At SxSW this year, while making their itinerary of panels to attend, many were met with some amazing firsts. This was in all of its 30 years SxSW the first showing of an all queer fashion panel, and a discussion led by plus sized model Ashley Graham. Graham this year made a monumental first as the first plus sized model to appear on Sports Illustrated’s cover. “Queer Style: Visual Activism and Fashion’s Frontier” was lead by dapperQ’s Anita Dolce Vita who had also just recently made headlines by producing NYFW’s largest queer runway show at The Brooklyn Museum. Stop it right there SxSW! Your diversity is showing. Fashion, much like tech, is known for a tremendous lack in diversity across the board. Whether it be race, gender, or size the fashion industry has deeply suffered from it’s negligence in representing all bodies. (Feature image: queer style panelists practice their talk the night before and post for a “family” portrait.)
It is so surprising that the industry continues to do this, as the public over the past few years has come to show that they are sick of the mainstream’s commitment to sameness. The public spent 17.5 billion on plus size clothing between May of 2013 and April of 2014. 65% of American women are plus sized yet the industry is simply not doing enough to make size appropriate clothing. Plus sized clothing sales only make up about 17% of apparel sales overall. The demand is there, and yet the industry doesn’t seem to be listening.
“There’s a huge lull for putting girls like me on the runway,” Ashley said during her panel, sentiments that were largely echoed in the queer fashion panel. And yet, independently and often in spite of what the mainstream has deemed “OK,” both plus sized fashion and queer fashion are soaring. It feels much like this election cycle.
Leon Wu of Sharpe Suiting who was present on the queer fashion panel has seen astounding success. Wu literally invented a way of of measurement – andropometrics, so that he could fit the bodies of folks who suits were not traditionally meant for. While Sharpe’s original styles were meant for LGBTQ folks, his talents have not gone unnoticed by the rest of the fashion world, and have surpassed the queer community. He explains,“Gay men in fashion? Yes, always! Queer women in fashion? Not really until now. You see a lot of stuff happening right now. I think that queer style is a social movement that is led predominantly by gender queer and queer identified women. It includes styles that range from urban swag to dapper luxury and is inspired by butch and stud lesbians, MOC individuals, androgynous women and trans men and women. All of these identities, which were more invisible, are now being represented in this new market called queer fashion. You see it in the designs the cuts and the fits.”
“Fashion is political,” said Dolce Vita. And it is, much like the written word, and visual art, fashion has long been a means to take a stand. It is a way to push societal norms, to push back against the patriarchy, to make fun of the mainstream, and for individuals to use their bodies as billboards for who they are, who they made not be able to vocalize. There is so much power in being able to dress how you want, on the body that you want. Especially when you are a minority. That power though does often come at a cost as Aja of the blog Fit For A Femme explains: “It’s tough to put yourself out there, and I think what a lot of people don’t think about is that when you’re a queer woman, when your a trans woman, femininity comes at a cost. And, that cost exists in the straight world and it exists in the queer world.” Interestingly enough, Graham the following day seemed to add to the commentary of the queer fashion panel: “Take that token you’ve been given and make it lucrative.”
And that it seems is what everyone on both panels is doing. And doing widely successfully. As big festivals like SxSW see the importance of hearing these voices, hopefully the wheels will turn faster. Conversation is everything. As I looked around the room in both panels, and saw the diversity and size of the crowds my heart swelled. We are here. Even if the media is ignoring us.