Friday, June 16, 2023

Q&A with Anita Dolce Vita




Anita Dolce Vita is the author of the new book dapperQ Style: Ungendering Fashion. Dolce Vita, who lives in New York City, is the editor-in-chief of the queer style magazine dapperQ.


Q: What inspired you to write dapperQ Style?


A: As we started getting invited to cover New York Fashion Week (NYFW) events, we noted that we did not have any post-show content that was relevant to our readers.


We started our own fashion shows, and our events have been showcased at world renowned cultural institutions, including Brooklyn Museum, the Institute for Contemporary Art/Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts/Boston, and the California Academy of Sciences.


dapperQ produced the first ever queer style panel at SXSW as part of the official 2016 Sxstyle showcase and was asked to return in 2017, 2018, and 2019 to speak as experts in ungendering beauty and fashion.


The next step was a book. Many binary magazines such as GQ, Esquire, Details, Lucky, and InStyle had companion print books and manuals. Similar to traditional NYFW shows, our readers did not see themselves represented in such books.


So, I wanted to create that space, documenting style images similar to The Sartorialist, but also including the models' voices since queer style is political and a form of visual activism. 


Q: How did you choose the people to profile in the book?


A: I wanted both the fashion and the models to represent the depth and breadth of diversity in our LGBTQIA+ communities. The models range from professional models, such as Corey Wade, to artists and activists, such as ALOK and Dr. Van Bailey. 

Q: The book's subtitle is “Ungendering Fashion.” Can you say more about that, and about what you hope people take away from the book?


A: Our mission at dapperQ is to ungender fashion. Fashion does not inherently have a gender. It has been gendered for specific reasons, primarily as a tool to maintain social rule and hierarchies.


Fashion plays a significant role in the social construction of identity. It is one of the most visible markers of gender constructs, and thus also our social status in society.


Humans assign many often arbitrary meanings to fabrics cut and sewn in a certain manner. Think of the difference between a skirt and a pair of shorts. One has one opening for both legs, the other has two openings for each leg, and yet the differences in the cuts of fabric have such highly charged gendered meanings.


Queer folks have been at the forefront of discussions around ungendering fashion and recognizing that fabric, clothing, and patterns do not have a gender – that the purpose of arbitrary clothing binaries exists solely as a function to maintain the colonialist patriarchy.

Through the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, police weaponized “masquerade laws,” old codes that prohibited “costumed dress,” to punish queer and trans people wearing articles of clothing that didn’t correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth, [Hugh] Ryan, the author of When Brooklyn Was Queer, wrote in History.

Among LGBTQ+ people, these laws were called the “three-article rule”: an individual had to be wearing three articles of clothing of the gender they were assigned at birth or else they’d be arrested. If you were assigned female at birth but caught wearing pants and a shirt, you could be arrested for failing to wear three articles of women’s clothing.

While this rule became part of the queer lexicon, a law citing a specific number of articles didn’t actually exist on the books. According to historians, calling it the “three-article rule” may have originated as a way for queer and trans people to warn each other about the police or served as an “informal rule of thumb,” Ryan wrote.

The so-called three article-rule meant that anyone with gender variance could be punished for wearing clothing that made them feel good; a night out with friends turned political with fashion.

Here we are in 2023 and politicians are still attempting to legislate the way we dress. Queer and trans identities and experiences - use of restrooms, drag performances, gender affirming care - are being used by the far right to mobilize their voters.


Both politicians and civilians who want to see us completely erased are leveraging their political power to dismantle our democracy and roll back rights for all U.S. citizens.


Tennessee recently passed the nation’s first law limiting drag shows. These types of laws are exactly aligned with other measures meant to control our bodily autonomy. They are distractions, while they slowly begin their march forward to take away rights for others.

Q: What do you think the photos by The Street Sensei add to the book?


A: It was important for me to have the models lensed by someone from our community. I met The Street Sensei (Kim) in 2016 at an artist retreat in Palm Springs. I had been a fan of Kim's work for several years before the retreat.


When we met in-person, Kim shared with me that dapperQ was an important platform for her in college as she was finding her own style and searching to find others who looked like her and shared the same experiences in the pages of fashion magazines.


It was such an honor to hear, and an immediate spark of creativity flowed. We have been working together on dapperQ's NYFW shows, documenting safe destinations for LGBTQIA+ travel, and now together on this book!

Q: What are you working on now?


A: Our eighth annual NYFW show at Brooklyn Museum. It is the largest queer fashion show in the world and will be held on Sept. 7, 2023. Keep an eye out on our website.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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