Sangdi, a Personal Style Introspective | Fashionably Femme
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.
Meet Sangdi, one of the most wonderful humans I’ve had the pleasure to get to know as result of this project. She came via a mutual friend who thought she’d make a great fit in the project and, lo and behold, she has! Her story offers a beautiful introspective into personal style as it develops and is influenced by outside as well as internal forces. Let’s read on, shall we?
Sangdi, a Personal Style Introspective
One morning when I was in middle school, one of the girls standing at my bus stop asked, “So, why don’t you shop for clothes at Limited Too?” Most of us will probably remember this store as the adolescent introduction to the Hollisters and Abercrombie & Fitchs of late teenage-hood. But I was 12 with a single parent father, so my closet consisted of mom jeans and the sales rack at Kohl’s. Embarrassed and confused by her question, I mumbled something about my parents buying my clothes and looked away.
Style, as I’ve come to understand it as an adult, is personal choice. But it is also heavily influenced by popular media, branding, identities, our environments, and by the general milieu we find ourselves in. I’ve tried on a few occasions to classify my style—is it vintage? [Not exactly, but my swing dance friends have perfected excellent Victory Rolls.] Is it quirky librarian crossed with grunge? [No, I don’t wear plaid really but several friends do!] Is it metal, all black and chains? [No, but I do love my metal t-shirts.]
What I can trace about my style, even as it continues to evolve, are its roots in my ethnic/cultural identity and Chicago, the city I have come to call home.
Asian(Chinese)-American or that space in the overlap
By now, with YouTube and Korean cosmetics brands appearing even at Target, most people are starting to see that there’s an aesthetic world beyond America and Europe. The powerhouse that is Korean beauty, like its sister wave of Kpop, is evolving into its final form and will take over the world soon. There are people, like my aunt, who believe that the style of make-up seen in Japan or South Korea is “better suited to the Asian woman’s face.” The (overly?) dewy skin, straight brows, and gradient lips show a far softer version of femme than the dramatic smoky eye, winged eyeliner and contoured/highlighted-to-the-gawds-yas-honey looks seen on Instagram here.
Once upon a time, I thought I was just one and tried ardently to figure out which world I belonged to. Am I just Chinese? Am I just American? Most people also wanted to place me in either bucket, so that reality had to be Truth™. But it turned out that it was never my reality. These days, I find myself trying to strike a balance between both worlds because that’s where I exist on this continuum between the aesthetics of Asia and the aesthetics of America.. So instead of the gradient lip, I pick a brighter and more matte pink. I leave out the contouring usually, but highlighter? Yes, please. Sometimes, if the occasion calls for it, I’ll throw out a winged eyeliner that would make Sophia Loren proud, but other days, I like a shimmery apricot shadow as much as a girl from Seoul or Shanghai.
Chicago or cities nested in cities
No other place I’ve lived has accelerated my introspective habits than Chicago. In this city, everyone I’ve met and everything I’ve experienced have made me more comfortable in my skin. It’s also made me more honest outwardly. Chicago feels like a city that contains a thousand smaller cities, and as one walks/drives/rides the train between them, it makes you realize how there are a thousand different places inside yourself too. It makes less and less sense to pretend to be something, to fit something, once you have this realization.
So, rather than conform to some standard, Eastern or Western, the city encourages me to be open and complex in my presence. I’m finally exploring what my gender expression can be, what my sexuality is. And I’m still experimenting with my style, to match the external with the internal queries and searching. I feel happiest when I’m creating a visual collage of different circles I run in: vintage pieces from 80s China (thanks for the hand-me-downs, Mom, for real!), 1940s style heels, pared down androgynous pieces, and graphic jewelry.
There’s still more room to grow, still more spaces inside myself and outside myself to explore, so my style will keep changing. I can’t wait to see what will happen next.
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