Femme and Fabulous: Interview and Photoshoot with Elissa

I’m excited to share with you the first model for my blog who isn’t me! Her name is Elissa and I met her at Dyke March.

In addition to her good looks and excellent sense of style, she’s thought a lot about what it means to be a femme queer. Some folks in the queer community might think she’s less “valid” because she can pass as straight, but through her exploration of style and queerness, she has developed ways to be femme and also keep her queer identity present through her clothes. Elissa has enjoyed a wardrobe of vintage dresses both from her mom’s closet and the store by her house. We snapped some photos and then compiled our talk into an interview.

Heart-shaped sunglasses: I bought these at a street-stand during NYC Pride

Romper: from my mom’s closet. Cute detail: the buttons say “please” and “thank you.” Rompers are so great because they’re one-piece suits so your outfit is done so quickly, you can sit cross-legged or with your legs open because they have shorts and not a skirt, and more often than not, they come equipped with pockets—one of my qualms with dresses. You don’t have to carry around a purse when you’re wearing a romper! Downside: you have to pull down the whole thing to use the bathroom.

Dress: Bought at Café Society, an amazing (although a bit pricey) vintage consignment store in my neighborhood. It was handmade (you can tell by the stitching and some extra fabric folded on the inside, also no tag) and it has an awesome crisscross back (a detail I’m really into in general). It’s totally suburban housewife and I feel like I should be baking whenever I wear it.

See-thru lace leotard: American Apparel

BDG pants: Urban Outfitters. These pants are ideal for me because they have a fair amount of stretch to them, so they’re super comfy and have fit through some weight fluctuation. I feel like a bit of a tool admitting where this outfit came from, but there you have it.

In all of the outfits:

Gold shoes: Target. I’m not even sure exactly what they are, but every summer I buy a pair of crappy sandals and wear massive holes into them.

Gold Bracelet: Urban Outfitters engraved with “Best friends since 2003” (and yes, it’s pair does exist and she wears it everyday too).

Note: I normally have on some kind of big hoop earrings, but I guess I needed to give my ears a break.

How would you describe your current style?

I would say my current style is definitely femme-y, colorful, retro, and a little sexy/flirty. I definitely like form-fitting clothing, and I like to show some skin but not too much. I’ve always loved vintage clothing, and right now I’m drawn to a more classic 50’s-60’s pin-up girl meets cute housewife look. I like wearing a lot of vibrant colors, but lately I’ve been trying to tone it down a bit so I don’t look like a total trainwreck. In high school and early college I would wear 500 different patterns and colors all at once and it was a little chaotic (but a fun adventure getting dressed in the morning!), so now I’m trying to honor my love for color and whimsy while still looking like an adult. I also love cutesy kitsch—I’ve got a number of items in my wardrobe with hearts, rhinestones, bunnies, kittens, you name it. This is another area that I’m trying to tone down, but it’s proving really, really difficult.

What has been your biggest fashion struggle?

It’s always been hard for me to find pants that fit well since I’m short, narrow in the waist, and big in the butt. That’s been ongoing, but with some angst and effort, I make it work. One of my bigger fashion struggles has been trying to translate my love for overly cute and tacky motifs into something more “adult” and “age-appropriate.” I’m definitely in a constant process of figuring out how to strike this balance. I also think a fair amount about how to make my queerness come across through my feminine fashion sense. It’s important to me that I’m read as queer, and I’ve gotten mixed messages about how effectively I put my gayness out there through my dress. Plus, even though I’m girly, I want to look and feel like a badass, not a delicate flower.

As a queer woman, have you ever felt the need to establish a style that was different from your straight female counterparts?

I’ve always wanted to have my own, unique style in general. And I definitely wear clothing that straight women might wear as well. But I do want to put out a different vibe than straight women, even if I dress in a conventionally straight-girl way sometimes. I’ve only pretty recently discovered the world of radical, femme identity (The Femme Show in Boston, The Queer Femme Porn Tour, The Femme Sharks in Oakland—just a few examples of badass femme queers doing awesome, sexy, activist work), and this paired alongside the already glittery-fabulousness of gay people/culture has totally affirmed my desire to be strong, queer, and super femme-y. And I want this to come across in my style, but I think you kinda have to be “in the know” to see me that way.

Do you believe that your sexual orientation affects the way you choose to dress?

Until college, I never associated my style with my sexual orientation. I’ve always been artsy and quirky, so I thought those attributes were the only things defining my aesthetic. They definitely still do, but I think as I become a part of queer communities, I focus more on how my sexuality can also be expressed in the clothes that I wear. One of my favorite things to do is get ready to go out with a group of queer friends/housemates—trying on different outfits, prancing around in our underwear, helping each other put on glitter, and having nail-painting parties. It sounds a lot like the rituals I used to partake in before middle school dances, and although there are some similarities, it’s so much more fun to be totally flamboyant and gay about the whole thing! There might still be tube tops and lip gloss like back in the day, but throw in some hairy armpits and asymmetrical haircuts and it’s just so much hotter. For me, outfits and aesthetics are basically seamlessly integrated with queer/gay culture even though it’s not the central focal point.

Do you think that the lesbian community has grown to appreciate a different beauty aesthetic from mainstream America?

I definitely think that lesbians and queers have their own beauty aesthetic apart from mainstream America. There’s been some overlap—when short hair on all types of girls became really hip, everybody rocking flannel (thank you, Urban Outfitters), and hipsters having a generally more gender-fluid/ambiguous aesthetic. But lesbian communities generally have more open-ended ideas about beauty, particularly when it comes to women presenting in more butch, powerful, and masculine ways. However, I think that some lesbian communities have difficulty stomaching “extremes” of femininity or of trans identity. I think if you’re too much of a “lady,” you’re deemed not gay enough. And I also know transmen and transwomen who have felt ostracized from lesbian communities because whether you’re male-identified or assigned male at birth, this is somehow threatening to lesbian identity. I think some of this is generational, however, and I don’t mean to say that all lesbians harbor these kinds of feelings by any means. For me, I’ve felt more comfortable in queer spaces, where—from my experience—gender identity and presentation are way more fluid. So yes, I think that lesbian communities have grown to appreciate a different beauty aesthetic than mainstream, heteronormative America, but sometimes at the expense of being truly all-inclusive.

How big of a role do you think clothing plays in our gender expression?

I think clothing plays a huge role in our gender expression. Talking about clothing and style as it relates to our gender is a frequent occurrence amongst my friends. It’s definitely something that a lot of us are focused on and trying to grapple with. We talk a lot about where to shop for clothes that fit well—both physically and in terms of gender identity, as well as the kinds of fucked up experiences we’ve had shopping in the “wrong” department of a store. And a lot of us are coming at our gender-aesthetic from really different angles, so it’s cool to share information and our experiences around navigating this issue. Clothing is a signifier of a lot of different things including gender and sexual orientation.