Welcome to the inaugural class of '29. We've selected 29 graduating college seniors, entering the "real" world in 2018, to write about the state of their lives. What are their hopes, dreams, fears, stressors, failures, and successes as they leave school behind? We will be releasing new entries on a daily basis. If you would like yours to be considered, please email email@example.com.
All my life, I’ve been an outlier, rarely resembling those around me. I grew up Black, queer, low-income and raised by a single mother in a town where most of my peers did not understand those intersections. Against that backdrop, fashion has been a means of control for me, a tool for navigating the world and the spaces I move through each day. In middle school, a time defined by a combination of rebellion and resistance, I tried to navigate the weirdness of the world by using clothing as my creative outlet. Others might reflect on their middle school outfit choices and think “Oh, how tragic!” But I realized that my style was the only part of my identity I had control over. And, as someone who was already on the margins, conveying my identity through fashion was the only way to feel some sense of control over my marginalization. Being goth/punk (I’ll spare you the photos) was the only thing that felt emblematic of my identity.
I moved through adolescence learning to use style as a reflective armor. To be a sort of chameleon, knowing when to stand out and blend in. My fluidity with fashion became central to my self expression. Now, almost a dozen years after my goth middle school days, fashion has become my career path and life’s passion.
I received my undergraduate degree in apparel design and merchandising and even went to graduate school for fashion. While there, I wrote my thesis on Afropunk and the ways fashion embodies resistance. I’ve written about size inclusivity and the internal issues surrounding the push for plus-size fashion. As an undergrad I created the first plus-size collection at my university. But now, master’s degree in hand, I find myself wondering what does one do with a Master of Arts in Fashion Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies (besides say that five times fast and stunt a little)? I feel the world looking at me with the looming question, “What’s next?” Oftentimes, the best answer I can come up with is a sarcastic, “A nap, lol.”
That’s because even thinking about the path ahead is exhausting. I want to do all of the things, turn the industry on its head, look back and say “I did that.”
But we’re living in a moment in time where it seems that your success is defined by your follower count more so than your accomplishments. And it’s intimidating to go rushing into a industry that you’re not sure will understand you or your goals.
So, in an effort to be crystal clear about what I plan to accomplish, here are mine. Instead of talking about just the pretty side of fashion, I want to talk about things like:
The buying power of the LGBT+ community is $917 billion, yet there is still a lack of queer representation in fashion, as well as a dearth of trans and genderless clothing.
Lagging diversity on the runway of not just race (the latest Diversity Report from NYFW gives the statistic of 37.3% models of color), but also of age, size, and gender. And don’t even get my started on why we don’t even hear statistics on models who are differently abled/disabled?
I know addressing these issues won’t be easy. There is so much conversation swirling around “having a seat at the table,” but I’m finding it hard just to enter the room. Are the doors closed, is there a secret password for entry? Besides, from what I can tell the seats all seemed to be filled.
Even with those barriers, I’m ready to dive in head first into this industry. That’s not to say that I’m not a little intimidated. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my various intersections — Black, fat, queer, femme, with an invisible disability. My intersections are not uncommon, but they’re the experiences of those who have been missing from the conversation for too long.
So from here on out, when I get that “So, what’s next?” question that plagues every graduate, I know what I’ll say.
“If I can’t find a seat, I’ll build a table of my own.”
Dominique Norman received a Master of Arts in Fashion Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies from Parsons School of Design. She plans to continue writing and teaching after taking a long nap and doing some serious self care. You can follow her work here.