8.29.2018

Stockholm's Style Feels Far Too Personal

Not like an invasion of privacy, but more like we're already best friends.



Approximately 18 months ago, I decided that I would move to anywhere in Scandinavia for at least a semester. My deep, insightful reason was that it just felt right, but in actuality, it was because I just finished watching the first three seasons of SKAM in only four days during my winter break freshman year. Norway seemed so cool! So me! I had never gotten a glimpse of what Scandinavian culture was like until the show—all I assumed was that everyone was blonde and that it was freezing year-round (both myths, I later discovered). After watching the Norwegian show three more times in the same year, I was not only infatuated with the idea of living there, but married to it. I began following far too many Scandinavian style icons on Instagram, becoming familiar with Scandinavian culture and lingo, and then eventually deciding to study gender and sexuality studies in Stockholm for a semester.

And guess what?

That semester is now!

Yes, I'm currently in Stockholm for the next four months if you were unaware and/or not paying attention to my recent IG posts. I stepped into this fascinating city about two weeks ago, and although I only know how to say about five words in Swedish, I feel like I've finally come home. My summer move to NYC last year doesn't even come close. The independent, reserved, and non-hierarchal nature of Swedes feels too familiar to my own personality, and the idea that fika, aka taking a break from your busy day with coffee, a bun (cardamom is my favorite, btw), and friends is a highly practiced event here makes me never want to return to the states where long work days and minimal breaks are very much a thing. And then I think of the evergrowing queer scene here, as well as its feminist policies and laws, and I feel like I should extend my stay to far longer than a few months. All I know is that returning home come December will be a hell of a lot harder than the depressing few days after a week-long vacation in Spain or France, as I probably will become that person who comes out of her abroad experience as a "changed person." 

But if I feel like my best and truest self here, am I actually changing or just shifting to who I'm meant to be?

Existential soul-searching aside, I also mean this in terms of style. As I say time and time again, style and identity are deeply enmeshed, so it would make all the sense that both my style and identity fit perfectly into the complex puzzle of islands that is Stockholm. After living here for a short two weeks, I've observed that Swedes agree with the notion that style and identity are inseparable. Answering the question of which came first, style or identity, is near impossible, as each consequently influences each other on a day-to-day basis. It feels that no one attempts to mask their true selves with what they put on their body; instead, it simply highlights who they are, or at least think of themselves to be. This theory of mine brings in a whole lot of style diversity, a lack of overplayed trends, and, most importantly, some really cool outfits. Even just during my commute from my apartment to class, I can easily make a long list of all the looks that both emphasize this style-identity dynamic but also that I could bring to my own style (personal style is destined to be influenced by others, if you forgot). Then I realized what exactly makes Stockholm's style so good, so personal, and so, so familiar—people simply dress to embody what they believe their best selves to be. That's the exact mindset I bring to my sartorial decisions, so maybe I really am Swedish at heart. Should I just call my family now and say I'm never coming home?

Dress and shorts are vintage. Shoes by Madewell.

While I already see myself dressing like a true Stockholmer when in the states, being here has brought this tendency out even more, where there are only two criteria I need to follow: a) comfort and b) unconventionality. It may seem strange to put these two antonyms together, but let me explain—comfort simply means to wear what I feel best in, while to be unconventional means to wear something unexpected from the norm. As I already stray towards weirder styles, these two requirements don't feel too difficult to follow. Another non-requirement, but something that Swedes definitely lean towards, is to wear mostly thrifted pieces, which is something I already do on the daily. Although I am in the home of H&M, both large-scale and boutique-style vintage stores greatly outnumber fast fashion. A wonderful, wonderful discovery, yet a curse to my bank account (which, by the way, is already dwindling, as Stockholm is one of the most expensive cities in Europe). 

So! To make my Stockholm style dreams come true, I did the unexpected, but also the expected for what I would typically wear—a vintage red '90s babydoll dress partially tucked into some denim Bermudas with a pair of white loafers. Summer is the peak time for Swedes to dress, as the long, warm days bring out the best in its residents. Color! Really cool shoes! Shorts cut at unexpected lengths! As temps are already dropping and short days will become a reality very soon, the time to dress is now. They'll spend all of their waking hours outdoors, even if it's raining, just to get the last bits of sun. So why not show off? It's never to show that they think they're better than others (they're non-hierarchical, remember?); rather, it's to show that they put effort into the sartorial side of their lives. Creatures of style, I suppose? And, once again, I already feel like everything I've been doing my entire life works too well with how the Swedes do it. This sense of familiarity makes this big move less frightening than it should be. Hopefully I'll be able to survive the cold and 3pm sunsets come December.



