Monday, August 29, 2011

When our expectations coincide with reality

Last week, the first week of school, was rough. There's a learning curve, getting back into teaching after two years away from the head of the classroom. It's also been so hot here that I had a three-day migraine, and ended up fainting from heat exhaustion (luckily not during class). My fashion plans have been thwarted by the heat, and it's made worse by the fact that the first week requires so much running around campus getting things one needs to teach, combined with awkward social situations and logistical nightmares.

Today was a much better day, but I still long for colder weather so I feel more comfortable in my clothes. Tights and cardigans and other layering devices are very important to my personal sense of style, so it is difficult to know how to dress professionally for the heat.

Here are two outfits I wore, one from last Wednesday, when I first developed my migraine, and one from today.



Top: Old Navy
Cardigan: Lane Bryant
Skirt: ASOS Curve
Shoes: Bass
Glasses: Warby Parker

This outfit demonstrates one thing about my style that I often take for granted, but which others always remark upon: color. I love color, and I love mixing colors together. My ex-wife used to call me an accident in a crayon factory. I admit this was a wilder outfit to wear on the second day of teaching, but I just got the shirt and the skirt from recent orders, and I thought it would be a cooler alternative in the hot weather than the black pencil skirt and black top I was planning on wearing.

This is what I wore today, which is more in line with the kinds of outfits I feel comfortable wearing to class.



Dress: Simply Be
Shrug: Evans UK
Shoes: Old Navy

Pardon the wrinkles. I took these after I got home and was sitting sweating in a hot car trying to find my keys.

I actually love this dress. I would prefer to wear it with black tights and maybe a different cardigan, or no cardigan at all, but when I went bare armed into the classroom on Friday, my students saw my tattoo, and got very curious about it, and wouldn't stop asking questions. The tattoo, pictured below, is a pretty obvious queer tattoo, and it's one I want to get covered up, because it seems very second-wave feminist to me, very gender binary, and I also got it when I was with my ex-wife, so while it was not a tattoo about her, it definitely reminds me of her.

The students, some of whom I suspect are gay themselves, were all in a twitter about the tattoo, and class was quite disrupted. I want to be a loud and proud queer, and I want to be open about my fat acceptance and my disability and not ashamed, but I also have an anxiety disorder, and since I already had a migraine, my number of spoons was depleted, and I simply didn't have the energy to deal with my students' probing questions. It seemed easier to just wear the shrug to cover my arms. I forget about the tattoo a lot of the time, but when my students asked me to tell them about it, I said, "I don't think that's any of your business." Which is true. But I fear that response gave them the wrong impression—that I feel there's something about my identity I need to hide. It's one thing to say I want to be open with my students, and it's another thing to face the anxiety of coming out to them. I know as the semester goes on, I'll have many opportunities to reveal my sexuality and gender identity to them in a manner of my own choosing, but I hate feeling a loss of control in the classroom, and this definitely felt that way.

How do you deal with explaining your body modifications in the classroom? Do you come out to your students?

Guest Post: The Pregnant PhD

{This is a guest post written by Cat, a PhD student and friend. She talks about her experience being pregnant while a PhD student, and analyzes the ways others reacted to her changing body.}

When I began my PhD program, I knew there was a possibility that my husband and I would decide to have a child before I finished the program. I know that this sounds crazy to some. But when I decided to get my PhD, dragging my husband 10 hours away from a home that we both loved, I also decided that I was unwilling to put my entire life – and his – on hold for it. I would treat my PhD program like the job that it is and would allow my personal life some room to breathe. If my husband and I decided we were ready for children, I wouldn’t let the fact that I was in a PhD program hold me back.

[I should note that I would never have considered myself “ready” before taking my comprehensive exams. Life as a PhD student is simply too hectic and all-consuming up until that point.]

Once I started working on my dissertation, I felt like I was finally able to control my life (to an extent at least). I could limit the hours that I worked and control my life more than I could prior to that point.

My primary concern about becoming pregnant was how I would be perceived in my department. In my time there, numerous male PhD students had welcomed children, but I only knew one female student who had, and she was almost done with her degree – to the point that she wasn’t really producing any new work. And she had always sort of existed outside of the department, so her situation felt very different from mine.

Even (most) female professors seemed a bit a-maternal. Though many of them had children (particularly the older, more established professors), neither they nor the male professors often acknowledged themselves as parents while in the department, or at least not around students. It felt as if my department was a child-free zone.

[This is not to say, of course, that these professors didn’t love their children fiercely. The few I have seen interact with their children obviously do. But some antiquated notion of professionalism prevents them from acknowledging that aspect of their lives in the workplace.]

