14 Femmes of Color Whose Style We Adore
Today we are proud to highlight some members of our community who are often written out of the queer narrative. We are putting the spotlight on femmes of color whose styles embody femmeness in its many dimensions.
One of the many contributions poet and activist Alok Vaid-Menon has made to the queer community is to demonstrate that feminity does not exist inside a box. They say, "Femininity doesn't have to be attached to womanhood to be legitimate. Femininity doesn't have to be attached to whiteness to be legitimate."
Femme spans many styles. Artist and writer Sarah Rose eloquently explains, "Femme is not linear — it is simultaneously beautiful and handsome; delicate and virile. It's lace and pinstripes, chainmail and ruffles, red lipstick and boxing gloves."
Bryan Chen, who identifies as a sad queer nonbinary Taiwanese femme merboy, also sees Femme as a form of resistance: "Femme is not just an aesthetic. It is a political identity that is inherently anti-patriarchal. To be clear, femme existence is a direct resistance to patriarchy, and specifically, queer femme of color existence is a direct resistance to white cisheteropatriarchy. Femme identity takes everything that patriarchy says is useless and worthless and flips it. Femme is loud. Femme is dirty. Femme is self-loving and self-caring. Femme is unafraid to fuck (with) the system and get shit done."
So, in the spirit of resistance and uplifting voices, here are some femmes of color we adore who were generous enough to share some thoughts with us on style and identity. We are excited to feature people you know as well as introduce new faces.
1. Alok Vaid-Menon
"When I was younger I used to believe in gender. I would buy into the myth that it was natural and not absurd that stores are divided into two sections: "Men's" and "Women's." Now gender isn't a criterion for what I'm wearing or doing. I just put on what makes me happy."
"Femininity doesn't have to be attached to womanhood to be legitimate. Femininity doesn't have to be attached to whiteness to be legitimate."
Alok Vaid-Menon is a trans femme south asian writer, performance artist, and community organizer based in NYC. For the past seven years they have organized in solidarity with racial, economic, and gender justice movements across the world. Their creative and political work grapples with questions of power, trauma, diaspora, race, and desire. Alok currently works with The Audre Lorde Project and is on tour with DarkMatter, a trans South Asian art collaboration with Janani Balasubramanian.
2. Mwende "FreeQuency" Katwiwa
"There is so much strength in femininity and in those who openly embrace it in a cis hetero white supremacist patriarchal world, especially as Black femmes and femmes of color. The way our bodies and identities have been commodified, sexualized and erased have made it so that embracing femininity and redefining it's expression on our own terms seperate from but at times expanding upon/remixing upper / middle class white femmes dominating representation a powerful personal and political act. "
Born in Kenya, Mwende "FreeQuency" Katwiwa is a 24 year old Black, Immigrant, Queer, Womyn poet based in New Orleans, LA where she is the 2015 Grand Slam Champion. Ranked 3rd at the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam, FreeQuency is also an Anti-Racist and Reproductive Justice organizer who has spent most of her life living and writing at the intersection of arts, service, education and activism. She works at Women With A Vision, is an AfroFashion and culture blogger with Noirlinians, cochair of BYP100 - NOLA, a poet on Slam New Orleans (Team S.N.O.) and an essayist whose work has appeared on various platforms. Website: www.FreeQuencySpeaks.com.
Photos by Danielle C Miles (top and bottom left), and Patrick Melon (bottom right)
3. Aja Aguirre
"My personal style tends to run the gamut, but it's always colorful and unapologetically feminine. I am a sucker for the nipped-in waists and full skirts of bygone eras, classic and ladylike silhouettes, or the coquettish wink of a prim blouse paired with a pencil skirt or the perfect pair of black cigarette pants or skinny jeans. Those pieces, vintage and modern-day versions, dominate my closet, but they're mixed in with a fair amount of cheeky prints, dreamy florals, a rainbow of creams and nudes, and touches of equestrian chic."
"It's hard to believe there was ever a time that I was unaware of femme as an identity, let alone my identity. Once I was, it was like finding out I'd had the "mute" button on my whole life. I felt free, and completely unencumbered by all of society's asinine, crazy-making rules for women. That liberation, and the camaraderie that comes from it, is by far the best thing about being femme. We're a tenacious, self-assertive, often intimidating bunch, but also the warmest, most welcoming babes."
