Welcome back to Style Dossier, Gabrielle Royal’s column that profiles stylish queers across the country. This edition, Gabrielle is featuring Annabelle Blackburn, one of dapperQ’s favorite queer style Instagrammers in the UK.
Gabrielle: Tell our readers a bit about yourself.
Annabelle: I grew up in Paris, France, and somehow avoided any contact with fashion: all of my jumpers (sweatshirts to Americans) had their pockets stretched to full capacity to fit whatever book I was reading at the time. I chose to do a degree in History in the UK at Lancaster University, where I learned a fair bit about medieval castles but mostly I discovered activism and volunteering. This set me on my next academic course at the LSE in London in September 2014, where I started my MSc in Gender, Policy and Inequalities, and incidentally revealed my dapper style. For pleasure I teach code, build database systems, sell fantastic products, and consult as a gender and diversity expert.
Gabrielle: Describe your favorite outfit.
Annabelle: My favourite outfits change often and are mostly based on a favourite accessory: what outfit can I wear that will highlight the features of this bowtie, or pocket square?
Gabrielle: Who is your biggest fashion icon and why?
Annabelle: I truly admire all queer fashion. I am really honoured to be part of a community that queers fashion, beauty standards, cat walk expectations, gender roles, relationships… the list goes on. I would struggle to identify one in particular because I so admire the movement as a whole. However, a special shout out has to go out to The Dapper Chicks in New York, who are consistently on my feed and always inspirations. I love the work that groups like Saint Harridan and Kirrin Finch are doing too!
Gabrielle: How much of your personal style is influenced by your identity?
Annabelle: This is a really interesting question to me. I only fairly recently made the switch to a daily dapper style and I know it has both influenced and been influenced by my identity. I was always more attracted to masculine presenting clothing but it took me awhile to reach the style I have now. Throughout my undergraduate years I would wear a uniform of practical shoes, jeans, an activist t-shirt and an oversized denim shirt covered in activist badges. I was a loud and proud, outspoken and outgoing feminist and LGBT rights activist and my identity was always (and sometimes literally) something I wore on my sleeve. While all of those aspects are certainly still part of my identity today, I believe my dapper style shows both a maturity of my gay identity, but also in many ways reflects my heightened comfort with myself, higher confidence and more belief that I can be valued thanks to who I am and not just what I do. I wear dapper clothing because I believe it better reflects who I believe to be on the inside, and while being a lesbian is certainly an important tenet of that, I think being queer has just allowed me to experiment more and think outside of prescript lines.
Gabrielle: Why is queer visibility important and how does fashion help create space for members of our community? What challenges do you face in your profession, if any, as an LGBTQ person?
Annabelle: I think a really good example is actually at SxSW 2016 in Austin, where I got to meet Anita and the dapperQ crowd for the first time. I had been looking forward to that session for weeks, brought my suit with me to the US specifically to wear at this session, had planned my dapper outfit, was eager to hear the content of the session… and even just the knowledge that SxSW was hosting a panel on queer fashion made me even more at ease strutting down 6th street with my bow-tie. That eagerness and comfort is so important, and is a feeling I only get from queer or feminist safe spaces. I also love that our community is coming together over more topics than our otherness: although there is a way to go, we’re now at the point where there is a space to talk and meet about things ranging from fashion to book clubs and everything in between.
Gabrielle: What challenges do you face in your profession, if any, as an LGBTQ person?
Annabelle: In the last year and a half I have actually found that being a dapper member of the LGBTQ community has brought me more benefits than anything else. Bow-ties are fantastic conversation starters, I stand out more and make more authentic connections (from being my more authentic self.) Best of all, my employers love my style!
Gabrielle: Tell us about your biggest fashion and/or shopping fail!
Annabelle: Thankfully I have a super stylish little sister who halted most horrendous purchases! I think there are two categories of biggest fashion fails: the first, when I was younger and searching for my style, the second, once I had arrived in the dapper world but was still a bit of a n00b. I remember sneaking around and buying men’s clothing that would invariably look awful and shapeless on me, because bought in a rush and through the haze of ‘I like this more than that dress, so I will like it on me better’. To anyone going through a similar process: slow down! Take the time to buy what suits you and flatters you and presents you to the world as who you want to be. In my early dapper days, I definitely purchased tie bars that were too long and men’s shoes that were too big – I hope (you can all tell me!) that I’ve learnt to avoid those pitfalls now! And it’s mostly thanks to dapper queers on social media showing the way.
Gabrielle: What advice would you give our readership? What advice can you offer to people who fit outside of society’s understanding of traditionally masculine and feminine styles?
Annabelle: At the risk of sounding like a self-help speaker from 2010: be authentic. It took me time to find out who I was and who I wanted to be, and while it will always be ongoing, once I had carved out an image of myself I committed to it and stuck to it. I have made invaluable relationships and learnt new things every day thanks to that commitment.
My advice? Find a community. Find your people, your affective family. They will support you and guide you, you will learn from them, you will discover aspects of yourself through them. And once you’ve got that support, go be your true bad ass self and don’t look back. Research shows that your happiness is affected by your genetics (50%), situational contexts (10%), and your mindset (40%). That means that you have a guaranteed 40% chance of being extremely happy at any time, and it’s all up to you!
Finally: nothing will fit you better than tailored clothes. Know that clothes bought off the rack aren’t meant to fit you perfectly. They are mass made according to set views on body shapes and trends. If your body deviates from those narrow conventions (all bodies do), get your clothes tailored (some great YouTube videos on how to do this yourself!) and avoid the emotional drain of always being in clothes that don’t fit how you want them to. My first tailored suit was a revelation! I have my wonderful partner to thank for that.
Gabrielle: How did you hear about dapperQ? Why were you interested in a feature?
Annabelle: I’ve always kept an eye out for hubs of queer culture and came rather naturally to dapperQ. However, I distinctly remember browsing through the 2014 dapperQ Top 100 and being inspired by the community represented there. That was in fact what inspired me to start my dapper profile on Instagram, which in turn encouraged me to stay dapper day on day. I’m proud to say I featured on the 2015 dapperQ Top 100, and, especially after meeting Anita and the team at SxSW, am keen to get stuck in! While I am based in London at the moment, my amazing partner Lauren is now working out of Philadelphia and I am hoping to relocate soon – so East Coast queers, here we come!
Gabrielle: Where can our readers find more of your personal style?
Annabelle: You can follow me on Instagram at @ablackburnwears and Twitter at @ablackburnsays. I also have an apron embroidered with ablackburncooks, which may feature on your feeds shortly…!
Left: Lauren Kaufmann. Right: Annabelle Blackburn
Photography: Lauren Kaufmann. (Annabelle’s partner. She’s the brains behind all pictures tagged with #thankssnarky!)