25 February 2010 – Daily Drag Show?

February 25th, 2010 § 33 comments

25 February 2010, originally uploaded by academichic.
  • Scarf – Echo
  • Sweater – J Crew
  • Denim Pencil Skirt- BR Outlet
  • Belt – New York & Co
  • Boots- Banana Republic, via ebay
Today I am wearing this beautiful paisley scarf in shades of green and blue sent to me from Echo.  I loved how S. has  been wearing scarves over turtlenecks and how my scarf looked yesterday around the popped collar of my button down.  I don’t own many turtlenecks so tried it out with a shawl neck color sweater and am rather satisfied with the effect.  This scarf is a large square in a light thin material.   Echo has how many beautiful colors, patterns, and shapes and I’m excited to have a shape I don’t usually wear.  Like E. the other day,  I folded my scarf into a triangle and wrapped the small points behind my neck and then tied them in the front underneath the larger point of the triangle.  I am really liking this style and I already have many ideas of how I will wear this once the weather finally warms up a bit!
Square Scarf from Echo, originally uploaded by academichic.
Ok, now for part two of my digression.  I wrote yesterday about dressing to express identity and the possibility of changing styles to express a different identity to different people.  All of your comments are so interesting!

As promised I want to talk a little bit about drag.  I have done quite a bit of thinking about drag because in my studies I continually wrestle with Judith Butler and because I am writing my dissertation on a male artist who often poses as a woman in his photographs. I also love a good drag show for entertainment and believe that drag has significant political potential.  This political and radical potential was confirmed for me this  past weekend – I saw some amazing activist performers.

I also heard an interesting suggestion about daily drag.  I have long believed that to some degree we often all dress in drag – this is because I believe that gender is a construction and that clothing works to construct and perpetuate gender identity.  However my thoughts on this were pushed further by a speaker at the conference who argued that we have two options when getting dressed: we either dress in drag or in a uniform.  If we don’t think about the message our clothing is sending that we are wearing a uniform, if we are conscious of it then it’s drag.  According to her definition, drag is a conscious dressing that sends a message about gender identity and makes people laugh, cry, or think.  If we take this definition then S. E. and I are dressing in drag everyday (at least everyday we post here) since we are certainly very conscious of what we are wearing and the messages it might convey.   I’m still working though these ideas but what do you think about this uniform vs. drag thing?

Ok, so why do I find this a powerful idea?  Sal asked yesterday if anyone made any comments or asked any questions about my attire.
I was very comfortable and confident in my appearance and I  felt totally accepted (I think this feeling had a lot to do with my own confidence) but I did have a few students ask me questions about how I dressed.  One student asked if I felt like I “passed,” if people assumed I was straight because of how I dressed.  I think our default is usually that someone is straight so while perhaps my clothing could reveal my sexuality, I would still “pass” on the phone, on paper, etc.  I explained to my students that I am confident in my clothing and that helps me feel confident about my identity, my relationship, and my scholarship.

I think the idea of dressing in drag appeals to me because I am aware that my clothing is a choice and that it sends a message and I like that my daily performance challenges people’s notions about what it means to be a lesbian and what it means to be feminine.  Our words and actions have to work in conjunction with our clothing and when you take my whole package into account there are some great seeming contradictions at work: I love pencil skirts and I am a lesbian, I wear heals and run marathons, I like pink and hot sauce and dark beer, I wear ruffly dresses and work boots and gloves.  I agree with most of you who said you pick what you wear based on the situation (pencil skirts for teaching, jeans for the bar, trendier items for campus, conservative wear for an interview, etc) but I have found that my overall sense of style doesn’t change as much as it once did (in an attempt to fit in with different groups of people).  Yet, it is empowering to remember that if it is all drag, a dramatic costume change is always an option!


25 February 2010, originally uploaded by academichic.

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§ 33 Responses to 25 February 2010 – Daily Drag Show?"

  1. Kate says:

    This is a fascinating post and I loved your thoughts on it.

  2. Elena says:

    Really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    And I love this outfit—has a great western vibe.

  3. Trisha says:

    So interesting. Sometimes I miss being in college and considering things like this instead of just rushing on to complete the next task. :) I don’t know that I agree completely about that definition of drag, but I will certainly be thinking about it for some time. Love today’s scarf — great colors and pattern.

  4. Jen says:

    Interesting post… very thought-provoking. Gender Trouble does that to one! I research gender identity but not using the perspective hinted at in this post but I have to say that I feel this is definitely a relevant question to ask.

    I love that scarf. Colour combo is quite Easter-ish I felt.