8.14.2018

My Gay Italian Summer Dream Is Still Calling Me by My Name

More than six months later.



I feel like I've run into something painfully sharp. A knife? Have I been stabbed?

Oh? It's just the end of summer, you say? I'd call that just a bit more painful than being stabbed. Dramatic, yes, but also entirely honest. The end of summer feels like all of my joy and success is instantly stripped from my life and I only have the month of August to blame. I dream of this season for nine months a year; how is it already over?!

But then I remember—with summer ending also comes my ~*~big move~*~ to Stockholm. Yeah, that's happening today, and I'll be residing in a beautiful European city for the next FOUR MONTHS! The sharp knife turns into a dull one, maybe even just the corner of my notebook that leaves a tiny papercut. Papercuts suck for about five minutes, but they heal so quickly that I'll forget I even had one in two hours. Kind of like the end of this summer—I'll dearly miss the blistering sun and lazy, sweaty days for only some time, but then my transition to greater things acts like a band-aid to that temporary pain. I guess we should all move to trendy European cities post-summer break to relieve our sadness. 

But still, my bittersweetness lingers on the bitter part, as I have to say goodbye to breezy outfits and sunburns and getting freckles in spots that wouldn't normally get them unless they're exposed to sunlight for at least five hours. Also barely-there dresses, ice cream, and dancing to '80s pop (outdoors, obviously). Basically this entire list, or alternatively the narrative of Call Me By Your Name, the book and movie you thought I would stop talking about five months ago. Surprise! I actually still think about it at least three times a week since I saw it last December. My strange Timothée Chalamet phase is somewhat over (I, being a lesbian, was very confused with this infatuation), but my infatuation with this narrative isn't, and now that I was able to bring this into an actual, real-life summer, it feels all the more significant.

No, I didn't spend my summer in Italy and I definitely didn't fall in love. BUT! I did become more confident in my queer identity (thanks to Pride and my newfound interest in writing on queer topics), spent hours by a pool reading (and eating peaches, how on brand!), took a bus for quick weekend trips not once but three times, and had this strange sense of adventure that Elio and Oliver definitely had but I used to lack. Sounds like a gay Italian summer dream, if you ask me, minus the Italy part. 

But my style! That's what I've been looking forward to all these months—to bring that sense of effortless summer that each character perfects in the film to my clothing. I want to wear button-ups with only one button buttoned, damnit! Maybe a floral dress and easy shoes, maybe some Bermuda shorts. I want to show as much skin as possible! Go topless on a beach! Wear as much stripes as possible, and master the art of summer layering. I want shoes to be optional, and I definitely want shirts to be unnecessary. I sometimes even scroll through screencaps from the film while shopping, which can go so far (too far?) to imitation.


The shirt I'm wearing above was not only on my body at least once a week since I bought it in June, but it also directly imitates my favorite shirt that Elio wears (again and again) in the film:


The best part? It's vintage, so it probably is from the '80s. How authentic! But the worst part is that imitation is not personal style. How can I dig deeper?

Shorts are vintage and cut by me (find similar ones here). Top is from Urban Outfitters. Mules are by & Other Stories

Shorts are probably the staple of this film, do I just wear shorts more often? Trade in my mini dresses for shorts and billowy tops? Feels too easy, and too overdone—I own a single pair of denim cutoffs that I cut way too short and a single breezy top that I throw on whenever I'm too lazy to think about my outfit. I guess that means I have to raid some thrift shops until I find a pair that can actually act as acceptable pants, maybe swap the loose top for some loose shorts, even? 

I stumbled upon these hot pink and linen AND knee-length shorts while thrifting in Brooklyn when I was there for NYC Pride. I instantly purchased them after successfully trying them on as they were a) only $3 b) would be perfected with a quick DIY hemming and c) the perfect finish to my Pride outfit that I would wear two days later. A month after Pride, I saw these hidden in my closet and decided that they would transcend their single purpose for Pride and become the way to make all my gay Italian summer dreams come true. Paired with a tan tube top and my go-to mules (that I desperately need to replace), I felt inspired by the film but not imitating. I felt my personal style shine through the mix of feminine pink and masculine, well, Bermuda shorts, of all things. But most importantly, the essence from Call Me by Your Name that I loved so dearly is very much present. 


