As a feminist fashion blogger and woman of colour, I am always on the hunt for kindred spirits across the blogosphere. I love reading the work of amazing writers, who love and blog about fashion without sacrificing their politics. So imagine my delight when I came across self-declared feminist and fashion writer Emily Yakashiro and her gorgeous blog, The Closet Feminist. Yakashiro’s work has inspired me to write more about the intersections of fashion and feminism, and she was kind enough to agree to an interview. I hope you enjoy reading our conversation as much as I enjoyed having it.
Style Idle: In your own words, who are you, what do you do and how did you become interested in fashion?
Emily Yakashiro: I’m the founder and editor of The Closet Feminist.ca which launched in December 2012. It’s a collective site that anyone is welcome to come write for. In terms of me personally, I’m 23 , almost 24 [note: this interview was conducted July 2013], and I’m a feminist, obviously, and I’m a mixed race third generation Canadian. I [also] graduated from UBC in 2012, with my Bachelors of Arts, and I have a background in anti-violence work.
Fashion has always been a big deal for me. I used to read a lot when I was a child and I still do. One of the things I really loved growing up was reading about what my favourite characters were wearing. Like Anne Shirley and Anne of Green Gables and her whole obsession with puff sleeves, and even Claudia Kishi [of] the Babysitters Club [and her] creative and artsy outfits. The characters were huge role models for me. In the last few years, I’ve been really interested in folks like Frida Kahlo and Anaïs Nin, who are, again, two incredibly strong and inspiring women who place a lot of emphasis on clothing and wardrobe. All of these women, real, fictional, of all classes, nationalities and backgrounds have really inspired me.
SI: How would you describe your aesthetic?
EY:I think when it comes to actually getting dressed, something about fashion that has always preoccupied me, that has always kind of been shaping my interest in personal style, is how I can use clothes to mediate my identity as a woman who is mixed race.
SI: How do you use fashion to mediate your identity as a mixed race woman?
EY: One thing that I always think about is Fred Wah who uses this really compelling metaphor of mixed race identity. He says that mixed race people are both the “target and the gun,” (or at least I think that’s the quote, though I could be totally wrong). The kind of violence implied in that statement is always in the in the back of my mind […] As someone who is mixed, I have a lot of privilege because I am ¼ Irish and Scottish and ¾ Japanese, but I also experience oppression because I look Asian, because I am Japanese, and I deal with both of these things in my outfits. I really do ultimately feel that fashion and what I wear is [one of ] the most powerful means of expression and tools for communication that I have. And for someone of my identity and being feminist, there are few places I think where my voice is truly heard and welcomed, so with fashion I can just kind of occupy that space and speak my truth just by wearing whatever I have on that day.
SI: What is feminism and femininity to you and how is your work informed by your understanding of both?
EY: I don’t really know. I’m worried that I don’t have a really good understanding of what femininity is. I’m kind of worried that maybe it’s a more loaded term than what maybe I understand, you know? Like “radical” can be a really loaded term and I’m worried that femininity is too.
SI: Why do you think that “femininity” is such a loaded term?
EY: In terms of femininity, my thinking kind of goes to the idea of “girly feminism.” A huge celebrity that has come to the forefront on this is Zooey Deschanel and her recent coming out as a feminist in Glamour a few months ago. [In the interview Deschanel] asks [paraphrasing] “Why can’t I be really femme and wear vintage clothing and a feminist? And how come when I ascribe to this aesthetic, people still question my involvement with feminism and feminist politics?” And I found it really compelling because it’s a good question [and] because it’s important to remember that feminism looks like many different things for many different people. This has been one of my motivations for starting, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” on my website. I got in touch with a few people and got a picture of them with a quote talking about feminism. I’ve seen other bloggers talking about [feminism] as well about how femininity and girly-ness somehow waters down or invalidates their identities and experiences as feminists, which I find really interesting.
SI: Why do think there is this weird tension between feminism and femininity within feminist communities? And how do you see resistance to the idea that feminists can’t love fashion or be girly playing out online?
EY: In terms of bloggers resisting or taking up [the idea of loving fashion is somehow anti-feminist] as a topic, “saying look I’m a feminist” and that’s just been what I’ve into lately. It doesn’t always have to be this really serious in depth conversation, and sometimes it’s just like, “Oh yeah by the way I’m a feminist,” which I think is really neat too. And I think this tension is [there] for a lot a reasons. I think that feminism for so long has been under attack for not having valid concerns, and a way [to fight back has been] to adopt a kind of authority by taking on a sometimes exclusionary academic way of thinking. Like, I’ve been reading books on fashion and personal style from the UBC library, and [the authors have ] a super academic take on fashion, and argue that fashion is serious and it’s interesting that we need this kind of academic background to make fashion seem like a serious thing. [We already know that fashion] is a serious thing and we know that because [of] real world issues like slut-shaming and what people are wearing if they’re survivors of sexual assault , you know, that kind of a thing. And I think as this movement has been learning and growing, fashion has definitely been recognized as more of a viable tool to talk about feminism, which is what I try to do on my website.
SI: Do you think the dismissal of fashion in feminism is reflective of a general social dismissal of all things feminine? In other words, do you think feminism’s resistance fashion is a kind of internalized misogyny?
