How do we use fashion as a form of expression? What are we intentionally and unintentionally telling others in our dress? Kristin Aquino and Darrin Wallace, the creators of the Threaded Souls Project, aimed to address these questions at last week’s fashion show held in UC Berkeley’s Multicultural Community Center. They explained that the inspiration for the project came from the idea of fashion as “a strategy for survival,” in particular how queer people of color maneuver the world using fashion as a means of self-expression.
Student models, along with the designers themselves, modeled the eight looks on a runway in the MCC. The first look was designed by student Benji Delgadillo, who modeled his own glamorously androgynous look — a bright floral blazer, metallic leggings and five-inch studded platform boots. Delgadillo discussed how he has struggled with the limitations of traditional office clothing when trying to express his femme identity at work. He described how he values his femme identity over his trans male identity and chose his heeled boots as a way to amplify that femininity while still presenting a tough appearance. Delgadillo explained that his two favorite items are the porcelain vessel necklaces he and his girlfriend have filled with each other’s sexual fluids and his binder, which he wears every day to flatten his breasts, allowing the expression of his gender fluid manhood.
Marisa Boyce, program coordinator at the Gender Equity Resource Center, described her look as “Professional Drag: Social Justice Style.” Boyce reflected afterwards on how those who identify as gender queer must choose one side of the gender binary in professional environments. She explained that because of this, she feels like she is always in drag to some extent at work but that a masculine presentation allows her to be taken seriously. She was able to find a compromise by incorporating loud, bright colors into her look, composed of an aqua button-down, black jeans and black high-tops, so she doesn’t have to “sell out her individuality when stepping into the machine.”
Dee Mauricio, an intern at the MCC, wanted to explore how particular clothing items are gendered and racialized. For her look, she chose traditionally masculine pieces, such as brogues, a bow-tie and a military-style jacket, to challenge conceptions of gender. She was also interested in how certain jewelry on a brown body tends to have the connotations of “ghetto” or “hoodrat.” By putting large gold hoops on her model, who identifies as mixed race, Mauricio was able to question racial stereotypes and reflect on how hoops mean different things on different bodies.
The project included a photo campaign in which participants discussed how they use personal style. One participant, Dea Borup, explained that, as a trans woman, she proudly wears a bra as an act of self-love and personal triumph. One of her most treasured items is a pair of rose-colored Betsey Johnson heels she received as a peace offering from her parents. She described it as the moment when she felt her perseverance had succeeded and her parents acknowledged her trans idenvvtity. Valerie Jameson discussed her choice of an embroidered Mexican shirt, explaining that this kind of clothing is frequently appropriated and commodified by larger companies for mass consumption, so she tries to give agency to women in the community by buying local handmade items.
“I use fashion to write my soul into existence,” explained Diamond Raymond, one of the other designers featured in the show. This sentiment is passionately felt throughout the show, as the designers demonstrate how fashion can be used as a powerful and creative way of expressing emotions, stories and experiences.