“LGBTQ and POC communities have a rich legacy of being creative visionaries in beauty and fashion, but our ideas are often co-opted without any credit or visibility…Our shows are both an act of defiance and self-love. Our oppressors try to bury us, and yet we bloom for the entire world to see.” – Anita Dolce Vita
When I was a kid, I loved when my mom would take me to the free bin outside The Yellow Rose (Taos’ OG thrift store) and I got to pick out anything I wanted. Sometimes the clothes were a little ratty, but usually the shirts were worn-in and didn’t have itchy tags, and the designs were cool–Big Dog, Lion King, Chicago Bulls (the 90s, what a time to be alive). My mom let me wear the ‘boys’ clothes I always picked out, even though I did get looks at school. I miss being that kid, when I felt so excited and cool just to be wearing something I liked.
Cue the recess bell, when some kid I don’t know comes up to me on the playground and says, “Where did you get that shirt? My mom made me throw that out. Anyway, that's a boy’s shirt, you shouldn’t be wearing that.”
I was a ‘weird kid,’ which mostly means that the other kids somehow knew I was queer long before I did. After that incident, school wasn’t just a place for learning and play–it was a runway, one I certainly didn’t know how to walk. Fellow New Mexican Anita Dolce Vita had a similar experience growing up.
“As a GenX queer, I grew up in a world where–even in queer spaces, which were much more butch/femme binary when I came out– femininity was seen as weak, political, and for male consumption,” Anita says.
I thought graduating high school would mean the bullying would end, but it seems like the bullies grew up and took their racket to a bigger playground. Fast forward to today, bills are being passed in state legislatures which enforce limitations on dressing up, dancing, singing in public–and why? To pick on the weird kids? It must be much easier to do that than to worry about actual problems (climate change, systemic injustice, gun violence, etc.).
“The far right uses queer and trans communities (use of restrooms, drag performances, gender affirming care) to mobilize their voters, and those who want to see us completely erased are leveraging their political power to dismantle our democracy and rollback rights for all U.S. citizens,” says Vita. “Queer style has emancipatory potential for all members of society right now and that is critical to cover and understand as it pertains to policies that matter to many people right now.”
Queer existence seems at risk no matter which way you look at it–to exist fully as your true self means to make yourself vulnerable to attack, but to hide means denying yourself joy, euphoria, a life lived fully. But that risk can also be transformed into resistance.
“Those who identify within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum are often hyper-aware of the consequences that come with daring to dress their authentic selves, whether doing so results in not getting a job or promotion, being fired or denied housing or denied health care, being bullied or physically assaulted, and worse,” Anita explains. “LGBTQIA+ communities are under attack because we represent the freedom and autonomy that is possible for all people.”
Well, the weird kids grew up too and we only got better, honey. Making space for community and family and foundlings is something queers do best. Taking what we have and making more of it–whether that be food, rent money, or just laughter–is something we’ve had to do to survive, and we’re going to look good doing it. Anita Dolce Vita and DapperQ are leading that charge with one of the most stylish forms of protest of our generation.
“Queer style is a fashion revolution,” says Vita. “Systemically rooted in dismantling heteronormative gender binaries created by the patriarchy, and systematically employed as a means of social control both symbolically and literally, limiting our freedom of expression and bodily autonomy.”
By breaking the rules and deconstructing the binaries around fashion, Vita uses her personal experience to influence her sense of style.
“As a queer, Black, plus-size woman, I have been consistently fed messages from society that I am not thin enough, I am not beautiful enough, I dress too young for my age, I dress too old for my age, my hair does not look professional enough, I dress too provocatively for my size, I dress too modestly and should show off my curves more, that my clothes are outdated, that I am pretty for a Black girl, that I am pretty for a lesbian, that I wear too much makeup, that I don’t wear enough makeup. I could go on forever,” she says.
The pressures to conform to one certain standard of beauty are overwhelming, but rather than succumb to colonial and capitalist beauty standards, she turns her energy toward fortifying the community and inspiring the next generation of fashion.
“To achieve a truly loving, inclusive, and accessible queer fashion sense, we must be intentional and intersectional in our fashion activism, with the hopes that one day people can dress their most authentic selves, feel safe in doing so, and have the tools and resources to adorn themselves with love while also caring for the planet. Through my work, I hope to help more people understand that fashion is political. Fashion can be a means of liberation or of oppression. Today, many of my fashion icons are Gen Z. Not only are they bringing back some of my favorite Gen X trends, such as grunge and sneakers with silk dresses, but they are more likely to shop across gendered lines and dress beyond the binary.”
DapperQ’s online platform features queer fashion news, tips, a wedding guide, and He Said/We Said, an editorial series featuring masculine-leaning and androgynous role models– expanding mainstream visibility for straight tomboys, butch lesbians, transgender men, androgynous individuals, and other masc and/or masc-presenting folks. At New York Fashion Week 2022, DapperQ’s runway sponsored by Meow Wolf and TransGuy Supply was the main intersection of queer people in fashion. Featuring 70+ looks by LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC designers, the entire runway is a living, breathing exercise in love, love for self and for community, love for life itself.
“I am originally from New Mexico, so it has been incredible to have a piece of home as I am standing in a room of 2,000 attendees, models and designers at the world's largest LGBTQ+ fashion show.”
Meow Wolf is thrilled to partner with DapperQ for Earth’s largest annual LGBTQIA+ fashion show at the Brooklyn Museum on September 7th. In fact, the portal has already been opened to new possibilities between art, queer joy, and collective liberation. “Art has historically been exclusionary and leveraged to tell false narratives that uphold institutions of oppression,” says Anita. “Meow Wolf is about opening the portals of possibility and redefining the paradigm of art and storytelling. The work we are able to do collectively at Brooklyn Museum and with the support of Meow Wolf ushers in new leaders with new stories that brings our stories and truths to the table.”