In fact, I was perhaps most terrified of telling my two closest friends in the program. Though they are both women of roughly my same age, both in committed relationships, they are also fiercely committed to their profession. [Look at that. See how I had already started imposing a them/me mentality? As though I was not fiercely committed to my profession by choosing to have a child.] Much to my relief, not only were they thrilled for me but they were also excited to be involved. They didn’t back away from me slowly because of my “condition.” They embraced me. Supported me. And even threw me a surprise baby shower. But they were the exception

I became pregnant in April, so by the time I was comfortable publicizing my pregnancy, it was the summer and I wasn’t teaching or, really, having any interaction with the department (aside from the friends mentioned above and a few others). So most of my fellow PhD students found out I was pregnant through Facebook. This was nice for me. Though many professed e-congratulations, I know from later interactions that they were confused and questioning whether or not my pregnancy was planned (a rather offensive question that would have never been considered if I were, say, an elementary school teacher). But I appreciated that I didn’t have to see their inevitable reactions.

By the time the fall semester started, I was five months pregnant. Though I wasn’t hugely pregnant by any standard, it was fairly obvious that something was going on. The only professor I intentionally told was my major professor, but (as these things do) word got around very quickly. And everyone was incredibly kind. But here’s the rub – they were too kind. Any biting professionalism, any effort to “push” me to success was gone. I was the pregnant one. Nobody ever asked me about my teaching or dissertation, though I worked on both through the end of the semester – one week before my daughter was born. People wanted to see ultrasound pictures instead of dissertation chapters. That professional compartmentalization had been broken by my eventually-too-big-to-ignore belly. But instead of de-compartmentalizing, I was expelled – treated as “other” within my profession.


Perhaps because of this reaction, I refused to “hide” my pregnancy. (I’ve always been a bit of an obnoxious dissenter.) I wore the same clothes while in the department that I did in my personal life, which were the same kinds of clothes I wore before I was pregnant – jean trousers or slacks and blouses, nice shirts, and sweaters. Though I never wore anything particularly tight – that wasn’t my style before I was pregnant so it wasn’t my maternity style either – I also didn’t wear anything that hid my growing belly. I was able to wear non-maternity shirts throughout most of my pregnancy, but the maternity shirts I did wear had an above-the-belly waistline, drawing attention to the belly itself.

Though I’m sure it would be different for different people, I found wearing clothes that accentuated – or at least acknowledged – my pregnancy empowering. Despite my colleagues’ overly polite demeanors, I felt that my clothing choices were both professional and maternal, a sign that I could be (and was) both. I didn’t need to compartmentalize my life.

Of course, it’s easy to recognize the significance of this now. At the time, though, I was only staying true to myself. One of the most frustrating parts of pregnancy was how little control I had over that aspect of my life – the attitudes of my colleagues included. All I could do was continue to be myself – a woman who from the first day of her PhD program has striven to maintain a balance between her professional and personal life. I couldn’t change how my fellow students and professors reacted to my pregnancy, but I could be certain that the appearance I put forth accurately portrayed who I was – and am. My clothing choices, choices that very much mirrored my pre-pregnancy choices, helped me do that more than almost anything else I could have done.


It seems important for me to note that the college students (mostly sophomores and juniors) that I taught while in the last four months of my pregnancy (read: very pregnant) had no problem with my being pregnant. Though they were questioning and curious before and after class – one class even made a game of picking a baby name out of each novel we read – they were able to maintain an appropriate student/teaching relationship during class (as well as during more private teaching moments, like during office hours). I had no students treat my differently because I was pregnant. I never felt like my authority was being questioned. Nor did I feel like my pregnancy had to be ignored to maintain my status in the classroom.

My point is that clearly this behavior – this compartmentalization of professionalism and parenthood – is a learned behavior, specific to academia (though I’m sure it is shared by other professions). If immature, occasionally obnoxious college students can treat a pregnant woman professionally, surely well-educated, successful college professors should be able to do the same. Right?


I would like to say that things returned to normal when I started teaching again the following fall, 8 months after my daughter was born. But it hasn’t. If I take too long to meet a certain goal, I get the proverbial head pat and a knowing nod – “Well, you do have your daughter. I understand.” And while it may seem like a first world problem, that understanding would never be extended to my male/father counterparts. It feels demeaning that my motherhood is seen as an “excuse.”

While this may be a naïve belief, I truly think that this will be different at my next institution. Though I will still be a mother, they won’t have seen me pregnant – that bubble-bursting belly won’t exist there the way it does here. Unfortunately that means that I will be expected to compartmentalize my motherhood there the way that professors do here. I like to think that I will refuse to separate that portion of my life, but I feel like I won’t know until I’m in that situation. For now, though, I continue to balance my profession and parenthood without ignoring either one. It’s not easy, but it is – as my pregnancy experience demonstrated – extremely important.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cee: First Classes

My first day of the fall semester felt a little strange, since, as I said to a student, it's been barely two weeks since I finished up the summer semester (I taught one section of comp in the summer) and I still don't feel ready to be back. . . since I don't feel like I ever really left. But on the other hand, it did make me feel more comfortable as I headed back into my classroom to teach.

Dress: Target
Cardigan: Inherited from my mother
Shoes: Payless
Sash: From another H&M dress
Necklace: Forever21
Earrings: Handmade, inspired by ASOS earrings

I went to my spirit animal, Joan Holloway Harris from Mad Men, for this look. I love the bright, summery teal of this dress in the more sixties-inspired cut (it's almost a wiggle dress, with a slight A-line to the skirt). And since it was almost a hundred degrees and I walk and bus to campus, I had to think about keeping it light (which I was very thankful for when it came to my fifteen minute uphill hike!).