  5. Jane Winkler says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thought-provoking post. It’s given me a lot to mull over. Embarassingly enough, I didn’t exactly assume that you were straight, but I was a little surprised to learn that you are gay.

    Ironic–I’ve had several people (gay and straight) assume that I’m gay because I wear my hair very short.It ticks me off to be lumped into anycategory based on my appearance, and yet I did it to someone else without even thinking about it.

    Your students are lucky to have you.

  6. Ecochic says:

    Very thought-provoking post.

    Thank you.

  7. Rebekah says:

    Hmm! Uniform vs. Drag might be a false dichotomy, but I think I get the idea.

    I’m student teaching at an elementary school; helloooo, wardrobe identity crisis. The dress code is forgiving, but I no longer know how to dress myself. Very uncomfortable.

  8. This is an interesting post. To some extent I agree with that definition of drag, but at the same time I don’t. It strikes me as too much of a generalization. I think a person can perform drag without being political. Likewise, politics can be and often are connected to what we are, but many people don’t give much thought to what they wear. I also feel like this definition is a bit ahistorical. Maybe that’s what drag might me to some people right now, but it doesn’t get to the etymology of the word.

  9. Jenny says:

    Beatiful scarf! I just recently discovered this blog and it has inspired me to revamp my scarf collection to include more like yours.

    Also, I have always had a fascination with drag. My dream Halloween costume is to someday dress up in full drag queen regalia.

  10. Patrick says:

    Fantastic post. I love this idea proposed. I also love drag, pink, hot sauce and dark beer. Rock on.

    This theory really elevates the concept for me. Fascinating, indeed.

  11. S says:

    ” I like that my daily performance challenges people’s notions”

    LOVE this! And I love to do the same. I have a PhD in physics, but I like to wear pretty heels, dresses, pink, and shopping. I almost feel like it is a duty to show people that their stereotypes are wrong.

  12. Kelly says:

    This post is very thoughtful and thought-provoking. It was interesting to hear your thoughts on all of this – academichic is certainly making me think a lot about my wardrobe lately!

  13. V says:

    Well, this is something I think about every day, as you probably know, since I’ve written you about it! Since moving to Utah and starting a PhD and getting divorced (though not legally), I have been playing with a more femme gender presentation, as well as a more formal one, much like y’all wear here on this site; more teacherly, whereas in my MFA, with a shaved head, I wore jeans and hoodies to teach poetry.

    Dressing feminine feels much more deliberate than my butch uniform did, and I think this makes sense, not because butches can be sartorial, but because most fashion has been centered around women and, for better or worse, it feels like there are more rules to dressing femme. Even when femme clothes make me feel comfortable and truer to myself, they also make me feel guilty and I’m hyper conscious of them, because I do feel so performative. Like this is: “V Dressed As a Lady.” I really struggle with not being perceived as a lesbian anymore, so I don’t have any real answers to this, just my own thoughts. It is a difficult thing to navigate, but I’m glad you’re addressing it!

  14. E says:

    Posts like this are the reason that I come to this blog. Thank you, I really liked reading your thoughts. I also like V’s comments.

  15. HH says:

    Thank you so much for your writing, this concept of drag has preoccupied me for a long time. As a “straight-looking” lesbian, I often feel like I’m undercover (I live in the South) and this lady persona allows me to suss out colleagues before I disclose more of my identity. Ten years ago when I came out, I was so eager to be perceived as queer on contact I dressed shabbily in boys’ clothes and political t-shirts or hippie dreck and rainbows everywhere and would have called the now me a closet case. But coming out now to people is a more subtle political act and I hope it shakes up their world a little more than if I looked like the Other on first contact. My femininity is my shield.

  16. Cara says:

    I loved this post and the previous one. I have really been working to put words on my own reasons for dressing in skirts and dresses. Part of it is I am really girly–always have been. But most importantly I am a female minister–an idea that automatically challenges most people’s conception about gender. I like to dress in feminine attire for myself but I also see it as political–you cannot aviod my femaleness if I wear a dress. By not dressing to fit in with the men around me and in fact dress very confidently as a woman I make a statement that the feminine ought to be part of what we see when we engage the church. I am sure that this is true for many fields as women challenge stereotypes, but I find it particularly urgent in my vocation that has a history of actively working against the liberation of many peoples to be a sign and a symbol of the change that needs to occur and the brilliant potential of what could be.

    Ok, I feel like I have typed a diserrtation here, but this is something I have given a lot of thought about and am very passionate about!

  17. admin says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments!

    @La Historiadora de Moda – I agree this is an ahistorical discussion of drag but I’m saving the historical one for my dissertation :)

    @V thank you for your story. As I wrote to you before, I firmly believe you can perform whatever gender identity you want for whatever reason, but I hope you don’t feel that professional needs to be feminine. My partner, while usually a more casual dresser, often pulls off a very polished professional look with out heels or skirts and she is much more comfortable in her skin for it.

