Silly Little Outfits: August
We're worldbuilding, I tell you what.
For this first Silly Little Outfits interview, I went galaxybrain with my friend August.
In their own words:
August is an artist and writer in Austin, Texas. They are looking forward to getting a goldfish for their birthday. They plan on naming it Vasili after the Russian submarine commander who refused to release a nuclear weapon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. ( mAy wE moovE BacK THE nucuLar cloKCK Bi MEAns of COMPASSION AND REASOn.)
Excellent. Let’s get into it~
Make the yuletide slay
Jenna: So what's your favorite outfit?
August: I got myself a dress for my outing to The Nutcracker. It’s a blue velvet kid’s dress with frills at the top. And it's cut so you could see part of my back—I hardly ever wear anything that low, and I really liked it. It had long sleeves, and a layered skirt on it, which gave it just a little bit of dimension. That was my favorite part. And how deep the color was—almost like there were layers of lighter blue on the inside. It was a really nice dress. It wasn't cheap.
I ended up actually giving it away a couple of days ago—it's too tight. It feels like I'm wearing a binder on top. It’s pretty, but I'm going to get an adult size dress. But then that’s tricky, because I don't have breasts, and sometimes there are shapes you have to fill out at the top, and I don't want that pressure!
J: The elusive euphoric dress!
A: It is very elusive! I'm still searching. That dress was really cute, but I ended up giving it to my coworker’s daughter. I'm excited by the idea of her having a cute Christmas dress to wear, because that's what I always wanted when I was little.
J: What makes a Christmas dress to you?
A: It's about the spirit! Like, of course if it's red or green, that makes it easier to fit into “Christmas.” But it doesn't necessarily have to be. It needs some whimsy and color. It needs to feel like you're wearing the party.
J: Have you ever felt like you wear the party?
A: Yeah, I've worn this other dress to the ballet before. It was mustard colored, from the brand Farm Rio. It's very playful, and to me it also counts as a Christmas dress.
J: So what dress did you end up wearing to The Nutcracker when you went?
A: The blue dress.
J: The one you gave away.
J: That's very Nutcracker.
A: It really does warm my heart in a self-admiration way, knowing that I gave a very pretty dress to someone who probably wants to feel really pretty!
J: Just like how that bitch gave the nutcracker to Clara. The uncle bitch. Right? It's the uncle giving the nutcracker?
A: Yeah. You're right. It's just like The Nutcracker.
J: So what's your ideal, gender euphoria-inducing dress? What's the criteria for that?
A: I would say it changes, but I don't know exactly how. I've spent a lot of time in my teenage and adult years trying to "look like a boy." And I'm slowly working past the idea of passing as being an important thing.
I don't know if I will ever pass, because it depends on people's perspectives, and there are so many different ideas, and some of 'em are so silly that it's like, why would I even?
J: The problem with passing as a concept is like… you don't even know half the time where the person perceiving you is starting from. What dot they're trying to connect you to or not.
A: Yes. I'm always agonizing over what people probably think when they see me. And it's a game I need to stop, because it’s impossible to win. But it's how I am! It's frustrating.
At work, I'm seen all the time. I have to have a lot of control over my mood. My performance of my mood is how I make my money—I make more money in tips than I do hourly. And so I have to be nice.
J: How does the way you adorn yourself relate to working with the public?
A: It's something I can control, so it's my first defense in the world. There's a misalignment with the body I developed and the body I had to make for myself. Clothes have functionally assisted in that—it's like, okay, this makes me look straighter or slimmer, or you can see less of my curves, and blah blah blah.
So [clothes] can be architectural tools. You can shape yourself with them. But sometimes, that's not the singular thing I want.
J: What other things do you want a dress to do?
A: It goes back to wanting to wear the party! And sometimes that feels more appropriate as something that would be considered really femme.
On some level, with an outfit, I'm worldbuilding. I’m using my imagination to pretend I'm somewhere else in some other outfit on some other adventure.
And in my mind, the outfit looks like a tutu and like ballet shoes and like glitter. And it’s like I'm wearing that, that little dream. But if I actually put on the clothes, then I "look like a woman" or something. And it's like AHHH actually this makes me feel dysphoric.
J: So it's almost like you're ceding control to the constraints of reality once you actually put on the garment.
A: Absolutely. And that reality is either coming from other people viewing me or from myself viewing me. People have been treating me so differently ever since I dyed my hair pink. People have been nicer to me, men have been softer to me.