I could have worn the dress without the cardigan, since I don't really mind going sleeveless in the classroom, but first day wanted something with a little more coverage. And besides, I wanted the white there to meet the white shoes. I punched up the color with my coral sash and paired it with light blue accessories, since coral and blue is one of my favorite summer color combinations.

All in all, it was a pretty successful first day outfit. I was a little hesitant about the length of the skirt (hit a few inches about the knee), but wore Spanx underneath so I could feel more comfortable sitting down, and it worked out fine. I am excited for my fall classes— I'm teaching both comp and a fiction workshop on the same day, and both classes seem like there's a lot of positive energy present. I've started being very frank with my students and telling them that I will bring all the energy I have to this class, but for it to be truly successful they are also going to need to fully engage with the material. I felt like this outfit matched the cheerful no-nonsense attitude that Joan Holloway gives, which made it just about right.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of School

Today was my first day back in the classroom as a teacher after a two-year fellowship that allowed me to finish my coursework without any extra responsibilities. I am so grateful for that fellowship, because I'm not sure how I would have completed my heavy course load in two years without the opportunity. But I'm also very excited to be back in the classroom.

I see teaching as an excuse to dress up most of the time, but especially during the first week or so, I like to be especially formal. I had planned on wearing a specific grey dress today, but it was so hot out (103, a bank sign said!), so I changed my mind at the last minute. I apologize for cutting off my feet. I just wore simple black ballet flats from Old Navy. And, yes, that is a naked photo in the left corner. It's the Adipositivity calendar.

Dress: Lucie Lu
Shrug: Lucie Lu
Necklace: Gift from my grandma

I'm not totally in love with this look, though I do love the dress. It was too hot for a cardigan, and I didn't want to bare my arms (and my big gay tattoo) the first day, so I felt the need to wear something. It's a very comfortable dress, and I love the lace detail and the collar. I think this outfit was a good compromise between necessity and professionalism.

I'm also very happy with the way the class went. I was excited to help in the addition of a non-discrimination policy to the syllabus, and I also included preferred name and preferred pronoun sections on the student info sheet I always ask students to fill out the first day. I got a few strange glances, but I think it's good for people to get used to the necessity of asking about pronoun preference rather than making assumptions, and encouraging my students to look beyond their assumptions about something is going to be a huge part of the class content, so I see it as a perfect opportunity. I admit, I'm excited for this group. A lot of them are theater and dance majors, and as a poet and former theater geek who also went to a big dance school, I love getting the chance to work with creative people.

I settled pretty easily back into the role of teacher, even though I had my awkward moments. I kept dropping my cane and then tripping over it, I would lose my train of thought, and I was sweating profusely when I got to the room. But it was hot out. Being physically uncomfortable is something I really hate about teaching, as with two chronic pain conditions and a disability, I'm often uncomfortable. Adding sweat and clothing malfunctions and all manner of other things definitely makes it difficult for me to focus on teaching, but I also give myself a break since it's been long time away from teaching, and this is my first time teaching this class.

I'm going to spend the rest of the day reading my students' textbooks and preparing to teach on Wednesday.

If you're headed back to school, good luck on your first day, and let us know what you wore!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


I really hate the concept of "flattering" because it's really body-shaming. It implies that there is something about your body that needs to be hidden. It's fatphobic and all about the patriarchal beauty standards. It means too tight, too low-cut, too much. When we allow others to dictate what we wear because it is or isn't flattering, we're letting others define us. When I get dressed and look in the mirror, I want things to look a certain way, but that rarely adheres to what others would call flattering.

This has been your body-positive message of the day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I spent the week at a teaching orientation, and our breaks were full of fascinating discourse on feminism and fashion in the classroom. Several female-identified folks and I have talked about the advice given to femme people who teach, that we have to be very careful about maintaining authority, that we have to be hyper-aware and vigilant about our dress. One woman shared her plans to "dress down" or to wear intentionally "unflattering" clothing and hairstyles to avoid incurring the unwanted sexual attention from her students. Another woman shared her confusion at the advice given, since she is going from her home, where she is the in-control mother of twin boys to a classroom setting where, suddenly, she was told, her authority was null and void when she donned a skirt.

Frankly, I've never taught as Femme before. I identified as Butch for ten years, and had a shaved head or a faux hawk all the other times I've taught before. Since I have been on fellowship the past two years as my identity shifted and I embraced the Femme side that had always already been there suppressed, I had actually only ever thought that dressing up would, if anything, increase the respect I got from my students because of the professionalism of my dress. It is important to note that I come from a secondary teaching background. I am certified to teach (and have) grades 7-12, and we spend a great deal of time studying and implementing classroom management. I am confident in my authority regardless of what I'm wearing. I know that a good, experienced teacher commands respect no matter what they look like (that's not to discount the potential for oppressive language and/or attempts at insubordination from some students), however this discussion does interest me.

