am constantly becoming and changing who and what I am.

My personal style journey has been a complicated one. I spent most of my childhood as a hair show and mini-pageant baby. It was also the 90s so there were plenty of bad fashion choices made by my parents. As I grew up and became the sporty more tomboy-ish Amanda many of my friends and family know came to know I wore more denim and overalls. Lots of color. But one thing was always the same: my hair remained long. My father was very against me cutting my hair. So, my hair stayed long and perfectly manicured.

After my father died I faced an interesting act of rebellion: I cut my hair. At 13 or so I found my hair shorter and shorter and with that my choices in clothing changed again. I was a punk. Green Day, Blink 182, Simple Plan. I loved it all. Also by 12 and 13 I had found myself an incredibly dedicated anime fan, though at the time merchandise from these shows weren’t available. You kids these days, you have it easy with your J-List and Hot Topic carrying your fandom stuff. I date myself. I was also a Catholic school student so I didn’t spend a lot of time in “free dress”. I also had incredibly conservative and non-supportive aunts that did not like my punk rock music and cynical attitude and comic books that read in the wrong direction. So my clothing stayed conventional.

And then high school. Oh high school. High school was fantastic because with conservative aunties, my dress seemed to not reflect the otaku I was on the inside though it always managed to show out somehow on the outside. I hung out with the goths but was a bright pink spot in a sea of leather and black. I worked at Hot Topic but wore mostly purple and white. Then I’d spout out Maximum the Hormone lyrics and my “goth cred” was verified. But high school always felt like I was the most me. My style was a combination of preppy with argyles to nautical with blue and white stripes to general otaku wear: thank you, Hot Topic for carrying fan merchandise. But high school always felt like I was the most me. I found cosplay and cosplayers. I could be anyone. Anything. All the things. I could wear plaid and still be the otaku Amanda everyone knew and loved. College was a lot of the same. I was anime club president but also in honors societies. I was constantly in between looking like a high school age teen and a professional trying to get a job.

A few years ago I managed to get my first “real job” complete with going to an office and having to dress like a “professional”. I had learned about professional dress from the debate team which mostly involved Hillary Clinton-esque pant suits and pencil skirts with fitted blazers but working in advertising and especially as a writer, my work environment has never been incredibly strict with what I wore as long as it was more than presentable and I always have been. I could still be that somewhat preppy girl but with little accents of the weekend me via Hello Kitty rings, cake earrings, bracelets from my favorite bands and the occasional party that involved dressing up: Thank you, Halloween.

So why did I take you all on this journey through my history and closet?

Recently I picked up my first pair of Converse in years. Converse: the shoe that defined an entire generation of punks, emo kids and goths. I was one of those kids. My Chuck Taylors mattered more to me than some of my high school boyfriends. My Chucks, signed by my theater friends, anime clubbers and kept for years. Paint-spattered, messed up, faded: they were perfect. They were also murder on my incredibly flat feet so I stopped wearing them. Their expense also made them a less than attractive addition to my closet. But when I returned home for Thanksgiving, a Black Friday sale got me to buy not one but two new pairs of Converse.

I broke both in (a mint pair and a black and white pair, both low tops) and have been wearing them pretty regularly. It wasn’t until I walked into work with black skinny jeans, a black v-neck, my black and white converse and a black cardigan that I realized something: I felt like I finally looked good in something. I felt the most like…well, me. And that’s saying a lot. For someone like me who’s look never really matched all that was going on inside to feel comfortable in something was fantastic. A friend had made a snide remark about what that means about me and my character that I felt most like me in all black but it was easy to shake it off. I felt good. That’s what matters. To feel like me beyond the body image issues, dark spots (learn more about that here) and all; I felt like Amanda. The purest form of Amanda. Simple. Timeless but a medium for personal expression. It’s not the clothes. It’s the person. The clothes are an accessory to my personality.

It’s always weird for a young woman to deal with style. Society expects one thing from you. Family another. How are we supposed to be able to express ourselves and be true to ourselves and still maintain all that is socially and physically acceptable? As of now, I feel great with my new shoes and better outlook. Getting back into cosplay has been another great way to express myself and I still flash little peeps of who I am on the inside. You don’t have to abandon who you are and more times than not, the clothes we wear don’t mean much about who we are. You can be a pop princess in all black or a scene kid in argyle.

Stay true, readerships! And tell me in the comments what your personal style is!