Aja Aguirre writes about beauty, fashion and style at Autostraddle, an independently owned online magazine for women who are lesbian, bisexual, or "otherwise inclined." In 2008, she began an award-nominated style blog, Fit For a Femme, as a way to create femme visibility in the world of queer style and fashion. Aja has been featured in Curve Magazine, The Huffington Post and Huffington Post Live, dapperQ and Qwear, has worked as a personal stylist in Boston, organized and presented at the Femme Conference and A-Camp in California, and most recently provided visuals for VERGE, the largest LGBTQ runway show during September 2015 New York Fashion Week.
4. Sarah Rose
"Growing up in a desi household during the 80s, bold and bright hues were welcome and highly encouraged. My mother enjoyed dressing me in loud prints and sparkles, and ensured my outfits for class photos were consistently "top-notch". I think I discovered how much of an impact style/fashion had in grade school, for this very reason. I was the "shy little Indian girl" (ahem, Pakistani), who would have been a social reject if it weren't for my keen fashion sense (thanks, mama). My peers would approach me to compliment me on my shirts/dresses/accessories and henceforth a friendship was born. This still happens to this very day."
"In junior high, Kurt Cobain, Gwen Stefani, and Trent Reznor were deities of the highest order. You'd find me in loose-fitting pants and babydolls or flannels and fishnets. This is also when I began to collect printed/eccentric legwear (I have an entire dresser full of them now).
"I discovered the true punk and gothic subcultures in my later teens, and in high school I never wore pants~ Instead (much to my parents' dismay), I opted for dark velvet skirts, black satin tops, layers of mesh and lace, exaggerated eyeliner, and dog collars. It's so interesting to think back on that time in my life. Many of my fellow students insisted on forcing me into a box, calling me "witch" and the like (aside: funny story actually, once on the way in to the building a group of jocks were heckling, so I pointed at their car and coincidentally their alarm went off-- a magical serendipitous moment a la the Craft). At one point, one of my besties dared me to dress like a "prep" for two weeks, just to see what would happen, and somehow in a matter of days I was in with the "in-crowd"... wtf? It felt so good to return to my normal self after that (haha, suckers).
"In college, my love affair with bright colors was rekindled, and with time my wardrobe evolved to what it is now: lots and lots of black, an array of gaudy animal prints and skulls, and splashes of deep reds, and blinding neons."
Sarah Rose is a multi-dimensional artist currently working on a sci-fi novel, which she hopes to release for public consumption in the next year (but don't hold her to that!) See her random non-fiction musings via Tumblr and Meraki. Follow on: Twitter/Insta/Vine: @anarchistar
Photo credits: Top, C.B. / Bottom left: Time Obscured Photography / Bottom right: C.B.
5. Sharmela Barr-Vaughn (Curvymodelmela)
"Years ago I wouldn't have dare put on anything with a pattern or stripes in it. Now I'm more open to those things. I'm no longer just dressing for me, I'm a plus size advocate. Women come to me about fashion advice. So I'm learning to be more open with clothing.
I would love the world to know that Femmes come in every shape & size. Don't let the media make you think that you have to be a Size 2 to be beautiful! Embrace your sexy regardless of your size."
Sharmela Barr-Vaughn, known as Curvymodelmela, is a 26-year-old plus size model from Cincinnati, Ohio, who was recently the center page layout of Bold Favor Magazine in their plus size fashion January edition. She works with designers in Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, California, Kentucky, and Ohio. She's walked in 8 fashion shows 'Glamour Coated Melons,' a designer who specializes in bras and bowties. She recently started working with T.Nicole Clothing & Cosmetic's from Miami Florida as well as with 'Thick-A-lucious' from Atlanta, Georgia, and GloGirl Cosmetics from Oakland California. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Curvymodelmela.
6. Bryan Chen
"I often think of my style (and gender) as softcore K-pop idol, something of a clusterfuck of colors, patterns, textures, and whatever else I can find in my closet. Chaos and cuteness are equally important to my aesthetic and my existence. Also, I identify as a sad, nonbinary, femme merboy, which is reflected in my general color scheme of sea tones and a general demeanor of sadness."
