Professor Grisel Acosta breaks the glass slipper
When I was 15, my mother asked me if I wanted a quinceañera. I was very clear that I had no interest in looking frilly for an entire day. I asked to use the money that would have been spent on what I considered a superficial party to buy a leather motorcycle jacket instead. When I bought it at the local army/navy surplus store and transformed into queer, Afro-Latinx James Dean, I knew the power of clothes. Each time I wore it, the jacket functioned as a sort of mouthpiece for irreverence, amplifying my real and metaphorical voice. I could imagine that was the start of my bright, badass future, as long as I never turned on the TV. Programs then, like Murphy Brown and LA Lawportrays successful women as incredibly…beige, both in complexion and clothing. I was neither. There was nothing edgy or vibrant about what they were wearing.
When I graduated from college and tried to build a working woman’s wardrobe, even though the items were the right size, I looked like I was wearing someone’s clothes. other. The then-popular tan or gray suit with footballer shoulder pads and a lace blouse was the equivalent of a Cinderella beanbag dress mentality that had been tying my brain ever since I could read dead-end fairy tales. Even when I tried to conform to bleached ideas of professionalism, it only seemed to open the door to comments like “Oh, you look like a college student”, although I suspect those sorts of comments were less about my clothes. and more my body. in clothes. And so, in addition to being great at my job, I decided to spend some time browsing obscure shops and websites in order to find a way to be professional. and colored, so that my voice continued to speak through my clothes, even if on occasion that voice made the people around me a little uncomfortable. I’ve gotten good at it, often finding overseas items or sites that haven’t lasted more than a year, and it still breaks my heart when I think of the excellent digs I’ve had in stores on 8and street in Manhattan that all closed in the early 2000s. I can’t describe the joy of wearing leatherette leggings, tailored to my petite waist, with an oversized sweater purchased through an obscure designer in Korea South, an entire decade before the trend hit the United States, and all for very little money. While some colleagues expected me to mute my voice, both metaphorically and in reality, these garments were part of what made me feel empowered to speak up in meetings. And the more honest and sincere I spoke, the better my career was, so kudos to the clothes. Still, I wish it hadn’t been so hard to find powerful workwear that suits a bold woman of color. Then things started to change.
It took me 25 years and tireless self-direction, but although I built myself without a role model, today I finally feel like I could be As Seen On TV. What did it take? More women of color, queer people who identify as women, and plus-size queens in leadership positions. Several TV shows—Flack, Around twenty, Harlemand Acute– show powerful women in jaw-dropping clothes that imply a creative and avant-garde spirit, and do not pander to male-centric ideas of what professional clothing should look like. Dress codes, at school and at work, often reinforce gender shame, homophobia, transphobia or racist ideas about how people carry their power. See Sophie Okonedo, in the role of Caroline in Flack, running a PR meeting, wearing a navy, green and red striped suit with tiny embroidered daisies all over, I knew there must be a comet in the sky altering the very bends of the universe. Her work outfits on the show are varied – long sleeveless dresses, blazers and t-shirts, tight knits – which always make her look like THE boss. Yes, her size and her voice are intimidating, but her wardrobe gives her so much strength. Tell me her red, black and white outfit in season 1, episode 2 doesn’t make you feel like she would play an amazing Cruella DeVille. Eve, played by Lydia Wilson, holds her own in her patent leather, pink and red jumpsuits and jumpsuits with cutouts that also amp up her fearlessness. Their unconventional yet totally professional attire touts these ideas with booming subwoofers they’ll dance to while cooking a delicious dinner. When Ruth (Genevieve Angelson) is about to re-enter the workforce, in season two, she asks Robyn (Anna Paquin) what women are wearing to work these days. “Are they wearing pantsuits?” she asks, fiddling with, you guessed it, beige pants. Robyn replies, “It’s not the 80s. Women wear what they want. Amen!
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Around twenty and Harlem speak the same truth to the power of fashion. These are programs with women at the center and lots of costumes with floral patterns and rich jacquard. Hattie (Jojo T. Gibbs), the main character of Around twenty, got its start in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, but its patterned button-up shirts paired with casual luxe jewelry convey knowledge of converging style worlds. Her strategic use of T-shirts with feminist and queer slogans makes it clear that she has a point of view, that she is ready to write and that she must unashamedly feel comfortable doing so. The queer flair is heightened when she borrows one of Ida B.’s (Sophina Brown) structured blazers for a movie screening. Ida B. is Hattie’s boss for a short time and intermittent love. Her wardrobe consists of perfectly cut white dresses and trousers and tweed with gold threads. She takes a note of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in that she doesn’t believe that looking powerful means dressing like men dress. She and Hattie go one step further by showing that being queer and dressing powerfully can take endless forms. Women wear what they want. from Harlem The character of Tye (Jerrie Johnson) is a lesbian with a wardrobe that could be taken from both Hattie’s and Ida’s shelves. A tech leader, she makes it clear she doesn’t need the help of a business dinosaur in the series’ pilot, while sporting an oxblood shirt and navy blue suit flocked in a huge lush print of flora and fauna. It’s as if life itself told the fossils that they were no longer needed.
I give Aidy Bryant, like Annie in Acutea cry too – yes we can take up space, wear miniskirts, be leaders at work and be warm. The fact that the show’s clothing designer had to create the clothes because they didn’t exist is… uh, but I hope more clothing designers take notice. We bring our rainbow selves to the table and make it clear that it is perfectly acceptable to wear hoopswear bright colors, wear lipstickwear our hair in her natural statewear our gender as we see fit, wear our power and amplify it.
The professional world has become more colorful because more people like me are in leadership positions: Black, Latinx, queer, plus-size, to be precise. It is time for television to reflect this change. At a meeting of the Mellon Foundation-funded Commission on Black, Race, and Ethnicity Studies at the City University of New York, with the Chancellor, her right-hand man, arguably the most powerful woman in the institution, carried an emerald leather motorcycle. jacket at the table in front of me. (I was in a sapphire suit, in case you were wondering.) When I asked her about the jacket, she said it was her favorite “blazer.” Echoes of my childhood leather jacket turned my eyes into a heart emoji. It was as if she had forcefully taken Cinderella’s slipper and vomited it up, both the impractical glass shoes and the ceiling shattered into beautiful pieces, the iridescent shards reflecting all the colors found in nature.
Grisel Y. Acosta, PhD, is an Afro-Latinx, full queer professor at the City University of New York-BCC. She is the author of Things to pack on the way to everywhere2020 finalist for the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and editor of the Routledge anthology, Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity. Select the job is in VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, Women’s Media Center, Salon, Best American Poetry, The disconcerting, Split this rock, The Acentos magazine, Platform Review, Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latin Anthology, NOMBONO: Speculative poetry by BIPOC poetsand The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry. She is a Geraldine Dodge Foundation Poet, Macondo Fellow, and Creative Writing Editor at Chicana/Latina Studies Review.
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