It's also important to note (and this was, indeed, part of our discussion) that the other women I was speaking to are conventionally attractive, thin, cis, and white. (NB: I am also white, as you may have noticed from my photos, though I don't identify as cis, I identify as genderqueer). We discussed the differences between the fat woman's body and the thin woman's body, and how differently we have been treated in the past by colleagues and professors, and, potentially, students. I've had students make comments to me, but, if anything, I think my weight helps add to my authority. I seem more imposing and, in some way, more adult. I literally take up more space, and, compared to my colleagues in this discussion, I have less fear of physical assault from my students. That's not to say I have no fear about a student assaulting me for some reason, but not as much as a smaller woman who feels she might be more easily disempowered physically.

In the past, I wore khaki pants and polo shirts to teach in, or dress pants and button-down shirts, vests, and other butch attire. I identified much more as a masculine person then, which is part of the reason I see my gender as non-binary. I had a shaved head, and I don't think students quite knew how to read me. I've always been a confident and enthusiastic teacher, and I think that, more than wardrobe choice, goes a long way toward being respected by your students.

I also think that the sexist attitudes of women being less-respected when they dress femme in the classroom than their male colleagues will persist unless we challenge them. So many people asked if they should wear heels and makeup during our orientation. Should they part their hair on the left or the right. Studies show, one woman insisted, that parting your hair on the left was considered more academic. And of course putting your hair in an updo was more formal. Advice like "be yourself" isn't always helpful when one has never been a teacher before. It takes some time to find your comfort in the classroom, but students' respect for you has to be founded in the way you act, and the way you treat them, not on your wardrobe choices. I always dress more formally during the first week to set the tone, and I do think that clothing is rhetorical. I obviously believe that we send messages (whether they are the ones we want to send or not) with our sartorial choices, but I think we need not fret too much. What's most important is the person wearing the clothes.

What do you wear to teach? Do you think your students treat you differently based on what you are wearing?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why I Won't Assume Positive Intent

This doesn't directly relate to fashion, except the initial post appeared on another fashion blog. Recently Sally, over at Already Pretty wrote about how we should all assume others have a positive intent when they comment on our looks, or our bodies or whatever, because, after all, the people commenting mean well. As Sally says,
These nosy parkers are irritating and overbearing, but there are germs of real, human positivity fueling their unwelcome rants.
As I said over at Sally's site, I’m not sure I could disagree with this post more strongly than I do. Intent doesn’t determine reception. I don’t give a shit if someone intends to be nice when they insult my weight or ask why I use a cane or tell me I shouldn’t be wearing that or say they don’t mind nice gay people like me but freaks shouldn’t get married. Almost everyone thinks they’re being nice, but that doesn’t give them the right to give me their opinion about my body or my life or my choices, and remaining polite and assuming positive intent may be nice, but it sure as hell doesn’t change anything. Sure, in a workplace situation, it might be necessary at times, since you can’t escape your colleagues, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let people get away with their offensive behavior just because they meant well.

Being able to assume positive intent comes from a place of enormous privilege, and also safety. It's simply unrealistic and ignorant to follow this kind of advice.

I think only a privileged person could go through life assuming everyone means well. If you're queer or disabled or fat or trans or a person of color or any and all of those and more, you know for a fact that, actually, most people don't mean well. It's a nice thought, but it's not well-meaning to tell a fat person to go on a diet. It's not well-meaning to say you think I'm a lovely girl, but I don't have a right to get married, it's not well-meaning to tell a transwoman that if she dressed more feminine more people wouldn't misgender her. It's not well-meaning to tell me I shouldn't wear horizontal stripes or ask my Japanese-American friend where she's really from.

As one commenter already pointed out over there, Sal is advocating we ignore microaggressions, and basically implies that we're just getting too worked up over nothing when people are well-meaning, and we ought to cut them some slack. Not only is this condescending to those who experience these microaggressions, but it is dismissive of the very real systemic problems from which microaggressions stem. One commenter even declared that we should assume positive intent on a macro level as well, because most evil that is done in the world is not done to intentionally harm.

Some people live in a privileged bubble that insulates them from the truth of the oppressions surrounding us. What disturbs me most about the blog post is that so many people agree with it. And maybe they are all thinking of things from the point of view of "assume your husband didn't mean to leave the cupboard door open!" but that's not actually what Sal is talking about in the post, as she uses the example of facial scarring and tattoos.

There is a place for patience when someone is actively trying to learn and be a better person. If someone screws up and uses a word they shouldn't use, and you remind them not to say "that's lame" anymore, and they apologize, and are obviously making an effort to improve, that's one thing. But there is an evident difference between truly well-meaning people who may not have the vocabulary to be the most effective in their communication and assholes disguised as concern trolls wrapped up in bold impolite and unsolicited advice.

If we dance through life assuming positive intentions and never calling people out on their offensive speech and behavior, nothing will ever change, and I don't want to maintain the status quo, I want a revolution, and maybe your way of life involves putting blinders on to the truth of the inequities in the world and the body-policing and the way that privileged people feel they have rights over others' bodies, but rage fuels change for me, and you go ahead and assume I mean well when I tell you that this attitude gets us absolutely nowhere.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What I Wore to a Job Interview

Today I had a job interview at 10am, which is very early for nocturnal me. I knew very little about the place where I was interviewing, so I wasn't sure how exactly I should dress. My dream about my pencil skirt was perhaps a premonition, because I did wear it to the interview.