This is a maladaptive response to the world, but I want everybody to be nice to me. Clothes are a part of the tools I use to get people to be nice to me.
J: You wear things so that people will be nice to you?
A: I wear things so that I feel comfortable and safe and happy. And that's important I guess because I don't feel safe and happy a lot of times in the world.
And you know, [clothes] are also a part of rhetoric. What you wear is a part of the argument somehow. So I never go too wacky.
J: You say, while sitting here in pajamas and a balaclava.
A: Yeah, but I don't think I'd wear this [to work]. But I think sometimes being whimsical does make people happy. It's a good way to disarm people.
It’s my Tolstoy wedding and I’ll serve if I want to
J: You got married recently.
A: Yes! When I first knew I was gonna have a wedding, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to wear. It was a huge opportunity. And I could wear whatever I wanted. And when I think about it, I ended up going pretty conservative.
J: I mean, you looked amazing. Oh, and for the readers—you wore a suit. It was beautiful. It was like a brown tweed with little specks of pastel.
A: It was extremely expensive. But it was tailored just for my body. That's part of why I chose that suit in particular—I saw a documentary about the people who run that tailor shop.
J: So you said the wedding outfit was a huge opportunity. Opportunity for what?
A: For just like, getting expensive clothes and dressing up and looking cute and being the center of attention for one day. And like, if I could have a Tolstoy-style ball gown, or a whole Tolstoy party, I would.
J: Describe a Tolstoy aesthetic for those who might not be familiar.
A: Stuffy. Russian. Elegant. Turmoil.
A: Just a very formal-looking party where some people are in suits and some people are in ball gowns. And you have dance cards.
In that situation, I would want both a suit and a ball gown. But during the process of actually getting the wedding together, I had to shave down as many variables as I could.
J: So what made you go with a suit over a dress in the end?
A: I guess I didn't 100% decide on a suit until I went to get a fitting and consultation from the tailor. And he seemed to really know what he was doing. And specifically, he knew how to make suits make people with different body types feel comfortable.
J: That's rare. So it was like, I'm gonna go with this, spend the money there instead of adding a dress?
A: Exactly. There was also the huge subtext of "this is a man marrying another man." But you know, I think [my husband] probably would've also liked to wear a dress. Dresses are pretty! You know in a movie when someone comes out in a fucking Grace Kelly outfit, they’re just, like, the party!!! And I wanna feel like a princess. But without any responsibility.
J: Let's dig more into "I wanna feel like a princess, but I don't wanna feel like a woman.”
A: I feel it all the time. That's why my hair is pink.
J: That's why I do the glittery press-ons.
A: Being a princess—you're wanting to feel pretty and elegant and admirable and important and special. And who doesn't wanna feel like that?
J: And for you, what's the difference between like that and like—to use the Tolstoy metaphor—a three-piece suit or a soldier's outfit or whatever?
A: For me, to be a princess, it would be letting myself be an object. And it sometimes really feels bad to be an object. And if you're an AFAB person, that's the reality of us all the time.
J: But if you objectify yourself, it hits different sometimes 😎
A: Yeah. But the dilemma is how do you do that safely?
J: I don't know.
A creature, some runes
J: How has your relationship to clothing in general changed over the years?
A: I think there was a Before Top Surgery and After Top Surgery. I got top surgery, what, two years ago? It’s only been a small fraction of my life where I feel like I can wear whatever I want now. For example, sweaters: for most of my life, there might have been a sweater I wanted to wear and look like a cute preppy boy. And it just wasn't doing what I wanted it to do.
And having to wear a binder—I don't know how other people felt, but it kind of felt like adding insult to injury sometimes. You're creating a physical discomfort that kind of mirrors the emotional one you're feeling. It's frustrating.
J: You’re like, making yourself uncomfortable for what can sometimes be a marginal improvement on your dysphoria.
A: Yeah. I remember [binding with] duct tape like while I was out with my friends in high school. In Dallas, around the wintertime, in a shopping center. Everything's a shopping center. And I had to go to the bathroom and cut it—I think I used my house key to cut through the duct tape in the back. There's no breathing with duct tape.
J: No. Hell of a bind, though.
A: Hell of a bind! And of course, before puberty, I don't know that I thought of myself as even... I don't know, we view ourselves differently.
J: I thought of myself as a creature.