After taking this fashion risk I would have never attempted until now, even after reading countless Man Repeller articles on how groundbreaking the Bermuda short is, I felt that I could only wear shorts of this length for the rest of my life. CMBYN really knew what they were doing! I promptly bought some denim ones and cut just a few inches off:

Photo from my Instagram

and have officially decided that I would like to wear these throughout the fall and even winter, even though that will be fully impossible in the freezing winds of Sweden.

So, I guess my breakup with a dreamy, breezy summer is bound to happen soon. But, as always, one can always dream.

7.26.2018

Janelle Monáe Showed Me What a Queer Space Should Truly Look Like

Her music extends far past hard-hitting vocals and catchy singles.


Photo from her Instagram, @janellemonae.

The first time I was introduced to Janelle Monáe was at a different time than most—no, it wasn't with "Tightrope" that practically soundtracked every commercial in 2011 or even with the release of Dirty Computer this year that changed everything I once knew about pop music. It was in 2009, the year that my dance teacher decided to only use songs from Monáe's first album for the competition jazz group dances for each company at the studio. I vividly remember dancing to "Violet Stars Happy Hunting!" and the older company dancing to "Many Moons"—two songs that portray Monáe's motif of space and Afrofuturism that we continue to see throughout the rest of her work. As a mere ten-year-old, I only thought this tune was catchy, a bit strange, but also fun to dance to. Now, ten years later, I view Janelle as the artist that not only made me hesitantly crawl out of my indie shell and actually enjoy pop music, but also as someone I look up to as a musical genius and a queer icon. Thanks, Ms. Audrey, for sprouting my obsession!

Although I didn't consciously decide to make note of her again until I first heard her single "PYNK" earlier this year, she has continued to stay at the back of my mind throughout my life. I saw her perform at the first Women's March on Washington with the mothers of Black men who lost their lives due to police brutality which brought me to tears. She was also referenced in my American music and culture class last fall in a piece on Afrofuturism in Black musicians, where I finally understood her political significance after all these years. My younger self knew she was onto something, but when I watched the entirety of her emotion picture Dirty Computer and sobbed for 48 minutes and 37 seconds, I finally realized that maybe, just maybe, pop music could mean a lot more than making music that's easily-digestible (a reason I always avoided it). The minute I finished the film, I instantly bought tickets to see her perform this summer, knowing that if those 48 minutes affected me that deeply, seeing a live, two-hour set would change me for the better. Spoiler alert! It did. No surprise there.



If you're unaware of Dirty Computer (both the album and the film), a) do you live under a rock? and b) if you have 48 free minutes to spare, click play right now.

Did you watch it? Good. If you didn't, at least watch the below first, which is only a little over four minutes.



"PYNK" is just a glimpse into the wonderful beauty that is Dirty Computer, but it is a fantastic depiction of her first time openly discussing her sexuality through her music, where she used to only stick to themes of race and class. Now, there's all three! 

Do you now understand why I, as a certified Indie Girl who has never stepped foot into a concert of a pop musician, although I've seen well over 150 shows in my lifetime, had to go to her concert in D.C. last week?

Photo from Time Out, by Colette Aboussouan.

As Monáe drastically helped me be true to my gay self with her latest album,  I was expecting to see a large queer audience, especially filled with queer minorities who are not always visible in mainstream queer spaces (like queer Black women). My expectations were not only met, but heightened—the crowd was filled with rainbow flags and all genders and queer couples galore. It resembled the two Prides I attended this year, but better. Yes, better. Whereas Pride mostly feels like a party for able-bodied and white queer people, her show was composed of a majority people of color, of all gender presentations, of all identities. It felt transcendent to be a part of that, as every other show I attend is typically filled with straight white men, or, to make things a bit better with my new fascination with indie music performed by queer women, queer white women. Obviously, diversity is definitely not a key feature of the shows I'm used to seeing.