I apologize for the crookedness of these photos. My tripod is wobbly and I'm still getting used to it.



Cardigan: A gift from my mother
Top: Lane Bryant
Pencil Skirt: Lane Bryant

I wanted to wear a cardigan because baring your shoulders is a no-no in the Mormon culture that dominates the local population, and since it was a job interview, I didn't want to give anyone any reason to look at me askance. Though my nose piercing always tips people off to the fact that I'm not Mormon, as well as my forearm tattoo, but I go for the more modest look when I'm first meeting people. Plus I have a big ole lezzie tattoo on my upper arm, which is not always the first impression I want to make. I wish the cardigan were more fitted, or that I had a jacket to go with this outfit, but we make do with what we have.

I had never worn this shirt before, despite it hanging in my closet (with the tags still on!) for at least six months. I love it. It's very comfortable, and polka dots are my favorite pattern. The ruffles on the front remind me of something that might be featured on Mad Men, my favorite TV show, and the pencil skirt makes me feel very dressed up. I think it fits perfectly, and it immediately puts me in a position of feeling professional and powerful. I love the ways in which clothing can transform our view of ourselves. For me, that's more important than how others view me. When I wear a pencil skirt, I feel more adult, like it is a uniform I'm donning to play that role, that part of my life.

The good news is that I got the job! I know it wasn't just my outfit, but my resume and interviewing prowess, but I have to admit, I'm thinking of this outfit as pretty lucky right now. This was not an interview for a faculty position, just a tutoring job, but it still was important to me to dress professionally.

What do you wear to interviews? Does it depend on the job? Do you have any go-to pieces? How conscious are you of the parts of your identity you reveal or conceal during an initial meeting?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

When Fashion Invades Your Dreams

I had a nightmare last night that I couldn't find my favorite black pencil skirt.

It's really time for the school year to start, so I can go back to nightmares about forgetting everything I know about 18th-century poetry and fail my exams.

I have a job interview tomorrow for a tutoring job that won't pay much, but will, at least, be something extra, and I'm not nervous about the interview, but I am getting obsessed about what I should wear. Hence the pencil skirt debacle.

Do you ever dream about clothing?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Vulgarity of Flesh

The fastest way to fat liberation is physical. We will never have our freedom if we live only ‘from the neck up’, yet that is the way many fat people live, even, or especially, the activists and academics among us. Embodiment just works…The oppression of anti-fat hatred is sited on the body, and it is in the body that those wounds can be healed.
—Heather McAllister, “Embodying Fat Liberation” in The Fat Studies Reader, ed. by Sandra Solovay

I am fat, over 300 pounds, and the older I get, the more ridiculous the maxim of fat dressing becomes. Minimizing outfits are not only fatphobic (implying that there's something shameful about a fat body that one must at least attempt to hide), but also unrealistic. Wearing black or vertical stripes, or Spanx isn't going to somehow distract people from noticing I'm a very fat woman. I see no reason to engage in that kind of sartorial subterfuge. Nothing I wear will make me look like I'm only 120 pounds, no matter what it is, and as a fat activist and someone engaged in fat studies for my PhD, I see my clothing choices as very political. I have no desire to acquiesce to being an invisible fat body, the only kind of fat body that is acceptable in Western society. Simply being a fat body in the world is a political act when we are constantly bombarded with the notion that bodies like mine are disgusting, and don't deserve to appear in public, unless shrouded.

Yet the fat body is often seen as aggressively vulgar, in your face. When I wear tighter-fitting garments, people react as if I have slapped them in the face, and they feel provoked and permitted to say whatever they want to me, usually about how inappropriate my attire is, and how unhealthy I must be (as if health is a virtue, as if the only good people are the healthy ones), and how ugly I am.

Here is an example of an outfit I wore last year that incited such responses:

a photo of a fat pale-skinned woman wearing a black and white houndstooth dress, red cardigan and grey wedges

a photo of a fat pale-skinned woman wearing a black and white houndstooth dress, red cardigan and grey wedges

Dress: Lane Bryant
Cardigan: Old Navy
Shoes: Ralph Lauren

(NB: These photos were taken before I learned how to take outfit photos properly, so please forgive their inexpert quality.)

Because the dress fits tighter over my stomach than the typical media images of fat women swathed in loose fabric, I was told multiple times over the course of the day that my dress was vulgar and inappropriate. The photos above don't really do justice to the amount of curves showing, so I'm including this cell phone photo from the dressing room when I bought the dress:

a fat, pale-skinned woman wearing a black and white houndstooth dress. She is turned to the side so you can see the curves of her butt and belly.