    @HH – Wow your comments resonate with me!! I too came out in undergrad over 10 years ago now and shaved my head and wore rainbows and jeans and tees all the time. It was such an important clothing moment for me but I too like how coming out these days “shakes up their world a little more”!

    @Cara – so interesting! I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

  18. Sally says:

    Hmmm. I can understand the idea that “drag” implies dressing to broadcast gender identity, but I’m hung up on the uniform part. To me, a uniform is something you wear to perform a specific task. If you’re NOT dressing in drag but in a uniform, as this dichotomy implies, what are you in uniform FOR?

  19. Sara says:

    I love this post. It’s set me thinking, but what most resonates with me is the power of conscious dressing versus putting on clothing unconsciously. That the conscious dresser can shape and bend the message sent with that outfit on that day. I love, too, the dichotomy of drag versus uniform, though I find dichotomies to be a bit sticky (but fun to puzzle over). Thanks for giving me something to tumble around in my head today!

    And your outfit is lovely, by the way – the vibrant patterned scarf with the belted sweater is a fantastic silhouette on you.

  20. evanadine says:

    drag -vs- uniform
    im not sure that i completely buy into it, but im not discounting it either.
    but is it possible to dress both in drag AND in uniform?

    for example, with the outfit i am wearing today, i specifically chose it for the office, and in that respect i generally consider it a “uniform” — it is not the type of outfit i would be likely to wear outside of work and my purpose in dressing that way is to present myself professionally (as opposed to masculine or feminine).
    however, that said, i did consciously choose pieces that would make me look very feminine and ladylike, so in that sense, it would be drag.

    further, what if, as a woman with curves, i donned a fully masculine ensemble with no intention to feminize it. no matter how hard i try, my curves would still show, and i would certainly be identified as a woman…

    as i said, im not sure whether or not i agree with the theory, but it is definitely an interesting one to think about.
    thankyou for getting my mind going!

  21. I really enjoyed reading the comment thread. I love that a blog about fashion can also write about sociology, gender expression, history, and political movements.

    I find it interesting to read about so many people who struggle with how to express themselves through clothing and what is too feminine or not enough lesbian. On the other end of the spectrum, if you dress the way you feel without any conscious struggle, or issue with how you present yourself, what are you portraying? I am very into LGBT issues, feminism and gender identity, but I never think twice about wearing 4 inch heels, makeup and ruffles and don’t apologize for it either.

    I also find the idea of “passing” both fascinating and extremely problematic(in many ways, but especially when it comes to women in fashion) because certainly, to be a woman who likes womem does not mean just one thing. Why IS does it seem strange that a lesbian can be girly?

  22. mbz says:

    Drag is the perfect word to describe “getting all dolled up”. Our close knit group of inner circle friends is an even mix of straights, gays and lesbians. When we are planning to get together for some event or just to party, we often ask each other if we are going in “Drag” using the word to imply a higher level of dressing up, rather than gender identity.
    (We have a slogan,”Get out the glad rags, we’re doin’ Drag”)
    This is probably a generational thing, all of us being mid-fifties to early sixties, and all of us looking remarkably the same when at leisure. Jeans, hoodies, tee’s, sneakers…. Yup, I’d call it a uniform, a uniform for relaxing, fun, chores, sports, travel…

  23. Chelsea says:

    Oh I just love this post! I didn’t know that you were a lesbian until now, and honestly assumed you were straight. I feel kind of like a schmuck for that because most people who see/meet me assume the same thing, even though I’m gay. This incorrect assumption can be a difficult one to break without coming out directly (as in “Hi, I’m Chelsea, and I’m gay!”) because when I talk about my “girlfriend” they assume it’s a friend who is a girl. Sometimes I’ll use the word partner just to out myself more comfortably, but while we are definitely committed, I would rather save that title for after we get married (whether it becomes legal or not).

    In response to this uniform vs. drag thing, I can definitely understand that perspective. I have always been girly, both fashionably and in my personality. There are exceptions of course (I also ran a marathon and LOVE dark beer for instance), but overall I am completely comfortable with the titles “feminine”, “girly”, “femme”, etc. This comfortableness goes back to childhood when I refused to wear pants because they weren’t pretty, and lived in my sparkly jelly shoes. These qualities feel inherent to me, just like sports and short hair and men’s clothing feel inherent to my girlfriend, but I know that gender is socially constructed and just because I was born anatomically female does not mean my personality and gender identity were destined to be what they are. All this to say that to use the speaker you mentioned’s definition of drag, I totally dress in it all the time. I want (and have always wanted) to project my femininity through my clothing.