Monáe didn't only make diversity a key feature, but she made inclusivity and the concept of queer spaces a requirement for her show without having to say a single word. Her recent pride about being a pansexual Black women, or, as she calls it, a "free-ass motherfucker," not only shined through her performance of both her new songs off of Dirty Computer and her older classics, but also through what she spoke to her open audience who all felt a sense of communal love for those two hours. She would take time between her songs to show us her membership in the queer community as well as her openness to all identities by telling us "because no matter who you love, or how you love, you are welcome here tonight." I've heard mantras like this at other shows, where Thom Yorke of Radiohead would take ten seconds to briefly mention political issues in the United States, but usually, these shows are dedicated to the music, nothing more. Monáe brought this mantra to every song, to every move she made, to every time she made a heart symbol with her hands, showing us the radical love she has for herself and for her fans. It transcended past the performativity that some musicians with large fanbases feel obliged to show, as every song she performed held themes of not only this radical self-love, but also of anger and political injustice.

Her performance of "PYNK" showcased the beauty of womanhood but also of women loving other women; "I Like That" told us that yes, we can like that, no matter what gender, race, or class; "Don't Judge Me" transitioned Monáe's dancey bops to a personal and emotional one, where she fears her identity as a Black queer woman won't be accepted by people close and distant to her. She doesn't only want to create a queer space for herself that also allows visibility for all, but she yearns to make note of the injustices that continue to happen to a minority like herself, both personal and systematic. "We are all dirty computers," she repeats over and over again before she closes with "So Afraid" and "Americans," stating that although the gay people, the Black people, the trans people, the disabled people, or the people that are all of the above have a free space to exist in that music venue that night, they are still seen as a flaw to society. Perhaps a miscoding that can't function properly according to the hate crimes and trans women of color that are murdered daily and the Black lives that end due to police brutality. While some queer spaces only focus on loving one another unconditionally, she made sure to intersect these issues. Pride shouldn't be pretty and easily-digestible; it should openly discuss issues that continue to disproportionately affect all of us—the "dirty computers."

Photo from her Instagram, @janellemonae

In the moment that Monáe was belting the lyrics to "So Afraid" while various clips from the Black Lives Matter movement were displayed on the screens behind her, my previous joy from the show turned to tears. Not tears for myself, but tears for the thousands of Black and queer bodies next to me who face the oppression of being Black, of being queer, and of being Black and queer. I cried because she knew exactly how to navigate this struggle through her own experiences and through her art; I cried because I had the privilege of sharing these intense emotions with so many other queer individuals in which Janelle gave us the platform to do exactly that. And the realization hit me—music is so much more than music; pop music can be and should be more than a top 40s hit. But most of all, live music can work magic and form spaces that exude inclusivity and truly allow anyone to be their most authentic selves with only a few lyrics. And Janelle Monáe did exactly that (and more!). Dirty Computer was able to speak for the lives of queer individuals on our complex experiences in a singular album and, as she calls it, her "emotion picture," and her performance just put this work into a live experience we could share with others who also hold the same identities and feelings. And the best part? She did it so effortlessly, like this is what her entire career as a musician has been leading up to—a dive into her personal life. The personal is political, yes, but sometimes the personal is emotional, the personal is queer, the personal is Black, the personal is about being a woman in the age of Trump. The personal is complicated and messy. And because of this, queer spaces should be complicated. Monáe somehow made hers both seamless but, at the same time, extremely complex. And apart from all of this theory talk, her performance did make for a damn good time.

Listen to Dirty Computer and the rest of Monáe's work here.


7.19.2018

My Entire Summer Wardrobe is Filled with Pink

The most shocking sartorial decision I've made, well, ever.




My entire life, I've played with the idea of femininity—through my actions, through my identity, and, most prominently, through my style choices. Probably every 20-something woman would say the same thing; in a world where femininity is both praised and demonized, questioning how much is too much, or if none at all is acceptable, feels like a staple of every woman's coming of age story. But when that woman (like myself!) is also questioning her sexuality, or if she even fits into the ideals of womanhood at all and wishes to experiment with different types of gender expressions, the concept of "what it means to be a woman" is very, very confusing. As carrying a deviant sexuality or gender already goes against all notions of what that truly means, at least based on the patriarchy's definition, my adolescent self who had no clue she would be labelling herself as queer ten years later used her femininity to overcompensate with what she was subconsciously yet also deathly afraid of.

We're talking long, blonde hair, dresses practically every day, and the liking of only so-called "girly" things—Cinderella was my favorite Disney princess, and I spent the entirety of my young, adolescent, and teenage life dancing ballet. I also only pretended to like camping and outdoorsy things when my family would force me on those trips, and sports still, to this day, only disgust me, unless you want to call competitive dance a sport or if you invite me to watch Olympic figure skating (which I will transform into a full-on fangirl for the latter, btw). I took these feminine tendencies into high school, too, where I became so feminine that I wore a bright pink tutu when I was Sugar Plum my senior year and decided to entirely swear off of pants when I turned 15 because they didn't fit with my girly style.