If I wanted to avoid this effect, I would have to wear my clothes so big that I would, essentially, be wearing a potato sack, and I like the way my body looks, so I don't mind when my belly shows, but, as one woman snipped: "This is not what it means to celebrate your curves!" The dress is tasteful and professional, but because I wasn't attempting to hide my body, it was read as vulgar because fat bodies in and of themselves are vulgar. By refusing to buy into that myth, I was aggressively displaying my vulgarity at work, and challenging the fatphobia of my colleagues. I refuse to ignore my body and live only in my mind, and I refuse to wear only those things fat women are told are acceptable for them to wear, things that don't accentuate fat, things that attempt to minimize the appearance of fat, not for the sake of the fatty, but for the sake of the viewer. Fat bodies are only ever considered from the point of view of the person gazing at them, never from the position of the fat-bodied themselves. And when I refuse those garments, and wear ones of my own choosing, I am stepping outside the boundaries of what some consider acceptable. I am transgressing, and I need to be punished.

Lesley Kinzel put it brilliantly, in her blog post at Two Whole Cakes, entitled "So Michel Foucault and Jeremy Bentham walk into an elementary school cafeteria*"

Those who subvert social norms are, ostensibly, people who have forgotten that they can be seen, publicly, at any time. Therefore, when they transgress social norms—by expressing physical affection for a person not visibly coded as the opposite sex, for example, or by being fat and rejecting social and bodily invisibility—they need to be reminded of this omniscient social gaze, and in the absence of institutional discipline, must be punished so they do not transgress again. This is the mechanism by which a dude who sees me in a vividly-colored dress, walking alone as though I either don’t know or don’t care that I am defying bodily norms, feels compelled to scream “UGLY FAT BITCH” at me. He is applying social discipline and teaching me a lesson: Everyone can see you, and your body and/or behavior are unacceptable.

It is not always easy to be as visible as I am, but I want to take up space. I want to constantly challenge the notion that my body—fat, queer, and disabled though it may be—is unacceptable, and ought to be hidden away. Especially in academia, where embodiment is read as frivolity, taking attention away from the superior mind, being visible is political. I'm open about my sexuality—an aspect of my identity that is often invisible because of my Femme presentation—so why wouldn't I be open about my fatness, an aspect that one cannot ignore? Why must my identity remain outside of the classroom, or my cubicle? Especially when I study fat studies and queer studies and disability studies for a living, how could I ignore those very aspects of my own embodied experience? There are certainly outfits I wouldn't wear to school, but this body conscious houndstooth dress does not look inappropriate to me. It's not low-cut or too short. It's not covered in sequins or feathers. It's a pretty conservative outfit, actually. Yet I was, according to one slim colleague, "too fat to be wearing that." The idea of "appropriate" is a concept I want to continue investigating on this blog.

How do you negotiate the balance between appropriate attire for academia and your own political motivations and personal comfort?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Victorian Academic, Part 1

"It mightn't be of any use, but I would feel in it as if it were a part of me--that it grew on me and wasn't just bought and put on. I want one dress like that in my life-time.”

—L.M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon

I’m Cee, a fiction writer and a definite Victorianist (well, it’s broader than that, but the Victorians were my first and truest loves). My critical focus is on eighteenth and nineteenth century woman writers (I love Gaskell, all the Brontes, Austen, Burney, etc.), and I also have a soft spot for researching the period. My first love of clothes came from reading Victorian children’s fiction and watching those adaptations. For my first post here, I’d like to discuss some of the things I love to pull from Victorian sartorial sensibilities. What can we take from that particularly constraining time?

Since this post got away from me, I’m splitting it into two sections. In Part Two of this post, I want to examine some of the problematics of historical fashion, and see if I can reconcile my love of crinolines and chemises with knowledge of the imperialist, racist, classist, and sexist past. But in this section, I want to (in true fiction-research form) examine the underlying principles of Victoriana, and see what’s there besides the pretty.

But the first question, is what can we realistically take from Victorian fashion? As much as I love period costuming, and as much as my sartorial fantasies might involve a full bustle, I am probably not going to be wearing a corset outside my bedroom. And as much as I would love to reproduce all elements of period dress, it’s neither comfortable nor really appropriate for the classroom.

Victorian clothing wasn’t the somber affair that many remember it to be: people loved and celebrated jewel tones, patterns, and even arrangements that look bizarre to our eyes. There was a flamboyance to Victorian clothing (women’s in particular, but read Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet for loving descriptions of Victorian men’s clothing that tempt me to give up my femme ways) that makes a lot of historical clothing a joy to see. I love so many aspects of Victorian fashion: not only the silhouettes, but also the smaller attributes: buttons, stripes, watches, lace, and skirts. Mostly it’s the dedication to craftsmanship that always snags me.

Looking back to Victorian clothing has encouraged me to embrace different textures as well as colors. Things like lace, velvet, silk— textiles that are often seen as exclusively special use— can be incorporated into daily wear. Looking for natural fibers: cotton, wool, etc. and respecting the source of those materials have become increasingly important to me as a consumer. I am especially frustrated by brands that have begun to offer their clothes in cheaper, artificial materials that wear out more quickly and irritate the skin. Although there are drawbacks to traditional textiles as well, questions of both ethics and production, I still value something that I can wash at home, or that will remain part of my closet for longer than six months at a time.