"I wear a lot of crop tops (read: cut t-shirts) and whatever lace or mesh I can find to show off my body because I may not think my body is beautiful, but I’m definitely not going to cover up to protect the fragility of whiteness. I wear brightly colored lipstick and draw things on my face with eyeliner since trying to make my face perfectly symmetrical is just too much work and effort for an extremely arbitrary cause.
"My conception of gender used to be super binary, limited to U.S. society’s understandings of “man” and “woman.” So I used to do what I thought dressing like a boy meant, and then try to mess with it. But that just ended up being me having a mullet and applying a single shadow across my eyelids, thinking that I looked super fly (I didn’t). After being highly dissatisfied with both my aesthetic and my gender, I found femme and it made so much sense. "
Bryan Chen is a sad queer nonbinary Taiwanese femme merboy swimming against the mainstream. They enjoy manatees, radical politics, and writing excessively long-winded OKCupid profiles.
7. Anita Dolce Vita
Qwear: "Describe your style."
Anita: "Bette Porter Power Femme at work. Aspiring (aspiring key word) Style Enthusiast (blog) at play."
"I wear what I wear not for the attention and affections of men, which flies in the face of what hetero-normative society believes about femininity, but also challenges what some queers and feminists believe to be true about femininity."
Anita Dolce Vita, owner and editor-in-chief of dapperQ is a Clinical Research Nurse by day, and a fashion and culture blogger by night. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Huffington Post Live, Vice, Nylon, The Daily Beast, Canada's Globe & Mail, Autostraddle, AfterEllen, Qwear, San Francisco Weekly, Curve, nD Diva. She was the mastermind behind and Executive Producer of dapperQ's historic (un)Heeled event at Brooklyn Museum, one of the world's largest queer fashion events.
Photo credits: Top: LuzMarina Serrano, Bottom: S.F.
8. Sharmin Hossain
"I'm a thick Bangladeshi hard femme, who loves colors, stones, cotton and statement jewelry. Lots of eyeliner. Gold eyeshadow. Big rings from Tibet and Nepal. Oversized shawls and pashminas from Bangladesh and Pakistan. I rock witchy clothes - loose tops, black skinny jeans, printed wear I've collected from Bangladesh, Istanbul, Pakistan, Morocco and Mexico."
"I used to wear hijab for fourteen years. I used to have dozens of beautiful scarves in every single color and pattern imaginable, and I collected drapes, maxi dresses and over the top outfits to match my hijab. I always loved rocking shawls and deep hues of bright material, but it changed after I took off my hijab, and I was able to think of new ways my hair related to my outfit. I spend less time obsessing over my outfits now because I am more comfortable in my body. I wear a lot more gold eye shadow and black eye liner now, and spend less time doing my makeup. I dance more now. It's a ritualistic space for me. I wear bright purple and pink lipstick on the dance floor."
Sharmin Hossain is a Jackson Heights, Queens bred Bangladeshi hard femme henna tattoo artist. She is the 2015 Open Society Youth Exchange fellow cultivating the Bangladeshi Historical Memory Project, a liberatory project documenting the extensive history and literature of Bangladeshi people. She helped coordinate the the Dalit Women’s Self Respect Tour, a fierce campaign led by a collective of Dalit activists calling for an end to caste apartheid. A graduate from CUNY Hunter College, Sharmin is also on the Jackson Heights CopWatch team, working to challenge police brutality and institutional violence. You can follow her on Twitter: @sharminultraa // Instagram: @sharminultra
9. Lacey Veal
Qwear: "Can you offer a little fashion advice for aspiring Qwears out there?"
"Take a risk! After making my and my wife's wedding dresses [pictured below], I realized I have some incredible abilities (patience, concentration, follow-through). Allow the creative ideas you have to take shape."
10. Becca Santos
"Growing up I was forced in the direction of being hyper feminine, so I rebelled and dressed more tomboyish (both because I felt like it and because I didn't want to please my mom- sorry mom). It wasn't until high school that I started to use fashion as a way to express myself. I think I was afraid to present very feminine as a teenager and early in college. I believed I wouldn't be taken seriously because of how femininity is viewed in society. I wouldn't wear skirts or dresses, and I "hated" pink. Now, pink is one of my favorite colors and I absolutely adore dresses and would have a whole closet dedicated to only skirts and dresses if I could."
