Stylin' BlaQueer Feminisms: The Politics of Queer Black Women's Fashion Activism
Blake, Donnesha Alexandra
Bolles, Augusta L
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Stylin’ BlaQueer Feminisms contributes to conversations about the political function of fashion by exploring the ways that queer Black women define activism with fashion and how their practices advance Black feminism. In this study, I aim to define fashion activism, to examine how queer Black women engage in fashion activism in digital and physical spaces, and to outline core themes in their fashion activism. Scholars in the humanities and social sciences prove that fashion is political by using fashion, style, and dress as vehicles to study subject formation, nonverbal communication, and activism. While there are studies about the political nature of fashion that center Black women of various gender and sexual identities, few examine how contemporary Black lesbian and queer women leverage fashion in digital media and cultural institutions to engage in resistance and knowledge production; much less have those studies connected their fashion activism to core themes in Black feminism. I employ mix methods to investigate the practices and performances in six fashion activist projects produced by queer Black women. These methods include visual and discourse analyses of the style blogs; She’s A Gent, A Dapper Chick, and She Does Him Fashion, and season one of the YouTube web series The Androgynous Model; event analyses of two public LGBTQ+ fashion shows Rainbow Fashion Week (RFW) and dapperQ Presents: iD; and interviews with the creators of RFW and The Androgynous Model. In performing a comparative analysis of these projects, I found that intention aside, the practices and performances in these projects signal Black feminist politics such as the centering of marginal identities, self-definition, using the body to signal and subvert controlling images, and coalition building between freedom-making struggles. I call this praxis, BlaQueer Style. Through their articulations of BlaQueer Style, Black lesbian and queer women illustrate that fashion activism is not only the work they do to subvert rigid gender and sexual codes in the existing fashion industry, but it is the labor marginalized communities undertake to leverage fashion, style, or dress to affirm their intersecting identities, build community, and resist oppressive structures in society.