What Does Authenticity Have to Do With Fashion?

Please forgive me for the days that have lapsed since my last post. My 30th high school reunion in Tejas this weekend, attending my weekly Butch Burlesque classes, preparing my burlesque piece, and creating a short film on the process, have kept me full-on dapperQ, but have left me no time to write.   Fortunately, you’ve been sending in great e-mails so today I wanted to start sharing a few.

The first comes from Lauren in response to the first episode of my “Authenticity Series”. Lauren wrote:

“Is your definition of “authenticity” somewhere on the site and I’m missing it? I feel like I’m losing your meaning because it’s such a complicated, vague term. Please explain!”

You’re right. I don’t straight-up say what i mean by it. As with much of dapperQ, I am trying to get to it by saying what it isn’t (since it is inherently unique for each of us.) In my post I talk about not wanting to imitate men. That’s not what I want my butch burlesque piece, or this site, to be about.  I want us to have the freedom to find the elements of fashion, art, etc. that resonate with how we see ourselves (and to make room for that to shift constantly.)  Still not defining, right? Here’s what Lauren told me it suggests to her:

The first thing that pops into my head when I hear “authentic” is related to food and culture. There’s a lot of fuss around “authentic” cuisines of various regions. For instance, food from Northern Mexico and Southern California are often deemed inauthentic, since their development is more recent. But those foods (like the burrito!) came out of very real, authentic circumstances. Yes, they are newer and should not be confused with the many other foods of Mexico, but they are truly, authentically, the food of that area. So, I guess I see “authentic” as a word that is thrown around that disregards the complicated, constantly changing nature of the development of culture, food, style, gender presentation, etc.

I have a difficult time with the idea of authenticity in this case, because I see clothing and fashion as performative, and again, constantly evolving. I’m not sure there’s anything authentic about it, and that’s okay. That doesn’t make it any less fun to me. I’m not sure about the idea of a “true self” because I think my “self” is constantly shifting. I’m not sure I like men’s (or boy’s in my case, as a petite dapperQ) fashion is something inherent in me that I need to be true to. My sense of style (or gender presentation) may very well change completely in the future, and I think that’s awesome!

I guess the definition of authenticity that best works for me (although I’m still not the biggest fan of the word) is the idea of taking elements of any category of fashion and making them comfortable for you. So, for you, that may resisting feeling like you are imitating men. At the moment for me, that may be finding clothes that make me feel like a slightly hipstery queer fagdyke.

But there are days that I just want to feel like a GIRL, and some days that I want to feel like a grrl, and sometimes that I want to feel like something completely different. So I guess I’m authentically changing??

But, anyway, I do really appreciate your site because it gets me thinking about these things. And plus, you feature a whole lot of cuties.

Lauren raises some great points. My definition most certainly includes the concept of fluidity.  But no matter what I am wearing, I have to own it.  We’ve all seen a woman in a dress who just looks wrong.  She may feel that she has to wear it to fit in, but it clearly isn’t something that reflects as authentically who she chooses to be.  But I asked Lauren to discuss the topic with some of her friends and here is what she wrote:

Through talking to some buddies, I think that there’s a real balance between dressing for your “authentic” self and dressing for what my roommate calls “intelligibility.” For instance, my dapperQ roommate is a transman and enjoys wearing dresses because he sees it as queer and radical. However, he feels that if he wears dresses outside he will be viewed as a woman who is “trying.” He also recently had a battle with a pink shirt that he enjoyed because it made him feel like the feminine man that he sees himself as, but he did worry that it wouldn’t translate to other people.

My girlfriend said something similar. She says that there are certain looks and shapes that appeal to her aesthetically, but that she also knows that she dresses to look a certain way to people she hopes will notice. I know that we both dress for each other, in some sense. I know that I’ve bought more button-downs since she told me that she really likes them. But I’ve kind of tried to balance that out with pinks and purples because I like feeling a bit feminine.

It does feel good to dress in clothes that feel totally comfortable to you and your identity, but it also feels good to be seen how you want to be seen. I do think it’s a definite balance. What do you think?

When it come to the interesection between authenticity and fashion, what do you have to say?

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  • I am having an incredibly OVER-BLOWN INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIC week. Reading this site is helpful. What I REALLY wish is that we lived closer together and I could have one ACTUAL GROWNUP SELF-ACCEPTING, SELF-IDENTIFIED BUTCH FRIEND in my life.

  • I really appreciate that because I am also have an incredibly OVER-BLOWN INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIC week! The emotional hang-over from Tejas almost had me in tears last nite at Butch Burlesque. And I’m not real big on crying in public. Wish I could be some fully-baked pastry, who is beyond all whipping I do to myself. But this is what we’ve got and our circle is growing. Hang in there, sweetie…

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