Losing Touch: The Queer Fashion Professional?
There's something that's been on my mind for some time, it's a reoccurring thought and often times an annoyance. It has been a large influencing factor in my stepping back from photo shoots and collaborations for the past little while, it's something, I believe, we need to address.
My name is Ashleigh "Bing" Bingham, I'm 26, and a doc student in Midwest, USA. When I was about 21 I started a blog called "I Dream of Dapper" that was meant to help myself and others navigate gender non-conforming fashion. I view myself as constantly being in a state of transition towards a more authentic and genuine sense and presentation of self and hoped to share and support others in similar positions.
Through the creation of this blog, I have been afforded many opportunities that I would never have imagined possible. I've been in magazines, featured on Buzzfeed lists, and even retweeted by Harry Styles' mom (yes that makes the list). For the most part, my participation in the queer fashion world has been commentary, celebrity highlights, and product reviews which generally involve accepting goods from companies and promoting them on social media platforms.
Just recently I was approached by a company to review their product line. This is not a new thing but it did give me pause. After consulting their inventory, I was overwhelmed with familiar sickening feeling in my gut. The company offers no items that cost less than $99. On the one hand, this is a pretty sweet deal. I get $100 of free products and all that is required of me is a shout out on Tumblr or Instagram. The other hand, however, is that I know absolutely no one would or could pay $100 for a single accessory. So what good would my wearing their merchandise do for anyone other than myself and the company in question?
I have it much better of than some, I have a job that allows me to pursue an advanced degree and still afford rent, food, and clothing when needed (and sometimes just when I want) but I am in no way rolling in anything. I have to be careful about my finances and I always have had to but I'm still privileged. It's that very reason that I started the 50 Days of Dapper project on my blog. I wanted to show the world that you could dress as you desire on a small budget and I did so for four consecutive semesters while I was in school (1,2,3,4). The response to my project were jaw-dropping, there were times when I was overwhelmed with requests for help find access to clothes that fit individuals' identities. There is a strong need for reasonably priced goods in the queer fashion community. There is also a need for a place to have conversations about what gender expression looks like and how we can help each other find the right fit.
It's this very thing that causes me a great deal of dissonance when I see queer people in the fashion world gain popularity and status and begin working with high-price retailers. Don't get me wrong, I celebrate their success and their increased visibility due to these collaborations. Our community is in dire need of positive, successful queer visibility especially QPOC. I can't help think, however, about how inaccessible they become in doing so and the void that is created in their absence. There are sacrifices that are made when queer people earn positions of status and influence, we often lose our ability to interact with them as we would with those of similar stature. These are often times necessary sacrifices, ones that must occur in order for the fashion industry and the world to become more inclusive and accepting. The void, however, still remains.
It is here that I position my uncertainty. While others climb to great heights, do we as a community have the necessary supports to aid those in a place of more intimate need? Are queer fashion professional doing enough for those who look to us for guidance, inspiration, and empathy or is our strive for mainstream notoriety (and the kickbacks it provides) distracting us from the good we can do for one another? Is visibility alone enough?
I don't think I'll be accepting that review/promotion request or the accessories they offered to me. I don't think I could do so in good conscience knowing that it would be an act of selfishness and complete disregard for the needs of my community. While you may not find me at the next New York Fashion Week or trending on Twitter, I take my place of influence quite seriously.
Right now there are queer kids and young adults out there whose parents or guardians refuse to purchase the clothes that will make them feel whole. They are going online and seeing beautifully crafted images of how they wish they could be and are limited, stuck, trapped. Some even work part-time jobs to be able to get their hands on their first button-up shirt, skirt, or even chest binder but as we all know, fashion comes at no small price.
Whether it's 18k followers or 180k, I believe it's important that we remember the intersectionality of our community and work to help everyone feel more secure, represented, and connected to us.
This growing situation has strengthened my resolve to help make online queer fashion sources more inclusive. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with Qwear and finding creative solutions to make fashion as accessible as we can. Qwear has been great about featuring people who reject the fashion industry, who use inventiveness in their outfit creations, and in providing great budget shopping tips. Stay tuned for a novice guide to tailoring clearance pants in the future!