Silly Little Outfits: Melissa
The "A" in LGBTQIA+ stands for "A cool shirt"
Melissa is a technical writer in Austin, Texas. Rarely seen in public, she spends most of her time with her dog and two cats in her home office, which, incidentally, bears a strong resemblance to the Nintendo section of a Hot Topic. She believes that outfits are a deeply personal art and is offended by anyone who confesses to having perceived hers.
When I get used to this porkpie hat, it’s over for you hoes
Jenna: You’re one of the first people I know to appreciate the workplace serve. And to serve the workplace serve. That’s paramount.
Melissa: It is.
J: Do you remember what you wore on your first day of work?
M: So, I thought that I was gonna be a hat person.
J: You wore a hat to the campus of [Corporation] on your first day?
M: Yeah. It’s in my ID badge picture. It’s… almost like a fedora, but not.
J: I didn’t want to ask.
M: And I had a blazer. I was like, I’m going to be a professional, so a blazer makes sense. But then the hat was…
J: The hat was not a fedora.
M: Correct. I don’t even know what kind of hat it was. [Upon further research, it was a porkpie hat.] But there used to be a haberdashery, in The Domain, and for my birthday, someone bought me a hat from there. I don’t wear hats. I never wear hats. Even baseball hats are on a need-to-know basis.
J: What did you feel like walking into the building in your first job outfit? Your non-fedora hat and blazer?
M: I was just anxious about being in a workplace in general and just completely oblivious to how young [I seemed]. And also total impostor syndrome. The kind of impostor syndrome that assumes everyone must be an idiot, because they’ve bought it. Fooled ‘em again! And the hat was… my head was not used to it.
J: That was the first time you wore that hat? Or any hat really? On the first day of a new job?
M: Yeah. You know how like, on the first day of school, you’re like, time to subsume an entirely new identity? That’s exactly the feeling. I will be a new person, and this person wears hats.
J: Have you had that first-day-of-school feeling since then?
M: I think “after COVID”—or when some people started going back into the office, I guess. It was like, no one has known me for 2 years! But that time it was more authentic, because being at home and being unobserved has really let a lot of people blossom in terms of both their sexuality but also just their clothing.
J: Yeah, we went 2 years where no one is really perceiving you in your work environment. Or much at all. It was a kind of pressure you only realize once it’s gone.
M: The pressure of being observed—I felt it really strongly when I first started working. People could just see me for 8 hours a day! I was hyper aware of that. It was exhausting. And then COVID happened, so for a long time, I kind of just did the same thing. I was wearing jeans, maybe even shoes, for a while.
J: In the home? You were wearing jeans and shoes in the home?
M: I get dressed every day. I’m just not comfortable until I have mentally designated my day clothes. I have now acquired enough chill to [wear leggings as pants], but those are day leggings. So with COVID, for a long time, I did get dressed like I normally would. But then “normally” changed. Especially like, crop tops. I’ve discovered crop tops.
J: [too loudly] My favorite article of clothing!
M: And no one knows on Zoom! They see your shoulders at most!
J: What did you gain during that pandemic period of being unobserved?
M: The opportunity to experiment and become comfortable on my own time.
J: Pullin’ up at 7:30 a.m. in a full fucking l e w k to [Corporation]? I don’t know how we did it.
M: Actually being able to respect my own time, the time I’m ready to get dressed, is important. Having to decide at 7 or 8… it’ s a commitment.
J: I know we’ve touched on this in the past. But I remember when you bought your boots a few years back, it was a whole thing. You were like, “Should I really buy these? I don’t need them-need them, but they’re really good.”
J: I feel like there’s a lot of baggage that goes into the way we think about buying clothes.
M: I’m just growing into the idea that clothes are a thing you can spend money on outside of absolute necessity. Growing up, I had 3 siblings—that’s a lot of clothes to buy for kids. So I had a lot of hand-me-downs from my sister, who has always been more fashionable than me. But things never quite fit me.
My social skills and my own sense of style—I had to refine those a lot in college. And I still didn’t have a lot of money in college. So getting to the point of having expendable income is one part of it. But then there’s also getting to the point where you can be like, “It’s ok that I don’t need this, because there is an emotional benefit to it.”
J: Those are two distinct barriers, yeah.
M: I did not need the new pair of black boots. But they were cute boots. Frankenboots. 4-inch platform, Doc Martens, super well made, but they were like $200, and I had never owned shoes that expensive. Could I even wear them?
I do tend to buy cheap clothes still, but I’m more conscious of it. And the whole “no fast fashion” thing helps.
A professional yet approachable she/they
J: You’ve also mentioned how you no longer feel the need to look more experienced or qualified or whatever at work. Do you think part of that is actually being more experienced and qualified, or is it something else?
M: I think that’s part of it. The people I work with know me enough and have enough faith in me where it doesn’t really matter how I look. I’m not meeting too many new people, and when I am, it’s usually a new hire. So for them, I’ll honestly dress down more to be approachable and goofy and (this is probably pretty arrogant but) try to accelerate their progression toward how they actually wanna be at work.
