The Future is in the Freedom

It’s 7.30 in the morning, and the sunlight is blazing in through the window. Outside, the wind chill lowers the temperature to just above freezing, while freshly steamed strapless jumpsuits and minidresses hang in a storage closet indoors. There is fresh coffee in the pot and makeup is strewn everywhere; it is the epitome of creative chaos as sluggish models and dreary stylists trickle in to prepare for the day’s 11 hour shoot schedule. The first model in the hair and makeup chair is Jakob Pollack, a junior Film Studies and Physics double major with cheekbones so sharp they could cut glass. I’ve known Jakob for a little while now, and I think it’s fair to say that he is inexplicably fearless, simultaneously curating his image flawlessly. What you see with him is deliberate; it is what he wants you to see. As he very bluntly puts it, “fashion is less a representation of my identity than a construction of a fake identity I want to portray.” 

The next recipient of our makeup team’s magic touch is Julia Aurelia Glass, a senior double majoring in Engineering Mechanics and Economics, a trans woman, and unfortunately, the soon-to-be victim of the summer dress. At 6’ 2” she towers over me, radiating confidence in her effortless demeanor. Not one for beating around the bush, Aurelia tells it like it is. She states, “my style is totally honest. Whatever I’m wearing, whether it’s a turtleneck and leather jacket, or a sorority tank and leggings, it’s never a costume, it’s always a reflection of how I feel about myself.” 

An hour of eyeshadow blending, six scrambled eggs, and a stack of pancakes later, we begin styling the first outfits of the day. Though we went through a fitting as usual, and so have a set of clothes ready to put on, we know that this is likely to end up on the cover of our inaugural issue (as it turns out, we are right!), and the pressure to achieve some semblance of perfection is definitely on. Just as Aurelia finishes getting the blue and red striped silk dress on, our final model for the morning, a nineteen year old Africana Studies and Sociology double major from Auburn, Georgia by the name of Adelle Thompson, comes in. Our second makeup artist of the morning, Monika, immediately gets started on what is to be an intense blue lid and lip combination. Adelle holds her style slightly closer to her heart than the others, sharing, “every stylistic choice that I make is showing the world a little more of my truth.” 

What differentiates the models of our cover shoot from the others cast in the magazine, is that they were chosen not solely based on the look of the shoot, or an image that we were trying to portray, but because of who they are and what communities they belonged to. The shoot is built around them; their personalities, attitudes and personal style. I knew very early on that I wanted the culmination of our reflection on the last century to be a genderfluid cover shoot, showcasing the positive direction that the fashion industry is (hopefully) moving in. I learnt a lot through the research process- I learnt that normalizing genderfluidity in fashion does not mean putting women in tuxedos and men in ball gowns; it means giving people of every gender the freedom and opportunity to wear ball gowns, tuxedos, basketball shorts, hoop skirts, stockings, and anything else they might want to, without the fear of retaliation or judgement. In essence, it is the complete removal of gender from style, and the redefinition of menswear and womenswear to just ‘clothes’.

Perhaps Adelle puts into words most elegantly, “we, as a community, can do more to normalize the abnormal. We need to show everyone that there is no one way to be gay, there is no one way to be beautiful, and that there is no one way to be a human being.” As the clock strikes nine, and we’re all piling into cars on our way to the American Visionary Art Museum, this is the exact thought rumbling around in my head. There’s a lot that needs to be done to make real strides in the field, and one group that is absolutely pivotal in this conversation, is the transgender community. “I’m very fond of reinterpreting masculine visual cues in a feminine way. I think it reflects an important part of my transition, learning how to reconcile my masculine history with my feminine self,” says Aurelia, and it’s this exact personal reasoning that needs to be both heard and respected. 

The minutes trickle on, and as we move from a tree of mirrors to a reflective, collaged egg, the magical direction of our photographers for the morning, Mary and Joanna, is truly coming to life. We move from Adelle and Jakob manspreading back to back on the concrete steps, to Aurelia striking a power pose with both hands on her hips in a silk gown with thigh high slits, staring straight into the camera; all three of them poised, elegant and defiant in the thirty-two degree weather. As our stylists Phoebe, William and Mia adjust lapels and re-tuck shirts, I’m reminded that change, just like everything worthwhile, is a team effort. It’s going to take millions of individuals making tiny adjustments, just like the two-millimeter-to-the-left shift of a scarf that William is so intricately performing, to achieve the real change in mindset that is required. 

The bottom line is that, as a society, it’s time to reassess what we value. There has to come a point where we accept that the past is unchangeable, but the future very much is. As a generation our legacy can be to rectify these injustices. The first step is really as simple as not judging someone for being exactly who they are.

– Saniya Ramchandani