"Without foundations,” Christian Dior said, “there can be no fashion.” Fashion. The word itself evokes different feelings, images, and sensations. It conjures up sumptuous and spectacular gowns woven by personalities big and small. Cristobal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, and of course Dior. Fashion evokes the styles of legendary women. Princess Grace. Jackie Kennedy. Audrey Hepburn. Fashion is an industry steeped in human history as much as the psyche. Behind the textiles and silhouettes is a performance of fashion. I’m not simply referring to the catwalk, either. Fashion exemplifies who and what we are. An extension of our selves. It can boost the confidence of the wearer, inspire jealously or admiration of onlookers, or indeed anger a nation. When Dior unveiled his first collection on the morning of February 12, 1947, it was hailed by fashion’s elite as the ‘new’ look – while his fellow French compatriots considered it extravagance in a time of great austerity. Who could believe that fabric has such power! Performing fashion is more than just wearing clothes – it is the desired perceptions of who we are and how we want to be seen. It is constructing an identity.
From classical Greece, to modern Manhattan, the way we dress can represent more than our social, ethnic, political, regional or national identity. The beret is considered a symbol of French identity, despite its Spanish origins. Though lambasted as such, headdresses like the burka are not exclusive to Islamic beliefs. White gowns were associated with early 20th century suffragettes, while black is a staple for…well…pretty much any New Yorker. Fashion can be a great unifier – or divider. Regardless of backgrounds and affinities, as the summer draws to a close, closets all around the county begin the seasonal changeover from summer to fall. Bright, floral prints are exchanged for more earthy tones, while heavier fabrics slowly but surely re-enter the fray. For years, it has been something of a ritual. The Changing of the (sartorial) Guard, if you will. And while many will be transitioning their wardrobes from one season to the next, my own transition has placed me to start anew. Navigating unknown waters – and closets – can be a bit treacherous.
After two months going full ‘T’, I knew the time had come to get rid of clothes. After all, they represent a former state and stage of my life. But if I were to take Dior’s cue, there certainly wasn’t much foundation to stand on. A few leggings, several (gender-neutral) shirts, and all my drag outfits. After the panicking and one (or two) tears, I realized there was nothing to be saddened by. There was no need to worry about the few outfits for daywear. No need to fret about the lack of workwear. This was an opportune moment to buy clothing that matched my personality and my new gender! To reinforce my personal brand of Ortensia Èstelle de Loren. And, let’s be frank, who doesn’t love a good shopping spree?! With an undisclosed amount of money, I relied on three main sources: Family & Friends; Retail & Thrift stores; and the Web. Of all the women in my family, the one I knew I could turn to was my mère. A fashion muse in her own right, my mother ranks among my fashion influencers. I remembered her closet fondly. The times I spent surrounding by fabulous gowns and suits as I browsed through her Vogue magazines. My mother has since become one of my biggest supporters: from my early months as a drag queen, to the early weeks as a transwoman.
“You don’t need everything to be so damn tight!” she exclaimed one Sunday afternoon. After many pleas, she agreed to grant me access to her chamber of fashionable secrets. Among the prized possessions were at least three dresses; suits cut in the same shape and in a variety of colors; multitudes of pants and skirts; jewels belonging to my late grandmother (another fashion muse and influencer); and half a dozen bags. The price tag? Zero dollars! After all, a daughter’s new path is best laid with free things! The Pierre Cardin dress an exception, and suits that could be worn to work, I still felt my new wardrobe lacked my identity. So I ventured to the next place I thought I would never trespass – the brick-and-mortar retail shop. Things have certainly changed since Cher and Dionne walked the malls. Not that I loathe going into shops. I just hate gate going to otherwise drab malls! Nevertheless, I ventured to several stores in the area. Chains and otherwise. After a weeklong venture, I could find nothing. NOTHING! Either the fit was too odd, the cut way different than on the mannequin, or the price tag too much for the quality. Pacing and judging, I gave up on the likes of NY & Co., Lane Bryant, and others. The time had come to go online. And it was anything but underwhelming.
Perhaps Mother Fortune shined upon me. I was thoroughly surprised by my online results. Amazon has been my new fashion destiny. Swing dresses. Pencil skirts. Opera gloves. Evening gowns with décolletage, others meant for business. I’m in absolute heaven! Shoes, admittedly, have been a hit or miss. While some designers were successful, others were more than difficult to navigate. Praise Prime returns! For the court shoe enthusiast (pumps, in American vernacular), I would definitely recommend Shoes of Prey (shoesofprey.com). What can be better than buying shoes? Buying customized shoes! I have no regrets.
Glossing through Alexander Fury’s book on the House of Dior’s collection from 1947 to the present, I realized I’ve been unconsciously fascinated with the dressmaker’s New Look. The art of ultra-feminine and ultra-luxe, the styles of the 1940s and 50s recall a time I didn’t experience. However, the nipped waist and padded hips recall a world very present to me – the world of drag. There is no greater representation of performing fashion than through the art of drag. Throughout history, drag queens have been entertainers as well as agents of social and politics issues. Despite some men and women – both straight and gay – who abhor drag for its flamboyant and, oftentimes, confusing display, drag queens have pushed the envelope as avant-garde artists with out-of-this-world personalities. And while being trans and a drag queen are not mutually exclusive, drag has nevertheless allowed me to be comfortable with who I am.
I may get a few looks while wearing a dress lifted by a tutu, but I also get many compliments. Onlookers – supporters and detractors – may find my sartorial choices one way or the other. It’s as much of their right as it is my prerogative. If Dior quipped that fashion lays the foundation, let everyone build their own. It's more than just the body and fashion but the value one places on oneself. The ability to walk out the door and show yourself to the world. Fearlessly, and with confidence. A person of great confidence does more good when they can also inspire future generations to love who they are, what they do, and where they go in life.
And that's more chic than any label.
Kiss, Kiss Dahlings