A: Same. I used to call myself Leaf or Turtle.
J: Very trans of you. Very no-bineys.
A: Yeah. I would hang out in the backyard in my bathing suit. I would just pretend I was in fantastic worlds all the time.
J: So is gender euphoria like a fantastical element to you? Is it fantasy?
J: Would you say comfort and euphoria are similar for you?
A: No, because I achieve comfort a lot! Euphoria: rarely ever.
J: When was the last time you felt euphoric?
A: I don't know. It's always something. Even when I was in that really great suit at my wedding, I was afraid that I didn't look good and all that stuff. Or that my tie was too long.
I like being at home where I can pick out a really cool outfit and no one's gonna look at me. And I can just take a passing glance in the mirror and be like, whoa, I look cool.
J: As little encroachment as possible on the worldbuilding.
A: Like, what I'm wearing now, I would wear at home. I might look kind of silly out in the real world, but I’m comfortable here, and I'm comfortable at home, so I can sit here and pretend I'm like an elf, and I have magical powers, and this is just like what I wear on my head, and it's my culture.
J: And you're drawing your runes.
A: Exactly. And they're secrets.
In search of lost Leaf Mode
J: So the outfits that you love the most are ones that sometimes no one ever sees?
A: Yeah, for sure. I like having control over myself and my environment. And I don’t [wear dresses a lot], but I’m trying to.
J: Is it almost like trying to get back to Leaf? Wearing something but not thinking about it? Just existing in your backyard, not giving a fuck?
A: Yes. The goal is Leaf Mode. There's a certain creativity to it. You know when you're really in something? Either doing a role-playing game, or just really into a book or movie—like, you're in it?
J: Flow state.
A: Yeah, I think being there is the goal. Not all the time, but with a really cool outfit. I forget that that's one of the big parts of making art.
J: A couple days ago you asked me if I think that outfits are art—obviously I think yes. You mentioned how outfits are kind of your main form of art right now, or the one you feel the best about.
A: Yes. My big inner struggle as an adult is not feeling productive enough. It's a problem that I’m working through. I've been in art programs since high school; I've been in intense competitive things ever since.
But I've recently come to a happy conclusion, because I had perceived the way I spent all my time thinking about outfits as a waste of time, as vain and materialistic and kind of… basic? I thought I was supposed to be a smart writer, but really I just wanna wear glitter! Like, is that actually what I am!? But that's my happy space.
J: And for you, style or fashion or clothes or whatever you wanna call it is a more private art?
A: The product is tangible—the outfits. I live inside of them. It's about escaping, but I don't really feel like it's dark or anything.
Let’s talk about boys!
J: So how do you think Harry Styles factors into all this?
A: [lol] An important thing for me, in my life: Harry Styles, when he had long hair, and he wore Gucci suits, lipstick, nail polish. That was a huge moment for my trans journey, because I'd been struggling with a misalignment of like, a physiognomy issue. Where I'm supposed to have the XY body, but I've never been hyper-masculine. I'm boyish, but I've never been a boy, really.
The trans collective consciousness is growing all the time. And when I was a teenager, we weren't talking about genderqueerness and stuff as much. It was very binary. And I didn't know if I was, or could be, or if it made sense to say I was trans.
Seeing Harry do whatever he wanted, wear whatever he wanted on his body, which he seemed to wholly accept and adorn in whatever way he liked, helped me be like “oh, actually, I have more control over this than I thought I did.”
J: And finally, thoughts on this picture of Orville Peck in a dress?
A: It looks like it was made for him. This is really fun to see. I like wearing long-sleeved dresses, because I'm actually embarrassed about my arms looking really masculine. But here he is.
J: He’s buff as fuck.
A: And he’s just wearing that spaghetti dress. I’m gonna tell a sad story. When I was in elementary school, this one boy said he only liked girls with skinny arms. I remember thinking, even then, like, what??? You have a preference? The fact that he was allowed to have a preference!
J: Maybe that's where the princess stuff comes from. I want to override your foolish preferences.
A: Maybe. But also a lot of princess stuff is just sort of ferally attractive. Bright colors! Shiny! It's instinctive!
J: Running around in your backyard! Being the party!
A: Yes! Being the party! I gotta be brave when it comes to what I tell myself I'm allowed to wear. Like, I'm gonna wear a spaghetti strap dress, and it doesn't matter that my biceps will show. And by the way, I don't work out!