Style Profile: Ellie Medhurst, Reclaiming Pink
Meet Ellie Medhurst, a lesbian dress history graduate from Brighton, England who is turning the gender binary on its head. Ellie wears pink every day, along with other elements deemed feminine such as dresses, large bows, and flowers. She loves the brightness of pink and the positivity it adds to her everyday life — but that’s not the only reason she wears it. She also aims to reclaim pink and femininity by exposing the oppressive nature of the gender binary.
On her youtube channel, Ellie explores the social politics of dress. She explains that in Western culture, femininity is seen as weak, submissive, and delicate. “I feel the exaggeration of femininity is a threat to that idea of weakness,” she notes in her “The Politics of Pink Fashion” video.
Ellie’s dress is highly influenced by Japanese subcultures like Kawaii and Decora. Kawaii, which means lovable, cute, or adorable, takes stereotypes from western ideals about gender and turns them on their head — think Hello Kitty, Lolita fashion, and Pikachu. Decora is a subset of Kawaii characterized by wearing many decorations, often giving a childlike appearance. This notion of cuteness is a defining aspect of Japanese culture and “encompasses everything that is acceptable and desirable in Japan,” as stated by sociolist Nobuyoshi Kurita (栗田経惟).
In the video, Ellie reads a quote from Japanese Fashion Cultures by Masafumi Monden:
Ellie notes that by being in your face these styles are not delicate but also not on the masculine side of the binary. They break down the walls between masculine and feminine ideals. Ellie hopes for a brighter future in which people don’t have to appeal to this oppressive system. “The binaries between male and female are not real. They are socially constructed. To confine people to one thing or the other is not okay. It’s not how things should be and it’s not how people have to live their lives.”
Ellie has presented her paper "Walking Lesbian Flags: the re-appropriation of pink within queer femininities." at several conferences. She is also on the team behind the Queer Looks display currently on show at Brighton Museum, with her outfit among others donated to the museum as a way to showcase LGBTQ history and style. Get your daily dose of pink on her Instagram and learn more about her work on her Youtube.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in Brighton in the UK and still live here — it's known as the gay capital of the UK and is a wonderful, accepting place to be.
How do you think your friends would define your style?
The main explanation would probably just be "pink," but with a heavy amount of gay signaling thrown in. You can see that I like to add rainbows to my looks, and I have a lot of pins and badges saying things like "gay icon." I also wear a pink denim jacket with the word “DYKE” sewn onto the back a lot; I think that words in clothing are a really interesting way that people can convey their identity and their queerness in a very explicit form, which is something I'm thinking about researching on my Masters degree next year.
What's your favorite item in your wardrobe?
I have a lot of clothes and they all mean different things to me. One of the most precious items currently in my wardrobe is a pink Vivienne Westwood top with a red foil heart on the front that my girlfriend left with me a few months ago. We're long distance at the moment and it makes me feel close to her when I wear it, as well as reminding me of our shared love of clothes.
What's your biggest style challenge?
I don't really think of style as a challenge. Sometimes it's
frustrating to put together an outfit and feeling like something's missing (who's got the budget, right?) but I've collected enough clothes over the years that I can normally figure something out. I wear pink every day, sometimes mixed with other colors, and that makes matching clothes a lot easier. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the color pink in the dress of queer people and I like to live that in my style every day.
Which literary figures do you most admire?
My favorite book is Sarah Waters''Tipping the Velvet,' and I suppose the dress of the working class lesbians in it is very empowering. I'm also very fond of the Havemercy book series by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett which is fantasy/steampunk, and when I first got into it I tried out steampunk style for a little bit!
Who's your style icon?
My style icon isn't any one person, but rather a collection of people. I like to hang about on social media, particularly Instagram, and see what other people are doing with fashion. Being able to see incredible outfits that other people all around the world are wearing is the biggest source of inspiration to me.