The following essay is excerpted from dapperQ Style: Ungendering Fashion, by Anita Dolce Vita, published by Harper and out next week, May 30. You can buy your copy from Bookshop, or wherever books are sold.
How Can We Be Resourceful and Accessible and Not Enforce Those Dominant Abled, Cultured Ways?
Kay Ulanday Barrett
All photos by The Street Sensei
Queer style is something communal, it’s collective, it moves with the trends and patterns happening to us in our bodies and minds, happening to us in the real world, not just in style. For me, style essentially is that daring force to say, “Who am I in this very individual curation with the backdrop of what’s happening to all of my communities”?
One style piece, especially when you’re new to queerness, feels like your whole world.
I don’t think that cisgender and straight communities have that weight for that spiritual awakening. We talk about our first haircuts or the first times we let our hair be in a certain way or the first times we found a designer that honored fat bodies. That’s undeniably queer, where we don’t have the limitations but we’re just imagining. If you’re in multiple communities that are facing intense oppression, you’ve had to learn to question and to survive. And that doesn’t change with what you put on your body. It invigorates it. I think it gives you more insight.
Especially with BIPOC queerness and Indigenous queer style, we set the tone of what style is. We’re responding in queer style in a way that catapults the patterns and materials and motifs of our stories and what is accessible to us, what is safe for us to be in, and then also what’s loving for us when we are in our cultural spaces. Everybody wants to be Black or Indigenous or queer, but nobody wants those fights. Fashion sometimes just takes things and it’s considered appreciation, but we’re not delving into the bigger meaning — why those aesthetics, motifs, or styles came to be. They have roots, they have homes and whole lives and whole people. Something comes from somewhere. We didn’t just get our freedoms and our justice from nowhere.
When I was in my early twenties, my conversation was very much: What does safety look like in this place? What will not get me beat up or verbally assaulted or harassed by cis straight men? What is the safest thing that makes them comfortable and where I’m at now? I don’t have the frivolity or the privilege to be comfortable, so wherever I can insert that practical flyness, that comfortable opulence . . .
I’m really interested as a disabled person in being cozy. The pandemic has made me realize that I have such limited access that if I have to be who I am, I have to be super careful about how I’m doing that. If I can’t go back to my old tools of what my queer styling was, how do I pivot that and reinvigorate that? That has been the challenge, which then brought me back to silky, buttery, at-home affordable opulence. Whatever I’m wearing that day is my place to wrap around and feel safe. And so that’s what fashion does for a lot of people who are like me, whether they’re newly discovering their queerness, whether they’re disabled and they just want to dress to impress not just other people but themselves. What can we do that’s new? As the end of the world comes, we’re leaning into disabled voices.
I’m really into monotone pieces that have this streamlined look, but with pops of color and a range in texture. I like that surprise. I like to fuck with uniformity. As a queer Filipinx person, I do things that pay homage to my Filipinx family, my grandparents. Whether that’s an old hat shape that looks familiar, whether that’s a Filipino folkloric design that feels really good and instead it’s just in a really bright color or in a pastel or in something that pops, I really like to move in that way that still pays an undercurrent to who I’ve been.
When I was younger, I came from a very Butch, rigid Midwestern working-class awareness of what “masculinitywp_postswas. And a lot of that I still attributed to my own forms of misogyny, my internalization of it, the enforcement of it on my body. And there was this place where for moments what I thought was acceptable and what is desirable as an abled, younger person was very much like what cis straight men wore. And I realized that didn’t work for me. I still feel like there’s a rigidity, there’s this push and pull. “I’m a real manwp_posts— but what is a “real man”? Let’s open that up to people who may not read at all as whatever the regional awareness is of what masculinity is. I think in my transhood I’ve felt more aware about things that aren’t rigidly “masculinewp_postsand opened myself up to that in a way that feels like home, in a way that is daring, that I would not have done in my early trans masculinity or in my Butch life.
I think so much of mainstream fashion and white supremacy is about “How does this one thing fit to a uniformity?wp_postsIt’s very eugenics, right? “This is the one standard we have. So how do we drape or style or design something on this one kind of body?wp_postsI’m asking to consider what multiplicity looks like, how particular clothing can examine different bodies and what it’s like not centering cisgender, heterosexual, white, thin people. Our bodies deserve exuberant fabrics and innovative design and can highlight beautiful parts of what society typically erases. I’m asking a loving challenge to be like, “What would it be for us to not just style what is acceptable, but what is for joy?wp_postsEverything that I am deserves options. That’s it. I’m not even asking for a big-ass party. Everything I do is a fucking celebration, and if I want to celebrate, I’m celebrating with the people I love, who honor me as a whole person. Why exacerbate the same dusty, old rubrics of what fashion is and what a body should be? Because for me as a cultural strategist and critic, that’s reinforcing these very mainstream norms. You want to be cutting edge? Then create more options.
DAPPERQ STYLE by Anita Dolce Vita. Copyright © 2023 by Anita Dolce Vita. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.