Becca Santos, femme fashion blogger at FEMMEVIOLET is living a twenty-something post-grad life in Boston.
Photography by Larissa Pienkowski (top) and Cassandra Rowe (bottom)
11. Laura Luna
"Growing up poor and shopping mostly at thrift stores because we had to makes you kind of have to be creative with your style. I did have a few 'fancy' dresses that my mom would have made for me by the neighborhood seamstress, but other than that, I would say my style growing up would be labeled as eclectic. As far as my current style, thanks to the body positive movement and the constant inspiration of images of stylish fat folks on the Internet on sites like tumblr, Instagram and in my daily life, I would say that my current style is best described as freedom. I feel the freedom to dress and adorn my body in whatever way I see fit. Nothing is out of bounds if it makes me feel good about myself."
Laura Luna P. is a queer, fat, Xicana, femme bruja and Chola Bon Vivant living and loving in Los Angeles, CA. Laura Luna has been curating safe (r) spaces for QTPOC folks in LA and online with her work for over a decade. Currently, her heart work is centered on the LA Femmes of Color Collective, which she co-founded and for which she currently is of service as a Core Group member. You can find Laura Luna online usually uplifting femmes of color by using the hashtag #femmesofcolorvisibility, praising the Holy Trinity (Beyonce, Rihanna & Nicki), or sharing her latest food or cocktail adventures at @laura_luna.
12. Tamára Jordan
"I was born in the mid 80's and grow up in the 90's, plus I'm a bit of a chameleon... So I had a "Clueless" phase, grunge, few others that are completely unmemorable to me, then suuuuuuuuper tomboy--all guy clothes all the time all and super baggy--, my "I just came out and I kind of want to hide away" stage. Now I'm in my "I've been through to much to care what you think" stage, which I've been in for a few years now and I think it suits me best lol. Kind of punk, sexy, tomboy, with vintage accents."
13. Tina P.
Qwear: "How has your style evolved?"
I would draw self portraits adorned in GAP and Nike (even when I didn’t wear such brands).
I asked my father to drive me to the city where we could purchase clothes and sneakers that I knew were not manufactured by children in sweatshops.
Age 26 - today
I sport clothes and shoes of all kinds; sometimes purposely ignoring its origin and questioning what exactly my role is in clothing justice.
Qwear: "Can you offer a little fashion advice for aspiring Qwears out there?"
"I feel humbled to be given the opportunity to give advice on nearly anything. I can only pray for the peace of my community. I pray that your expression is yours and you are free."
Tina P. is a Doula and aspiring midwife dedicated to full spectrum, reproductive health services. Alongside her work in the birth justice movement, Tina advocates for survivors of partner abuse, specifically in LGBQ/T, polyamorous, and SM communities. She is sensitive, practices Indian Classical dance, and longs to travel the world as a birth anthropologist. Most of all, she is her father’s daughter. Website: www.omgrowndoula.weebly.com
Top photo and bow tie by QUUEENN
14. Alli Simon
"I played sports growing up and I was also a little bit more into the bigger fitting clothes because at that time it was the trend and I also had body issue that made me not feel comfortable showing my curves. Once I began to love myself deeply, inside and out, I felt more comfortable to show more. I still feel that I love flowy-type materials but now it’s less about not wanting to show my body and more about letting my body feel free and less restricted by clothing. Feeling each curve and crevice in its natural state feels so good to me! And comfort…. I love comfort, stylish and effortless. I like to be present and if I am pulling and tugging and have to constantly think about my clothes too much, it makes it hard for me to be present with the people and places that I really want to connect with, therefore I find things that still look good and also feel good."
Alli Simon is a Black, curvy, queer, femme yogi from South Los Angeles. Alli is committed to bringing access to traveling, fresh foods and alternative holistic healing practices to her systemically under-resourced community of South LA. Alli's heart work is helping folks realize their own freedom through life visioning, manifestation and heart-based yoga & mindfulness meditation practices. website: www.allisimon.com instagram: omgirlalli
Credits: Thanks to LuzMarina Serrano for assistance with this piece.