Fashinably Femme, Janessa | Southern Style meets Chicago
Welcome to Fashionably Femme. Fashionably Femme is a blog series featuring femmes from all nooks of the LGBTQIA community. These rocking folks are activists, educators, bosses, parents, entrepreneurs, and all sorts of amazing human beings. Join me as we explore femme as so much more than a label but truly a way of life.
I met Janessa through an awesome collaboration with Chicago House. Stay tuned for her interview about their upcoming Speaker Series tomorrow. That event is so awesome you’re going to want to request time off of work to attend. But for now, let’s get to know this truly wonderful human being and hear her story.
Q: Describe your brand of femme. What makes your femme unique?
JB: I grew up in the South. In college I was the all-American girl. My hair was a decent length, my weight was maintained (in black families you can always weigh less) and my nails were immaculate. Then I graduated. And got married. And gained 60 pounds. And moved to Chicago. Bright colors were no longer the norm. No one cared if you haven’t had a pedicure in four weeks or if you ugly cried on the subway. South Carolina is my birth place. It’s on my birth certificate, it validates my marriage license. But Chicago pushed me into a realm of my womanhood I didn’t know existed. My personal style pays homage to the juxtaposition of my femininity and identity.
Q: If you could share one thing about being femme, something you wish non-femmes knew, what would it be?
JB: I wish that non-femmes knew that as much as I am a femme – I am not. When I choose to dress differently I notice that I am received by my coworkers differently. I know there is privilege in me identifying as a femme. So when I step out of that role I experience a 10th of what non-femmes go through every day. It’s not easy. I want to them to know that they are celebrated, loved, see and heard.
Q: How do you use your style to express your femme? Are there any people who inspire your style?
JB: I was raised around a force of women (my grandmother had 7 girls and my mother is the youngest) that did not adhere to the status quo. My mother had a short haircut most of my life. She wore baggy pants and oversized Guess shirts. My grandmother had a suit in every color and wore veils and gloves and rouge. I’d like to think that my style encompasses both of their representation of femme. So on any given day you can see catch me in florals or mixing prints and textures. Or you can catch me in my favorite hot pink Vans and Nike joggers and a Dad Hat. In the winter I stick to red, black and brown. During Black History Month I wear black EVERYDAY (partially because I use to work at David’s Bridal and now have a ridiculous amount of black clothes). I like monochromatic suits and wearing a lot of red. Back home colorism is still a social construct, so it took me many years to become comfortable with my complexion and wear bright colors. Periodically I’ll wear a turban to honor my Turkish roots. All depends on the day and whether the weather is fat girl friendly.
Q: What is your favorite piece in your closet and why?
JB: Two items – My leather jacket and a red cape. And any flannel. Can’t really activate your full lesbianism without the flannel.
Q: As you have come into your own, has your style changed? How?
JB: My style has changed. I got married. I gained weight. I moved about 800 miles. Going through a divorce. Lost weight. Cut my hair off because I just lost my sister. And now I’ve gained it back. Quite honestly, I’m adapting to the weight. I feel like it’s a more mature Janessa. I’m not a little girl anymore. I’m not just James and Vanessa’s daughter. My weight makes me feel stronger because I’m no longer easily moved. Both physically and mentally. My clothes, that were once decoration, almost feel like suit and armor. I take on the world a little braver now therefore my clothes reflect that. I also have to be able to move in ways I didn’t have to in South Carolina. I have to be able to catch the train and bus here. Can’t do that in full tulle and pumps. Gotta opt out the heels for some Vans and maybe keep the tulle with biker shorts underneath. The Chicago wind has exposed me many times and my only regret is that I wasn’t properly compensated for it.
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