What is fashion? What are clothes? Are they something you wear just because you have to? You know, for public decency? For some, that might be the case, but I honestly think that what you wear means much more than that. But of course, fashion can mean different things for different people. The thought process you have when picking your outfit, the values you place on your clothes, or how your clothes can be tied back to various aspects of your identity (just to name a few) varies from person to person.
These ideas are my topics of focus for a research project at school. The overall purpose of my study is to examine the relationship between queer identity and aesthetic self- representation using the fashion choices of queer and trans college students of color at predominantly white institutions. For many students, college is the first time they are able to explore their identities and develop their own fashion aesthetics away from the families and communities in which they grew up. So what do these freedoms look like in the queer community? How are decisions affected when people are away from the usual external pressures of home life, especially if they are not “out” yet or do not feel comfortable fully expressing themselves at home. My aim is to determine how the fashion culture of the spaces students occupy influences the formation of their identities.
I think this project is significant because it is important to realize that clothing and style can give people a sense of belonging. Unlike other ways we feel this sense of belonging – for example, the identities you share – you can change your clothes. Clothes aren’t a part of your body, but they travel with your body. Clothes essentially give off a first impression because you don’t have to know a person to see what they are wearing. How people express, dress, and present themselves can sometimes be a life or death situation, and it shouldn’t have to be this way.
My project focuses on the fact that people invest power and value in clothing, which leads to clothing not dictating who we are, but rather helping to paint an image of who we are and who we want to be. It speaks for us. Clothing can reflect our moods (or the mood we want to show), our traditions and heritage, and much more. Clothing and its value has often indicated a person’s power and privilege, as well as the social construction of identity: occupational, geographical, religion, class stats, race, gender, sexuality, etc. Because of the image we paint, style choices can be a tactic for acceptance, safety, and survival. However, those choices can be limited by accessibility, whether it’s class or fit, the environment we are in, or our own sense of authenticity in the face of external pressures.
It is important to mention that no matter what we wear, how we wear it, or when we wear it, we dress for ourselves, for who we are, and our comfort. We should wear whatever we want that makes us feel comfortable in our skin, no matter what the tag says. I hope to be able to continue doing this work and find out exactly how gender performance dictates and informs daily choices and behaviors about fashion (at a micro level), how one’s gender identity shapes their perception of what to wear, and how what they decide to wear is perceived by others.
So what is fashion? For so many of us in the queer community, fashion is powerful. Fashion is revolutionary. Fashion is survival. Fashion is a narrative. Fashion is a personal image. Fashion is comfort. Fashion is a language. Fashion is what you make it to be!
This post was written by Point Scholar Le’Priya White.
Le’Priya is studying Sociology at Oberlin College. At Oberlin, Le’Priya is dedicated to creating a sense of community for queer and trans people of color through activism and education. Read more about Le’Priya here.