Identity in Fashion

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Paris is Burning

Drag is presented as a complex performance of gender, class and race, in which one can express one's identity, desires and aspirations along many dimensions. The African American and Latino community depicted in the film includes a diverse range of identities and gender presentations, from gay men to butch queens to transsexual women.

The film also documents the origins of "voguing", a dance style in which competing ball-walkers freeze and "pose" in glamorous positions (as if being photographed for the cover of Vogue). Pop star Malcom MacLauren would, two years before Paris Is Burning was completed, bring the phenomenon to the mainstream with his song "Deep in Vogue", which directly referenced many of the stars of Paris Is Burning including Pepper Labeija and featured dancers from the film including Willi Ninja.

By the mid-’90s, long after the documentary Paris is Burning had come and gone, house ball culture continued to evolve, while still remaining true to its history. It became a form of cultural expression by and for working-class African-American and Latinas. But, after continued assaults against members of the gay community, the culture and the participants migrated from the neighborhood.
So, the scene started in Harlem, by 1996 there were sizable house ball communities in the roughest sections of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles as well as in parts of North Carolina and South Carolina.


Drag performance allows a contestant to live a life that normally they can never have. It’s an escape from the struggle and poverty of day-to-day living. It allows the drag queens and kings to dress in the nicest clothes and be something they more than likely could never be in the real world.

“In a ballroom you can be anything you want. You’re not really an executive, but you’re looking like an executive, and therefore, you’re showing the straight world I can be an executive. If I had the opportunity I could be one because I can look like one. And that is like a fulfilment.”
 - Dorian Corey

The Aggressives
The Aggressives is a documentary detailing the lives of six women of color who identify as Aggressive and the difficulty they face daily in being themselves and having to perform various identities (e.g. cultural, racial, and class) in order to pass and feel comfortable (e.g. gender). Similar to Paris is Burning, fashion is utilized and understood as an aspect of oneself and performance. For many of the Aggressives, fashion enables them to transcend normative dress codes while simultaneously providing protection in various spaces. Below is a ongoing list of quotations that can be used as entry points to explore the relationship fashion, gender, race, and space have in understanding the complexity of the Aggressives’ identities.

“Being Aggressive is the one who wears the pants.” -Kisha
“Its not about being a man. Its about being able to wear what you want and felling comfortable.” Rjai