I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenelle Hutcherson, the 2012 Miss California USA Contestant who pioneered in November 2011 in Miss Long Beach as the first openly gay pageant contestant to wear a tuxedo on stage!
Jenelle is an inspiration to all gender non-conformers, and I hope that her success story will help us continue to expand our image in the mainstream.
Jenelle grew up in Wasco, CA where she learned basic sewing techniques from her mother and middle school Home Ec teacher. A testament to her inborn creativity, she began making her own clothes and tearing clothes apart to resew them for fun. She relocated to Long Beach in 2008 to work a hair artist at The Den Salon,specializing in 3-dimensional color/cut.Justin Rudd invited her to join the 2011 Miss Long Beach pageant because he wanted it to be “fashion foward,” including tattoos, piercings, and creative hair styles. Jenelle saw it as an opportunity to represent the queer community — and all people who stand out — and teach acceptance while showing off her hand-stitched tuxedos and androgynous swimwear. After catching wind of her popular “Vote for Jenelle” campaign, The 2012 Miss California USA pageant recruited her to go further and spread her message to wider audiences.
On your interview with The Filter, you talked about your bathing suit look being inspired by the 30’s. Do you have any other androgynous bathing suit design ideas up your sleeve?
Yes, it was 1930’s men’s old fashioned, but a one-piece with belt, and military detail if you look closely. Lots of great ideas! It’s such an uncomfortable feeling when summer approaches and you want to go have fun at the pool but anxiety strikes when you even think of the idea because you don’t know what to wear! Board shorts and sports bra that causes chaffing?! Boo! And a 2 piece… Never! A one piece women’s swimsuit… Do I even answer that?! Hahaha!
What are your continuing plans with fashion and tailoring?
I am going to start a scholarship in my name for Long Beach youth to inspire them to change the world through whatever career they pursue. I will auction off my hand stitch detailed tuxedos to go to the fund. I also am looking into my own androgynous swimsuit line.
Any more pageants for you?
For now I am hanging up my tux, but we will see when the local Miss Long beach pageant is coming up again this year. Like Dr. King, I too have a dream: that one day a woman in a tuxedo will win a beauty pageant.
Can you tell us about the hand stitching techniques you used on the tux? Could you possibly snap some close-ups for us?
It was just a basic punk stitch; I really wanted to Create a Dark glamour type character type feel by having a rough texture to something so glamorous. Almost Tim Burton inspired.
Black Tux, 2011 Miss Long Beach
For the black tux, I took a basic black men’s suit and added lapels, the tuxedo line down the sides of the pants, made the pants boot cut and tailored length, brought in the coat a bit, and added buttons and punk metal.
Purple tux, 2012 Miss California USA
For the purple tux, I took apart the jacket, hand fit the purple satin to the coat, hand stitched- double with black punk over top, added new inside lining, new buttons, and added purple line down sides of the pants.
What are some of your techniques for making men’s clothes that fit women’s bodies?
I have always just tailored my shirts to fit, but button downs start with the shoulders; if shoulders fit then the rest can be tailored to fit in the belly area and sleeves. If you are a little heavier build like myself, don’t waste your time with the “slim fits.”
(Of course you don’t have to answer this.) How do you work with having a different chest that doesn’t fit the types of clothes you like to wear? Do you bind?
I do not bind; I don’t have that much there to worry about. I just buy sports bras. They have to fit snug, but not too tight — I don’t want marks.
Would you describe your look as androgynous? Do you wear only men’s’ clothes or do you mix and match?
I consider my style androgynous but a little to the masculine side of androgyny - like how Adam Lambert’s look is feminine androgynous. I never buy women’s clothes; they have never fit my body type nor do I feel comfortable in any of their design/cut style. I buy men’s and usually expect to tailor them.
What tips do you have for other women/female bodied people taking clothes to tailors? What are the best ways to describe what you want when working with a tailor who’s not used to queers?
I always relate things to hair. If someone says they have no experience in cutting short hair, why would I still have them cut my hair? It just does not make sense. In the same way that you as a gentlewomen do hair artist research, do the same when researching a tailor. You want to avoid just taking a chance; I want to know what I am paying for. Just call and ask if the tailor/seamstress has experience with fitting suits to a woman’s body type. That way they feel comfortable too.
As Qwear's Founding Editor, Sonny’s work centers around envisioning a future in which the clothing people wear does not dictate their chances of survival. Sonny was awarded 2015 dapperQ of the Year and was the first trans blogger to be sponsored by Topman. In March 2016, Sonny spoke at South by South West's first official queer fashion panel.