    I feel as though I’m rambling, but I just welcome the chance to discuss these issues with others who relate. I started my blog for three main reasons: to improve my body image/self esteem through honing my own style, to inspire others to feel good about their bodies RIGHT NOW, and to counter stereotypes about gay women and fashion.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, and I just LOVE the outfit that goes along with it :)

  24. I really like this definition of drag. I mean, some might argue that drag is consciously choosing clothing that suggests a gender other than your own…but that definition fails to separate sex (your parts) and gender (a social construct). It also would kind of ignore the mutability of society’s ideas on gender. After all, it used to be considered uncouth (sp?) for a woman to wear pants, or any item of clothing designed for a man. Now these items could be considered everyday wear for many women, with little or no social backlash because of that.

    So, when I consider it carefully, this seems to be the definition of drag that most makes sense, that best addresses the difference between sex and gender. At any rate, you’ve definitely given me something to think about.

  25. Clare says:

    This is an absolutely enlightening point of view. I never would have thought to classify drag as any clothing choice that you’re consciously making a statement with, but it totally makes sense. I definitely need to take some time to think about how this works in my own life. So thought-provoking. Thanks, A.!

  26. sarah says:

    this is a perfect example of why I love academichic: an interesting opening and a fascinating follow-up discussion in this comment thread.

    While any binary system is going to be problematic, this uniform-vs-drag dichotomy is intriguing. I had a surprising experience this last week that I’d like to share, as I stumbled upon the political power of just such a definition of drag.

    As a joke for my colleagues*, I dressed up as if “on safari” one day – a bone hat trimmed in black, khaki blouse, beaded Masai wedding necklace, a camel and ivory houndstooth pencil skirt, a wide belt, tall heeled lace-up boots, etc. I happened to be visiting the Germanics department on our campus to inquire about translation services, and the woman behind the desk gushed that she just loved the get-up. “We don’t see much of that around here,” she said. Without thinking (oh dear, when will I LEARN?), I mused, “I wonder why not? It’s a part of your history, too.” As the woman stuttered that the Germans were “not proud” of their colonial past, I realized I’d hit a very profound insecurity. I noted that this was a “send-up” of a shared past which I think is generally considered ignominous now. This seemed to put her more at ease, but I am still puzzling at the power of dress, and reference to history, to unsettle – particularly as the safari-inspired look still regularly appears in fashion circulation. I also wonder if the outfit could have had the same effect if the necklace hadn’t been a “real” artifact.

    *A digression: do your colleagues ever participate in your sartorial choices? I’m the only woman “dressing up” in my department, so this might be part of the enthusiasm, but one of my favorite things about dressing is when my colleagues “participate” in it. Several of them have favorite pieces, and I will wear these pieces “for” them on days when we’ll see each other. Alternatively, sometimes we suddenly come up with a funny theme that I use to dress the next day. I personally find this very rewarding, but I wonder what you three make of it? Keep in mind, of course, that we are all historians of theatre and former practitioners of theatre, a most collaborative art form.

  27. I love how this scarf adds some color to this outfit. You look so pretty and sophisticated!


  28. Carrie says:

    I am an undergraduate student who is thinking about pursuing grad school and eventually becoming a professor. It makes me really happy to see queer people like myself in academia … especially well-dressed queer people :) Thank you!

  29. Becca L says:

    Thank you for this fantastic post on clothing and gender-issues. I’ve struggled a lot with this issue, although more so as a woman in a very male-dominated discipline. Woman in my discipline often avoid looking “feminine” or “pretty” in a conventional sense to feel like they fit in. My clothing choices have always been loaded in the sense that I want to establish myself as a woman in my own terms, and not what is expected of me from society or my academic peers. Rock on!

  30. [...] outward appearances influence how we are received or “read” (whether we like it or not) and how we can control our self-presentation to an extent to make a statement and claim our bodies as our own. However, I hadn’t experienced [...]

  31. Maria says:

    I think this is one of my favourite posts on academichic :) I am definitely conscious of what I wear and can identify a little with what you define as drag in that I am conscious everyday of what I am wearing. But we all wear specific items or trends to events, parties, teaching, formal dinners, hiking, sports, the beach- we have our own uniforms for these occasions, but if we’re aware of what we’re wearing then you seem to be saying that = drag, which subsumes ‘uniform’ into the ‘drag’ category anyway.

  32. [...] Jeans: Kut from the Kloth, via Nordstrom A very wise woman, citing another very wise woman, noted that when we get dressed every day, we either dress in drag [...]

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