(We could also go into my darker past, where I forced myself to like unattainable boys from age 12 to 18 and called an attraction to a girl as simply a "friend crush," but I digress.)

Then, upon understanding my queerness, I suddenly hated everything feminine. I decided to stop dancing, I didn't wear a dress for six months straight, and I changed my 20-minute makeup routine into an under-five-minute one. I omitted every piece of color from my wardrobe, because apparently color is a so-called "feminine" attribute of clothing, and instead stuck to neutrals and muted undertones, especially come the winter months—how depressing is that? My old self had been obsessed with throwing bright hues into an outfit, maybe to overcompensate for not knowing who the fuck I was at the moment, but looking back, at least I was having a blast getting dressed in the morning

And then, it hit me—I've liked the art of style for over a decade mostly because, as I said above, getting dressed should be fun. Avoiding certain styles solely because they seem to clash with my identity is not only complete bullshit but also just downright boring. I attempted to rid all the femininity in my life for many complicated reasons, but mostly because it felt like a betrayal to my personal identity and style. However, it is possible to wear a shit ton of color and still carry a sense of masculine energy in one's style.

Apart from carrying a wonderful mess of androgyny, playing with color is simply an enjoyable sartorial choice to play with whether you want to experiment with the idea of femininity or not. I did a test run on this a few months ago, and I continue to throw in a splash of color with (almost) every 'fit this summer because a) #lovesummerhateeverythingelse and b) resembling different colors of the Pride flag during the queerest summer (aka June through August of 20gayteen) seems like the best way to showcase my membership.

But why pink?

Why?


Shirt is vintage, from The Break. Dickies pants are from Urban Outfitters (find vintage ones here). Sneakers are Vans.

The last time I remember myself consciously choosing to wear pink was in 3rd grade, when I had declared pink to be my favorite color. I soon abandoned the idea simply because my girly side began to fade at age 10 into middle school, where pink was replaced by greens, blues, and even purples, which I decided would be my new favorite color as it still carried femininity but was cooler, a little subtler. And then I ditched color altogether, and soon reclaimed it as a staple in my wardrobe only two years later. I went through a lot of style evolutions, as you can tell. 

But again.

Why pink?

You could pinpoint it to the moment when I impulsively bought these pastel pink Dickies last summer days before NYC Pride because I was in desperate need of finding colorful pants to go with my 100% Human shirt for the parade on Sunday. I thought they would exist in my closet as "those pants that I wore to Pride in 2017 but have not touched since," but they soon become a staple in my closet that I constantly slipped on. However, always with neutrals—never would I pair the pants with a bright red top, of all things.

But obviously, I've changed since.



Only recently did I stop associating color with gender and the divide between masculinity and feminity. Seeing men wear hot pink and women wear army green and everyone in between wear whatever they wanted gave me the realization that of all things, why the hell was color a gendered phenomenon? The concept of gendering most anything is strange—why are we labelling boats as women and why do some people simply refuse to respect people's they/them pronouns? Can't color simply exist as a way to express oneself without being sorted into the rigid binary of gender?

Yes, all of this is true—but I realized I've been shifting towards pinks and reds and other pieces like floral mini dresses because maybe I miss that feminine side that I used to be so heavily attached to when I was younger. I abandoned her because I was in a strange battle with my sexuality and felt that my previous connection to all things feminine was simply me being too afraid to admit to myself my true queerness, but now I realize that I loved that feminine side. Looking back, it felt like overcompensation, but now that I'm the surest of myself that I've ever been, all I want to do is reclaim that femininity as my own, as I now am redefining womanhood by being a lesbian but also deciding that I will always hold a strong tether to femininity. I still love dance, but I ditched ballet for a postmodern style that ignores antiquated gender roles seen in the more classical style. I could care less about sports and still find the outdoors to be a dark and scary place that I'd rather not partake in, and makeup, although I wear far less of it, excites me beyond belief. The above 'fit shows that I'm obsessed with so-called "feminine" colors and details like ruffles, but still throw in my personal style to the mix with my Vans, style of pants, and short hair.

And then came my final epiphany: it is possible to simply dip into the pool of femininity instead of diving head-first.

Should I make that my Instagram bio?


All photos shot by the WONDERFUL Geordon when I visited NYC last month.