J: That’s actually really sweet! Like if they see you just vibin’, wearing what you want to wear, maybe they can fast forward through The Hat Era.
M: Yes. We want to fast forward today’s youth through their Hat Era. No child left behind. A big part of the reason I [wear what I want] is that people like you would come in with these looks, and I was like, you can do that?
J: [lol] You can do this job and dress like…uh…….
M: …Like one of the fae. Yes. There’s that idea about bringing your whole self to work, which is largely bullshit. But selectively bringing your own color and your own “different” to work is good. I just feel privileged to see it when people do that at work. Like, thanks for bringing this today!
The fantasy of absolute competence
J: So what’s your absolute favorite outfit right now?
M: It changes. A lot of times what I’m feeling in a day—have you heard of maladaptive daydreaming? Sometimes I wake up, and I’m in my alternate timeline. I argue with the “maladaptive” part. That depends on how you manage it!
J: Semantics, dear boy! [It is not semantics.]
M: Sometimes it’s like, I don’t wanna go to work, I wanna stay in my head, in this alternate timeline, where I’m doing this other thing. And I’ll pick an outfit that keeps me closer to that.
J: I’m so interested in this. This has come up a lot with people! What was the outfit that most recently did that for you? What was the daydream?
M: I spend a lot of time in Hyrule. Specifically in the Gerudo Desert. Because I think they’re boss. So crop tops have been a big part of that.
J: They wear crop tops in the Gerudo Desert?
M: They wear like, harem pants, bikini tops… it’s problematic as hell, but over time it’s grown. They’re still strong women in bikinis, but with personalities! And stories! And a culture! So sometimes it’s a crop top with a flowy skirt, just evoking that desert look. I could not have done that [at the office].
J: What’s your day like in that outfit fiction?
M: It’s just the fantasy of absolute competence. Knowledgeable. There are no male Gerudos. There was a king once, but it was a problem, and in recent lore, he’s gone. They’re all like, 7 feet tall also. Just a completely jacked warrior society. In the game, you’re kind of an “other,” but also you bring so much of your own culture and strength. It’s a total diplomat fantasy as well.
J: So in your fantasy outfit, you’re a diplomat who can also kick ass?
M: Yes. So it actually evokes what I was trying to do with the blazer [when I first started working]. But the blazer didn’t do it.
Religious trauma and looking cute ✌️💕
M: My other favorite outfit right now is just jeans with this One Piece character, Chopper, hanging out of a printed pocket on the shirt. It brings me so much joy.
J: So just like, a little pocket pal.
M: Yeah. It makes me happy. It’s a “you can do it” type of shirt. Most of my favorite outfits just have to do with fictional people making me feel better.
J: That’s fair. I was talking with August about how a lot of fashion is worldbuilding. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with invoking characters—yours or someone else’s—in your own presentation.
M: There’s also a facet—an option? a flavor?—of asexuality where you’re only attracted to fictional people.
J: What is that called? …Fictive ace?
M: I don’t know. DeviantArt? [lol.]
J: [LOL.] Is that your flavor?
M: I think it’s one of my flavors. It just goes along with the maladaptive daydreaming maybe. [Upon further research, the term is “fictosexual.”]
J: I was gonna ask how your asexuality influences what you wear or not.
M: It does influence it—for a long time, I didn’t… I mean, I wanna be cute, everyone wants to be cute. But sometimes, you fear the attention.
J: What’s the line between wanting to be cute and like, sexual desirability in what is sometimes a very horny world, where asexuality gets erased all the time, even in the queer community? What’s the difference between wanting to look cute and like, the man-getting dress?
M: “Man-getting dress” for me just means whatever [my partner] has reacted positively to. He’s the person. Because as far as real-life attraction, we’re talking demi. So [for me, attraction is] very specific to someone you have an emotional connection with.
J: So when you’re dressing to look cute, do you want to dress in a way that specifically your partner would like?
M: No, looking cute is for me! And then desirability is whatever he was a reaction to that I know he finds cute. Looking cute is like, okay, this is for me, he actually might not be that into this, and that’s almost empowering.
J: Girl hot versus guy hot. Generally speaking. There are some things where it’s like, yes, perf, the girls will love this, and any self-respecting cis man is going to run.
M: SO FAR AWAY. I guess it’s part of the ace thing, but I mostly dress for women these days. I have “acquired the partner.” Check. So the rest of [dressing] is just for me, or other women, or other members of the queer community. That’s where the validation comes from.
Also, dressing for cishet guys is a thankless task. It almost always goes wrong in my experience. And it’s like… depending on where I’m gonna be, is this accidentally going to attract the wrong kind of attention?
J: Have you ever stopped yourself wearing something because of that?
M: All the time. And there’s just a lot of slut-shaming I’ve had to get over, because I grew up in a Christian community.
J: Slut shaming from whom?
M: Internalized slut shaming. You can still hear it in my language, talking about how I’m “inviting this kind of attention” if I wear a certain kind of clothing. There are still latent bits that I’m working through. But the idea that I have a moral obligation in the way that I dress—I had to get over that.
