Welcome to the first installment of Style Thief, where I steal the clothes off queer style icons’ backs. Metaphorically, that is. I’ll try figure out just exactly what makes queer style icons tick by breaking down their look into itty bitty bite size pieces. I get a lot of questions about how to look like different celebrities/characters, so I’m finally tackling the question “How the hell do I dress like that?”
Header by Rory Midhani
Today I’ll be stealing the clothes off one of my favorite musicians/fashion icons/android lovers Janelle Monáe. Though Monáe is talented enough that she could probably pull off a burlap sack, she known for her wardrobe of all tuxedos all the time. Monáe has explained she wears tuxedos both to pay homage to the uniforms worn by her working-class parents and to “help redefine what it looks like to be a woman.” I have a sneaking suspicion she also wears them because she knows she looks fucking dope.
The key to stealing Monáe’s look is understanding that you’re not trying to make it look effortless. This isn’t wind-swept casual “Oh this old thing” thrown together at the last minute. Monáe’s look is clean, sharp and absolutely put together to the extreme. To rock her look you have to own that you are intentionally dressing to look good to yourself and to everyone around you. Monáe’s look is perfect for any time you think you should be wearing a dress and are scared you won’t look fancy enough in pants.
At the very base of it you’ve got to go black and white. This is great because black and white look great on almost everyone. Just think of how awesome a penguin looks. Though Monáe occasionally reverses it, she usually goes for a black tux with a white shirt. It’s so classic it just feels right.
Start with that white tuxedo shirt. If you change nothing else in your outfit, a white tuxedo shirt tells those around you that you’re here for something special. Or better yet, that you’re someone special. Go for one with a half collar and a classic pleated bib. The really nice thing about tuxedo shirts is that you can often find women’s shirt (thus cut for breast and curves) in exactly the same overall style as a men’s shirt — no weird extra frills. Bonus points if you find one with black buttons.
Next, tuck thats shirt into a pair of black pants. This is the easy part since you probably already own some sort of black pants. One of the greatest things about Monáe’s look is that it’s so easily adapted for different gender expressions/fashion choices. Monáe herself even mixes it up between classic men’s tuxedo trousers, high waisted wide leg women’s slacks and pencil skinny straight leg pants. Though the classic tuxedo stripe is awesome, it’s not always that easy to find or doable on a budget.
Monáe sometimes forgoes the tuxedo jacket (the tuxedo shirt actually gets the point across quite well) but I think it’s an all important feature. While this look might be more versatile without the jacket, nothing in the world says dapper quite like those shiny lapels. Monáe generally rocks a jacket that is cut to form to her waist while remaining masculine through the shoulder. Though it might seem like you’re asking for a thousand dollar price tag, tuxedo-inspired jackets have become popular enough that even cheaper stores sell them. Better yet, find an old-school tuxedo in a thrift store and have it altered. You’ll spend less money and end up with a better jacket.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re going to wear a tuxedo jacket, you want to ensure that your blacks don’t clash. This can sometimes be tricky if you buy the pants and jacket separately. In order to mitigate clashing fears, I suggest bringing the first purchased item with you while you’re shopping for its mate. Additionally, check the same store as often designers use the consistent black suiting fabrics throughout their collections and year to year.
Most important are the accessories. Monáe’s array of both butch and femme bow ties spring to mind. You want to buy something in black and you want to tie it yourself. Nothing looks cheaper than a pre-tied bow tie. You can get a good quality reasonably priced black bow ties at most department stores, and it’s a worthy investment that you’ll wear for years to come. For a femmier look, it is worth scoping out alternative bow tie options, including ribbon and pussy bows. Monáe switches up her tie style regularly and you might want to have some options on hand too. You can’t leave out the all-important shoes; for Monaé it’s all about the saddle shoes or oxfords. In both cases, you want to go classic and crisp with either stark white and black saddle shoes (none of that peach and tan nonsense) or an all-black menswear-style oxford. Don’t shy away from patent leather, it’s there to make your shoes really pop.
As for jewelry, Monáe keeps it, unsurprisingly, classic. Although she’ll bust out the occasional chain broach linking her jacket lapels, she is much more likely to wear nothing but pearl stud earrings. This simplicity is important because it allows your outfit to remain neat. Almost as if your wardrobe (and your life) is a tightly regulated machine.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Janelle Monáe’s look without her signature pompadour. Though it seems like Monáe’s hair would be really complicated and specific to style, there are actually a multitude of ways to achieve it with all sorts of hair cuts. As with any complex hairstyle, I think it’s best to find the perfect Youtube video. Here are just a couple of the best pompadour/Janelle Monáe hair videos out there:
So there you have it. Keep everything classic, monocrome and polished perfect and you can strut your Janelle Monáe stuff wherever you please.