Victorian, to me, means pieces and combinations that look unique and evoke the period: I mix prints, treasure stripes, lace, and florals, add a necklace that suggests a particular neckline. I love wearing gloves (and am a total sucker for gloves or anything that feature buttons). I wear skirts and dresses much more often than pants, and try to evoke particular silhouettes: the oxford blouse and the tweed vest, the lace-front blousy top and a long cardigan. I like to look to both historical pictures (like this completely amazing Victorian cyclist) and period films for inspiration. It can be a fun exercise to try to reproduce the color scheme of a favorite ensemble, or to recreate the lines of a dress in a more contemporary way.

One of my biggest problems with fashion today is how monotonous a lot of mainstream clothing stores have become. When I walk from one end of the mall to the other, I’m frustrated by how many times I could buy the same ruffle-lined cardigan in slightly different colors. Compare to this to a list of possibilities offered by just one lace merchant: “Point de Bruxelles, point d’Alasce, Point de Venice, Milano, Genoa, and Greece: Medici lace, real Valencienne and imitation Ecru; real and imitation black Spanish and Chantilly laces; fichus, ties, wrappers, falls, mantillas, handkerchiefs; hand-made embroidered underlinen. . .” (Judith Flanders, The Victorian Home). One of the most unique aspects of Victorian dressing was being able to put your own stamp on your choices: trimming your own hats, or hemming a skirt to the length you preferred. Industrial manufacturing and invigoration of the middle class opened up availability of materials, but before ready-to-wear clothes took off, homemaking clothes reached new possibilities.

Obviously ready-to-wear fashion freed us from having to make our own clothes, but also opened the door to sweatshop labor, consumerism, and simply having fewer choices. But re-fashioning, upcycling, and handmaking clothes allow us to to mitigate some of the waste in the fashion cycle and to keep valuable/signature pieces in our closets longer. One of the biggest frustrations I experience with clothes are fluctuations in my weight, and letting down hems/adjusting zippers (or, okay, turning clothes over to my mother/personal tailor) allows me to hang onto some pieces that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to. And even upper-class Victorian ladies tried to modify old clothes or to make their own, in interests of saving money. Flanders (in the same excellent book) discusses a woman who, although wealthy enough to afford forty dresses a year, might still do the bulk of her own dressmaking.

Another thing that I’ve liked about the Victorian model of dress is that, as academics, we’re often called upon to play dramatically different parts: I dress up for teaching, but tend to look more formal than I would for class, and comfort is a process of attrition. How do we move from spending five hours reading for exams to teaching a class? One thing that Victorians give us is a reminder that clothes are intended for specific purposes: what you put on in the morning may not be what you eat dinner in. And while they were obsessed with making sure they changed for meals, sometimes it’s much easier to dress for a morning class and then wear yoga pants for the rest of the day (or vice versa, depending on your schedule). And even though this seems like it might be an occupation for people of leisure alone, it’s interesting to remember that even a maid-of-all-work would change clothes at least twice in the day, from a printed morning dress to a more formal afternoon dress.

For those of you who love historical fashion, how do you incorporate it into your everyday life? What eras do you love? How do you incorporate elements of period clothing without making it into a costume? What sartorial principles do you pull from your favorite time period?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Florals & Flaws

I have an obscene amount of ballet flats, because I can't wear heels with my ankle and foot disability, and ballet flats tend to be easiest and cheapest, but I've been wanting to push myself more with shoes, hence the following purchase from Ideeli:

They're the Big Buddha Hike shoes.

Not being able to wear heels feels like my style is disabled as well as my body. Cute heels are de rigueur for the fashionable femme; there was an entire television show built around women's supposed love for shoes above all else. I love shoes, but shoes do not love me. Eschewing shoes in favor of the needs of my body seems to only draw attention to my flaws. I can't tell you how many times someone has commented on an outfit post at my other blog telling me the outfit would be cute, if only I wore better shoes. Honoring the needs of my body means acknowledging I have a body, which much of fashion wants to ignore. Garments that constrict, constrain, cause pain, can be beautiful but I worry about the promotion of disembodiment. As a fat woman, and a person with a disability, my constant pain keeps me embodied and my fat keeps me visible, as does my limp, or my cane. Often when I browse style blogs or fashion magazines for outfit inspiration, I feel frustrated, because I am unable to wear the shoes pictured, so I must seek out an alternative. It seems like such a frivolous thing, but not being able to wear heels when I probably would if I weren't disabled, having that choice made for me by my body, feels like another way I'm marked as flawed or different.

I'm glad oxfords and loafers with skirts are coming back into style, because sometimes I do just want to feel pretty.

I admit that these sort of appeal to my Victorian sensibilities. The 19th century is my primary field of interest for my comprehensive exams, and these look like something that might be anachronistic, but not altogether unfamiliar to those Boston Marriage ladies. Also, I'm a sucker for florals. I identified as butch for ten years, and I've only started identifying as femme in the past two years, but I am a person of extremes. I either study for my exams for eight hours a day, or lie in bed on painkillers (for my chronic diseases, not recreationally) watching Mad Men. When I was butch, I tried to be hypermasculine, and when I discovered and acknowledged my femme tendencies, I went all-out femme, and when I dress up, it's where I feel most at home now. These shoes are so damn feminine, and they are so different from anything I have, I just couldn't resist.

