“‘Stylin’ out.’ That’s how Monica L. Miller, an associate professor of English at Barnard College, describes the way black people have used dress to expand definitions of blackness, gender, and sexuality. Men in particular have “styled their way from slaves to dignified human beings,” she writes in Slaves to Fashion (Duke University Press, 2009).The first book-length study of black dandyism, Miller’s work is part of a growing scholarly interest in how clothes fashion our lives. It also signals the blossoming of black dandyism—fedoras, silk ascots, flashy socks—on the streets of major cities. Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Outkast’s Andre 3000 have made it cool to rap in Polo shirts, bow ties, nerd glasses, and boat shoes. The NBA’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant pull off dandyish without being pretentious. And now black dandyism is trending in the halls of academe.” – Stacy Patton via Black Dandies Fashion New Academic Identities.
I have become very interested in the ways in which academic spaces and fashion intersect, primarily because these are two of my favorite things: education and playing dress up. Is it possible for fashion to be queered? I never saw my own image reflected college. I see now that queer fashion and the way it is expressed can be used as a means to mobilize, re-claim, and re-create. – Gabrielle Royal
Gabrielle: What do you call this look? What inspired it?
Dr. Boson: “Assistant Professor Butchness.” The look is honestly inspired by my partner. She has been my shopping buddy for years now, and has a really good eye for a good, solid, preppy sweater. I found the tie first and built the whole look around that. We both decided the tie was a really good look and so then it was really just a search to find colours I liked, and a button up that fit my body properly.
Glasses by Dolce and Gabbana. Jean shirt, sweater, and tie from Goodwill (9 bucks total).
Gabrielle: You usually dress on the more femme end of the spectrum, why did you decide to switch up your presentation today?
Dr. Boson: I talk to my students all the time about gender and performance and fashion. I like to play with it. One reason is to switch up the narrative of how professors are supposed to dress and present themselves. And while I find femme performance as something I’m extremely happy and comfortable with, moving into more butch presentations sometimes feels really powerful and right. The shift in my presentation really changed the way my students, my colleagues, and strangers reacted to me. Almost all of the shifts were pretty dramatic. I think it is really important to be aware of how people react to me and how I present.
Gabrielle: Tell us more about your “Professor Dresser” fashion blog. Why did you decide to create this online space? You feature other academics at your university?
Dr. Boson: Professor Dresser started as a small vanity project to record what I wore the first few weeks of the tenure track, but it’s become something so much more than that. There is a lot of conversation around what professors are supposed to wear; this is especially the case of Black faculty and Queer faculty. I wanted my blog to be a platform that puts my queerness and my Blackness on the forefront. I use it to play with perceptions of respectability politics, hard femme visibility, and Blackness at predominately white institutions. I feature the folks I work with because they help me up-end the perceptions of what is “appropriate.” It has also become a thing now and folks are playing with fashion and trying to get featured.
Gabrielle: Tell us more about your work as a professor and how your personal style is used in the classroom as a teaching tool.
Dr. Boson: I work in Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, which is pretty much the best place ever. I always tell my students that gender studies saved my life. It gave me the language to talk about my own identity, performance, embodiment, and desires. I’m lucky enough to teach some really great classes right now, and in all of them, I like to use my body as a text to over turn my student’s expectations. I use my fashion and gender performance to help them trouble what they see and imagine when they think of queerness, or femme-ness or being able bodied. So when my students see my dresses and assume that I’m straight and married, we trouble that. When pretty much all of the queer people they see in pop culture are white, my body and my fashion troubles that.
Gabrielle: We believe in using fashion as a means to express our ever-evolving capacity to advance change in LGBTQ communities. How do you use fashion to do this? Why do you believe it is important, especially in queer communities?
Dr. Boson: I think that is super important, especially for Black queer folk in spaces of general isolation. I may look femme most of the time, but I don’t mistake, nor do I let others mistake my femme identity for heteronormativity. I work to destabilize the static image of what Black queer presentation is, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. Everything I wear, from the way I rock my fro, to the way I embrace my fat body work to fight against pre-set assumptions of how Black queer folks should look. A huge chunk of my life was spent worrying about what others thought about me, and I let their desires dictate how I looked and dressed myself. Fashion is not just function. It’s me controlling the universe of my body. It is me shouting those images and narratives I create into the world. I think that kind of power is super important for Black Queer folk like me.