4 LGBTQ+ icons reveal how they found their own authentic style – and how it changed their lives
For many, fashion can be a powerful tool for self-expression, a way to to communicate our ideas, values and creativity with the world around us.
No doubt, this will ring true for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Throughout history, queer people have used clothing, shoes and make-up to claim our identities and break out of the boxes society makes for us.
It takes courage to live and dress authentically – whether that’s by subverting gender norms, going against heteronormative exception, or using fashion as protest – and it’s something that deserves to be celebrated.
That’s the ethos of the Clarks Collective – a group of activists and artists working with the iconic shoe brand to celebrate self-expression and champion change.
Comprising author Jamie Windust, filmmaker Basma Khalifa, actor Gabriella Wilde, activist Jeannie Jay Park and mental health advocate Vas J Morgan, the collective advocates for everything from anti-racism to LGBTQ+ rights, fighting for a better, more just future.
To celebrate the launch of the collective, PinkNews and Clarks asked four LGBTQ+ trailblazers to explain how they’ve used fashion as a tool for self-discovery, empowerment and legacy.
Author, model and LGBTQ+ icon Jamie Windust is one of the founding members of the Clarks Collective.
Before I had the language to identify as non-binary and before I even knew what trans meant, I used fashion to translate how I was feeling and to explore those sides of me.
The first footwear I ever bought myself was a pair of red suede boots. I was on my laptop underneath my duvet at home, secretly ordering ‘women’s shoes’. It was the first time I put myself in shoes that made me feel like: ‘Oh, this is fun!’ It was the beginning of my exploration.
As well as being able to show anyone can wear any footwear they like, joining the Clarks Collective is about having the independence and autonomy to have conversations I want to have on my own terms.
The campaign videos, the imagery, the whole ethos of the Clarks Collective, it’s about what we want to talk about right now. That’s really important.
As a non-binary person, I’m often expected to bring a certain conversation. With Clarks, they wanted to showcase the trans and non-binary communities in a non-tokenistic way. It was loving. It was caring. It was about what I do as a person and my personality rather than just my identity, which I loved.
Shiva Raichandani is a director, producer, writer, dancer and actor.
Fashion has helped me survive. It’s a literal and figurative armour as I navigate life on the margins. Its fluid expanse helped me understand and explore my own fluidity long before any other form of vocabulary could. It became the language by which I communicate how I feel on the inside. It was political, it was dissent.
Generally, my style accentuates my identities of being Asian, non-binary and a dancer, in a myriad of ways.
I’m constantly queering my choices, trying new things and revelling in the possibilities of fashion. However, it has taken a while to find comfort in being OK with non-normative choices, and knowing that my individual expression through ever-changing styles has a right to exist.
I take a lot of inspiration from my South Asian heritage: adorning myself in Indian prints and fabrics, playing with a vibrant kaleidoscope of colour combinations, raiding my grandmother’s jewellery and paying homage to my cultural upbringing.
Fashion continues to allow me to demand attention, validate my existence, hold power and affirm who I am.
Michael Gunning is a competitive swimmer and an advocate for LGBTQ+ equality in sports.
My style has taken me a while to find, as I’ve not always felt comfortable expressing myself through fashion. I felt ashamed of my sexuality growing up, so it’s only in recent years that I’ve embraced my identity through style.
Swimming has been my life for 25 years, so I’ve been used to wearing small Speedos and having an athletic body. I’ve taken inspiration from people like Shawn Mendes, who owns whatever he wears on red carpets, and I’ve certainly grown in confidence.
The outfit I wore to this year’s British LGBT Awards was one of my favourites. It was a tailored Kaushik Velendra design with beautiful shoulder-brace armour that really complemented my swimmer’s shoulders and a fitted muscle vest. I felt like a Marvel character.
I want my legacy to be rooted in authenticity. I’d love for people to be more authentic, to not hold back from expressing their true identities and to be proud of their own style.
Charlie Craggs is a trans rights activist, founder of Nail Transphobia and author of To My Trans Sisters.
My journey has been about rediscovering my style. Pre-transition I was super flamboyant and unafraid to wear what I wanted. I was bullied for this – ironically, by boys who would wear the same thing two years later.
When I started transitioning, I lost that flair. Being attacked was part of my everyday life, so all I dreamed about was blending in, not being noticed. I dressed accordingly, but I lost an integral part of myself in the process, which I’m still working towards reclaiming.
I want my legacy to be a generation of queer kids who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. I do that now, but it hasn’t always been the case – it was only when I saw [Big Brother star] Nadia Almada and Pete Burns, both style icons in their own right, stand up for themselves that I started to draw from their strength. I want the young queer people who watch me to take that from me, too.
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