This Genderqueer Fashion Show Was An Inclusive, Joyous Night At The Museum

Photo: Courtesy of Debbie-Jean Lemonte/DAG Images/
On Thursday night, across the East River and a few miles away from most of the NYFW action, a very different sort of runway show transpired. It was the third annual queer fashion show hosted by dapperQ, a style website and production company focused on masculine style for women, gender queers, and non-binary and trans-identified individuals. The multi-designer show took place (again) at the Brooklyn Museum, with a catwalk set up in the institution's stately Beaux Arts pavilion. This time around, the event was dubbed iD; last year's show was called Verge.

The catwalk was open to the public, unlike the vast majority of Fashion Week events, befitting the "radically inclusive" nature of queer culture circa 2016, as fellow Refinery29 staffer Ash Hodges described it. "As a masculine-of-center lesbian, going to this fashion show is perhaps the only time that I felt like fashion companies see me, or that clothing was made for my body instead of stolen from men's fashion and pinned to fit my female frame," she explained. "It's a beautiful thing to see models, women like me, wearing what would traditionally be called men's fashion on a runway."

Model and activist Rain Dove underscored the show's sense of place and belonging: "The reason the dapperQs show is so important is because it offers hope and inspiration that change is being made, and that there is something more," Dove told Refinery29. "It reminds people that though their identities and sexualities may not be represented in all mainstream media and ad campaigns; that that doesn't mean that there isn't a support base, or that they are alone."

The event had an exuberant atmosphere — a feeling that there was something being accomplished and communicated on the runway, bigger than just concepts about clothing — that isn't frequently found at fashion shows. "There was a buzz of excitement as a community that feels largely ignored by fashion and media poured in to see themselves represented, many for the first time," Hodges said, aptly describing the celebratory vibes.

Ahead, check out the work (and musings on the intersection of fashion and gender identity) from the designers featured in this year's dapperQ show — Angie Chuang, Sir New York, Sharpe Suiting + NiK Kacy, Stuzo Clothing, The Tailory, Thomas Thomas, and We Are Mortals.
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Photo: Courtesy of Debbie-Jean Lemonte/DAG Images/DapperQ.
"Visibility is paramount in creating change in the industry: Allowing queer and queer-supporting designers the forum to showcase their own design concepts is a powerful form of visual activism.

"Together, we are evolving as consumers, supporters, artists, business owners, and public figures. Since Sharpe was founded over three years ago, early success in publicity has boosted us to the forefront of the queer fashion movement.

"Today, we are thrilled to see mainstream fashionistas wearing our clothes on the red carpet and expressing their own gender fluidity. Most importantly, people are realizing that authenticity is more fashionable than fitting in."

Leon Wu, owner and chief designer, Sharpe Suiting
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Photo: Courtesy of Sharpe Suiting/Steve Prue.
"Starting from the highest reaches of the fashion-industry supply chain, clothing construction is extremely binary, even within the custom-suiting segment. Designing is only one aspect of creating a look. Translating a two-dimensional sketch into a three-dimensional product illustrates the integration between art and commerce that is fashion. Achieving this end is challenging, even for the most prominent labels, but the task is monumental for gender-nonconforming design companies."

Leon Wu, owner and chief designer, Sharpe Suiting

Pictured: trans activist Tiq Milan in Sharpe Suiting.
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"I'm aiming to take gender out of the equation when designing and marketing, so that makes it tough to size my pieces to fit all different bodies and also to define my customer, and market every product in a way that appeals to a broad range of individuals.

"I like the challenge, though, and I think I wouldn't even want to be doing this if it was something more predictable and easy. I feel the need to try to see past the current mainstream trends and ideas and think about ways to push society in the direction I envision it going in the future."

Anji Becker, owner and designer, We Are Mortals
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Photo: Courtesy of We Are Mortals.
“We're trying to promote the idea of fluidity — that any clothes can be worn by anyone who is drawn to a certain style. It doesn't have to be at all related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. The apparel industry, naturally, is a balance between the business side of things and self-expression.

"Unfortunately, something that is an art form ends up turning into a product to sell, which means figuring out your target market and catering to their desires in order to continue moving forward as a brand. Doing gender non-conforming fashion makes it that much harder to pinpoint a target market, because the group of people I would like to see wear my designs is so diverse."

Anji Becker, owner and designer, We Are Mortals
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Photo: Courtesy of Debbie-Jean Lemonte/DAG Images/DapperQ.
"We've been used to things being a certain way for so long with the typical womenswear and menswear Fashion Weeks; everything's harshly divided [gender-wise], with nothing in the middle. I doubt that most designers like it that way, because we've seen them trying to blur gender lines for quite some time now, but of course it takes a 'movement' to finally make some change occur.

"There have been plenty of men in skirts and women in suits on runways for years now, but it wasn't necessarily something that was being discussed as a political stance or movement until very recently. It feels like things are finally changing, and the industry might begin to evolve into something that takes a more genderless approach.

"It's important for shows like dapperQ and brands like We Are Mortals to be very vocal about our mission, so it provokes everyone out there to rethink things. With such a large portion of the population now identifying as gender nonconforming, it's no longer just a style preference to choose not to fit a gender stereotype, it's also something that's needed in order to be inclusive and equitable to everyone."