J: The idea that clothes have morals.
M: Yes. And that the way I am dressed should in any way impact how you interact with me. Which, it does, but it shouldn’t. So I had to get over that, understand it’s OK to wear a crop top and also not want to have the sex. Because it felt like a lie, right?
J: I’ve heard this a lot. As if dressing in any kind of revealing way can make you not actually asexual.
M: Yeah! That people will read you that way and think you’re lying, or you’re leading people on. You can want a partner and not want sex—counter to what everyone told me growing up! So sometimes it’s like, do I have the energy to explain myself today? And it’s like, no, so let me just put on a t-shirt and jeans.
J: So you’re one of the only real Halloween people I know. You’ve made me appreciate the holiday more, and also just costumes in general. What do you think the difference between a good costume and a good outfit is?
M: One obvious delineation would be trying to invoke a specific character. With a costume, you’re trying to evoke something recognizable. It’s always a disappointment if you go to a costume party and nobody knows who you are. One time I was a zombie from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That’s not a specific character, but it’s still trying to be recognized as something.
J: Did people recognize it?
M: No. That happens to me a lot actually, with costumes. I get way too deep into it. Esoteric. I also don’t plan far enough in advance for the intricacy of the costume I want.
J: Really? To me your costumes always seem really intricate and detailed!
M: But they’re also niche and like 10 years behind. That year that everyone was Harley Quinn—that’s the kind of recognition I’m going for. But for like, a book character.
J: How do you want to be “recognized” in an outfit, instead of a costume?
M: Good question. On the day to day, I guess I want to be recognized as a human being who intentionally put this outfit together and did a good job.
J: A lot of people want to look ~effortless~, like they’re not trying to look good, which I often find disingenuous. But you want to be recognized as someone who has intentionally put themselves together?
M: Yeah. That’s what I see from you—like, those are all choices, and that shows skill. And as for how I want to be recognized by others… men always get frustrated that they can’t give compliments, but they do it bad.
J: How do men give compliments?
M: They interrupt you to tell you how good you are. [lol.] And it’s often more about your body. But a lot of times women and people in the queer community will be like “Hey, I like what you did with your hair, I like your nails, I like the choices that you made!”
J: I like the actions that you did to get to this point!
M: [With both costumes and everyday outfits], you want intentionality. And sometimes, you want the element of surprise that is a good joke. Like someone dressing up as Ruth Vader Ginsberg for Halloween. Two different things, but its own new thing!
An asexual slut living their dreams
J: Do you embody any unexpected synthesis like that in your day-to-day outfits?
M: The asexual slut.
J: Let’s get into that. Beyond just like, a crop top with the ace flag on it, what’s your formula for that synthesis?
M: It usually starts with a piece of clothing I’m deeply uncomfortable with and want to go on a journey with. Most recently, I was in the clearance section of Target, and there was a skirt that comes about mid thigh, but it like… laces up on both sides?
J: What, like crissy crossy?
M: Crissy crossy laces.
J: That’s a no-panties skirt.
M: It has the barest homage to a piece of solid fabric right before the danger zone. I saw that skirt, and it was like 8 bucks, and I was like alright, you’re coming with me. And you know what, double whammy, today is fishnets day! I had been meaning to get comfortable with fishnets for a long time. So I went and grabbed some of those.
J: Fishnets and the crisscross skirt.
M: Yeah. And I got home, and [my partner] and I had a date planned, and I took him to a vegan cheese sandwich shop. I just went out in public in it immediately. I bought it, and I put it on, and I didn’t even test it in the mirror for that long.
M: Yeah, it was like, I want to do this, and I’m gonna do myself the favor of very kindly making myself okay with it.
J: Is there any kind of clothing you wish you were okay with, but you’re not? Or are you just living out all your dreams already?
M: I think I’ve lived most of my dreams. It’s a matter of expanding my mindset to even letting myself want the thing. So like, right now, I would not be comfortable in booty shorts. I don’t want to be comfortable in that right now, but I also wouldn’t have wanted to wear a skirt this short before.
Maybe a corset top? Or something almost evocative of lingerie? But as day clothes.
J: There’s this Instagram person in Romania who makes corset tops with ribbons and vintage deadstock fabrics. That’d be fun—a casual daytime corset.
M: What bottoms would you wear?
J: Leggings? Maybe jeans? The Gen Z bootcut? Idk.
M: I can’t go back to hip huggers.
J: God. I can’t. Bending down?
M: Ass is out.
J: A lot of what we consider “flattering shapes” is rooted in bullshit or eurocentrism or whatever. But you can still have aesthetic preferences on your own self, how you want your clothes to fit you.
M: And I mean, Britney Spears absolutely rocked the low-cut pants and crop top, so.
J: “Drive Me Crazy.” Metallic green crop top. Frosted lid.
M: Look. I just still want to be able to find the high-rise pants. Somewhere. Like, you can wear what whatever you want, just don’t take those away! Please!!!