I'm not sure yet what I'll wear them with, but I had to buy them when I caught them on sale.

Any styling tips? How do you use your sartorial choices to express your gender? How do you find fashion limiting, and/or how does your body limit your fashion?

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Slovenly Academic

A recent Smart Set column by Robert Watts dedicated itself to the denigration of Humanities graduate students and professors for dressing "ugly."

...wasn’t this the real reason students didn’t respect the humanities — not because of the material seemed irrelevant but because the people teaching it looked like hopelessly irrelevant, misfit slobs?

I have a lot of issues with this blog post. While I, personally, often choose to dress up when I'm going to campus (otherwise why would I have this fashion blog?), I think the expectation of beauty is a dangerous one to place upon educators or anyone. Watts sarcastically suggests that the sheer ugliness of his graduate instructors caused his GPA to drop. This is problematic for many reasons, the first being who determines what is fashionable and beautiful? Usually when such determinations are made, it is conventionally attractive, slim, heterosexual, able-bodied, cissexual white people who are deemed handsome/beautiful. What about the rest of us, the queer folks, the trans folks, the disabled and fat folks, those of us who don't fit into dominant beauty standards, who are considered ugly by many?

The absent-minded professor with food in his beard and a button falling off his cardigan is a stereotype for a reason; when you live a life of the mind, tunnel vision occurs frequently, and it takes effort to notice and care about your external appearance when you are trying to write a lesson plan that conforms to the departmental standards, get another article published to get a better chance at tenure, and deal with the daily demands of living. As a person with a disability and two comorbid chronic diseases that involve chronic pain, dressing "nicely" is not always possible for me. One of my challenges this upcoming year is to find pieces in my wardrobe that look professional while still being comfortable enough that I am not further debilitated by the pain of a garment.

Fashion is often seen as frivolous in academia, and Watts point that female academics are often better-dressed than their male counterparts is interesting and worth discussing. In my second graduate university, we were told during our TA orientation that men could get away with wearing anything they wanted and still have their students' respect, but women had to dress up, or the students at our southern state university wouldn't see them as authority figures. Gendered expectations on appearance are a topic I'd like to address in further posts, because there is so much to be said, but for now, I'll just point out how sexist this is.

There are also serious class issues at play in this article (and, of course, in academia in general). Criticizing grad students for their so-called "careless, frumpy, and just plain hard to look at" style of dress smacks of classism. Graduate students in the Humanities are usually only paid small stipends (I've gotten $10,000 and $12,000 a year at various universities). We can't afford fancy clothes. I remember my first semester of teaching (though this was high school). I was fresh out of college, and couldn't afford a new teaching wardrobe. My pants were too short, and I was self-conscious about it. Imagine my humiliation when my students not only noticed, but pointed it out as well.

Watts ends his piece with this report on his year of wearing expensive suits to teach:
Perhaps the best aspect of wearing suits is the pickup I get on those days when my mood isn’t so great. It is hard to don a nicely tailored suit with a stylish tie and nice shoes and show up someplace without experiencing a bit of a lift.

More than anything, I have felt a kind of relief in my new uniform. The paradox is that wearing a suit allows me to not think about how I look. I can’t help but feel that my students can better appreciate me — and what I teach — when the.y see a guy who looks like he could be a member of the Medallion Fund at the front of the classroom.
I do think he has a point about how what we wear influences how we feel about ourselves. One of the major reasons I choose to dress up for teaching is because it feels like putting on a uniform in the best sense; this is my "teacher outfit" and when I put it on, I become Teacher, as opposed to Student, or other identities. (Not that I think we must abandon other identities at the classroom door, but it helps me more further embody the role) But there again is that classism: students want to be taught by rich Hedge Fund members? That pretty much leaves out anyone who's not a white straight cis-male, then, doesn't it?

What did you think of Watts's article? Do you agree? Disagree?


I've been interested in fashion blogging for awhile, but as the fabulous Academichic is closing its doors, I grew inspired to start my own fashion blog, after a brief foray elsewhere last year. I want to write about what I'm wearing as I teach my students, study for my PhD comprehensive exams, take the exams, what I wear to a conference, and on the job market. I want to write about the theories behind my wardrobe choices, how my gender identity and sexuality play into those choices, and how my external environment (whether that's the political or meteorological climate) influences sartorial decisions. I'm hoping to recruit my friends (though they don't know it yet), and I'm hoping to make the morning drudgery of choosing an outfit fun again.

The title of the blog, My Tippet Only Tulle, comes from an Emily Dickinson poem. A tippet is a long cape or scarf, and was usually made of fur. The title reflects both my literary leanings as well as my impulse to go against the grain, to be daring in my fashion choices, and don something others might deem inappropriate.

Also, the font of the header is based on Jane Austen's handwriting.

Thanks for stopping by!