Anji Becker, owner and designer, We Are Mortals
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Photo: Courtesy of DapperQ.
"One of my favorite things about the dapperQ show is that they really strive to focus on the fashion. Even though the word 'queer' is in the show title, the show still is primarily focused around craftsmanship and talent, not specifically around sexuality or identity.

"Because of this, dapperQ's show has become more and more professionally attended every year, and is one of the few queer community fashion shows on the planet that offers a real opportunity for designers and models to be scouted by industry professionals. It's a hope for a better future that I can only see getting bigger. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?"

Rain Dove, model and activist
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Photo: Courtesy of Debbie-Jean Lemonte/DAG Images/DapperQ.
"DapperQ is a space where both emerging and established designers not only get to exhibit their work to the public, but get to do so in a space that is affirming, celebratory, and explicitly political. A space that honors not only the potential that fashion design has to be truly transgressive, but the long history of fashion, especially in queer communities, as a space of resistance and affirmation.

"To center and celebrate queerness and queer bodies, people of color, differently abled people, and gender-nonconforming folks in an industry that has historically marginalized people who do not conform or fit in to violent western beauty standards is a political act.

"Spaces like this help evolve the fashion industry, because they are not only inclusive and increasing visibility, but are playing a part in changing the narrative around what and who is valuable, seen, and desirable."

Auston Björkman, owner and designer, Sir New York
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Photo: Courtesy of the Tailory.
"As a designer, I think what is the most challenging about creating gender-nonconforming fashion design is the fact that the fashion industry still expects me to identify as either a menswear designer or a womenswear designer, whereas I just see myself as a designer that helps people express their own identity through fashion.

Shao Yang, owner and designer, The Tailory
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Photo: Courtesy of Debbie-Jean Lemonte/DAG Images/DapperQ.
"Putting on a show that breaks all fashion norms and boundaries and allows the models to express themselves and be in clothing that allows the world to see them the way they see themselves is a huge breakthrough. It can only further push the fashion industry to recognize all facets of the industry."

Shao Yang, owner and designer, The Tailory
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Photo: Courtesy of Molly Adams/Stuzo.
"It's hard for people to understand that we are not only making clothes for the queer community. We are placed in a box, which is the complete opposite of what we are doing. We make clothes for everyone.

"What dapperQ is doing is extremely important and necessary for the fashion industry because they are showing that the world is in dire need for something new, something other than what has been fed to us by the media. We are the new world order. The norm is dead."

— Stoney Michelli and Uzo Ejikeme, co-creators, Stuzo Clothing
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Photo: Courtesy of Debbie-Jean Lemonte/DAG Images/DapperQ.
"It's challenging to still have to market within the confines of an industry that operates within gender binary sizing and categorization. Also, it's challenging to produce clothing in an ethical way while also remaining accessible and affordable."

— Auston Björkman, owner and designer, Sir New York

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"I don't receive the same respect and courtesy as larger mainstream companies. Not only do we as queer designers face discrimination already as nonconforming individuals, but we also have a harder time getting our manufacturers to understand our concepts and opening up their frame of minds to see the bigger picture of what we are trying to achieve. On top of that, we constantly get bumped or disregarded because we are starting off with small productions, which take more investment to begin with new lasts, patterns, and sizing."

NiK Kacy, owner and designer, NiK Kacy Footwear
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Photo: Courtesy of DapperQ/Alyssa Meadows.
"What is so important and progressive about dapperQ's event is that it is entirely open for anyone to attend and it's an invaluable experience for the queer community to see such a broad spectrum of humanity represented on the runway.

"Fashion is opportunity for transformation and empowerment, because in getting dressed we have the opportunity each and every day to express ourselves and tell the world who we are. I'm honored to have walked that [dapperQ] runway and honored to have attended. [I've been] brought to tears on both occasions seeing models and attendees all so very grateful to be a part of this testament of what it is to be human."

— Elliott Sailors, model
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Photo: Courtesy of Debbie-Jean Lemonte/DAG Images/DapperQ.
"More and more, we see that the mainstream fashion industry is paying attention and taking the voice of the LGBTQ community seriously. The sheer number of designers, brands, and businesses has grown and continues to expand and prosper. From Selfridges and their agender concept store to the breakout success of various GNC [gender non-conforming] models, the opportunities for further visibility for the queer fashion community to prosper are boundless."

Angie Chuang, owner and designer, Angie Chuang
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Photo: Courtesy of J. Chuang Photography.
"When I went to fashion school, I was educated in womenswear in the traditional sense. We draped and made patterns that accentuated female ideals of beauty. Those standards do not apply here."

Angie Chuang, owner and designer, Angie Chuang
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Photo: Courtesy of Debbie-Jean Lemonte/DAG Images/DapperQ.
"Gender-nonconforming fashion design is the antithesis of fashion: The fashion industry is very much based on a standardization of beauty and the basis of GNC fashion is to celebrate the individuals and their authentic selves. There are no standards of sizes and body types."

Angie Chuang, owner and designer, Angie Chuang