EY: I don’t know if this is all that relevant, but one thing that has got me thinking right now is this TedTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and it’s called the “Danger of a Single Story.” I saw that years ago and I found this idea of “a single story,” really interesting. Like everyone else, I fell victim to this idea of what powerful looks like, and what well respected looks like, [and they] were never embodied in a person who looks like me, or even like most women, and so I think that misogyny kind of comes from that idea of a single story. So, it’s like if feminism wants to be respected, and prestigious it has to look a certain way. So I wonder if this kind of misogyny comes from the growing pains of breaking down a single story [of what powerful looks like]. But this is all kind of me just thinking out loud.
SI: How did you come up with the idea of the “Closet Feminist” ?
EY: The Closet Feminist is supposed to be a cute, double entendre, ‘cause it’s obviously about clothes and personal style hence the “the closet” and then feminist, because I really wanted feminist or feminism to be in the title of the blog. I think it’s really important to be out loud and proud and unapologetically feminist. And this idea of being a closet feminist which is kind of a problematic in and of itself and so it’s just a kind of cute and fun way of bringing up the topic. But I have had the most hilarious reactions to the name. A lot of it has been good, but one woman I was interviewing for the blog and at the end she asked me in a very, very serious way “Why are you calling it the Closet Feminist?” in this like really ominous tone, and I was like “oh my god, I have offended her” and it’s just this whole disastrous thing. But yeah, it’s just supposed to be this like cute name.
I had my own personal style blog way off in the corners of the [internet] for years, and sometime during my first year of university, and [so did] one of my best friends Lydia Okello , [who] also [has] a fashion blog called Style is Style. We have been friends since high school and we have always been obsessed with fashion magazines, like we can refer to a fashion spread from like 3 years ago and we had an obsessive attention to detail. So we both started blogs and both blogs got popular and [after a while] we just wanted something fun and cool ‘cause we really loved style. As we’ve gotten older our blogs have taken on a much more political tone, just [as a result of] our experiences moving [of] out and living in the city [and ] understanding what our clothes mean for our identities, [as] women of colour, Canadians, and feminists. What I was realizing more and more was that fashion needs feminism and fashion can be feminist, and I thought that it was maybe just time to connect the dots from a Canadian feminist perspective and just have it out there for people to contribute to and for free.
SI: Why do you think that fashion needs feminism?
EY: I think fashion needs feminism because there’s just so much going on, like there is so much cultural appropriation and fashion and class, like designer labels, [which brings up the question of] who has access to these kinds of things. Also [feminism allows us to explore] how women are using fashion and why it is important to us. [For example, fashion can help women of colour] locate and communicate our identities when maybe we don’t have access to other channels to have that expression. So that’s why I think fashion needs feminism. I mean if you open any magazine you see the same thing over and over again, it’s editorials with tall, white, thin models, it’s very rarely [that] we see women of colour, fat women, more androgynous folks. And going back to Adichie’s TedTalk, with The Closet feminist, I wanted to put a different story out there about personal style and feminism that was more than like, “this coat is awesome.”
SI: What role do you see bloggers playing in exploring or realizing the feminist potential in fashion writing?
EY: I actually did an article a long time ago, [it was] actually the first article for The Closet Feminist, about this topic. I really do think that fashion blogs are actually quite remarkable and revolutionary. Even if folks aren’t taking on those labels or think of themselves [in those terms], I think that it is. If you look at all the fashion bloggers who are making a living and they’re famous and they are there and having their voices heard, like Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast, who is also mixed race and a huge role model of mine, and all these other bloggers out there. It’s interesting because they’re taking up space, making their own media and while people might write it off as them being vain or shallow, or that they just care about clothes, it’s not about that, it’s about putting yourself and your experiences out there, and I think that’s really interesting and really powerful. And so many communities have sprung around fashion blogging, like there are all these online things like Polyvore and IFB, and Chictopia, where mostly women are talking and communicating about something. You see a lot of, “we like this dress” and “we like these shoes” or whatever, but the conversations eventually do come to a point where we’re talking about something else here. I think there is something going on that’s really interesting, where these blogs have become a medium for exploring your identity and putting this vision of yourself out there that’s not what you see in fashion magazines. You’re taking it [images from fashion magazines] and are like “I don’t care, I’m going to talk about fashion and put pictures out there on the internet” and I think that’s very powerful, it’s reclaiming space.
SI: Do you think fashion bloggers use their aesthetic as a catalyst to have other conversations around women, their bodies and their ability to take up space depending on how she’s situated socially?
EY: Totally! I hear a lot of bloggers echoing… not even echoing because, they said it first Deschanel’s sentiments, like Courtney of A Bevy Of did a post on feminism and her personal style which is very femme. And Kaelah of Little Chief Honeybee [now The Clueless Girl’s Guide], on her blog, she wears like a lot of dresses and cardigans, again very femme style and she has done a couple of posts about feminism too. Also, a lot of bloggers have kind of hinted at feminism like Elizabeth of Delightfully Tacky, but I don’t know if she has actually [used the word] feminism, and Rebecca of the Clothes Horse, she’s had a lot of pretty radical posts, but again, I don’t think she’s ever said the “feminist” or “feminism.” [All of these bloggers are asking in some way] “How come I’m wearing these dresses people aren’t taking me seriously?” And so it’s kind of like going back to the whole [idea of reclaiming power], it’s, forget you I’m not going to [change how I look to be taken more seriously] because I have [my blog]. They’re [the bloggers] all taking up space at any rate.
Image source: theclosetfeminist.ca