Find a queer style through the community
Like many queer people, I was outraged by the recent New York Post article about lesbian fashion as a “sexy trend”. The colorful and intricate ensemble of queer fashion had been homogenized, reduced to heterosexual women wearing suits on the red carpet. At the end of the day, not all of us wear costumes (thanks to those who do; kill!). But it got me thinking about how the fashion identity of queer students is changing at university and how queer communities in Cambridge are responding to each other’s style.
Jasmine (she/she/they) states that she “comes from a place where it felt like there were stares and it often didn’t land well if you defied those standards.” Indeed, a common struggle for lesbians who dress feminine is that the outside world sees you as straight. This issue is less prominent at Medwards: “There’s room to dress like a lesbian that you can’t really get away with where I’m from because you compromise to clarify your identity.”
Stevie (they) points out that Medwards was “liberating,” especially after sixth-grade dress codes: “I only came out trans in college.” Now they can “see what levels of masculinity and femininity I’m comfortable with and dress uniquely for myself.”
In True Cambridge Fashion, Alice (she/they) tackles queer style through their subject, the story: “I really like to explore vintage style and design my own clothes. I didn’t dress very feminine before college, but I love having a connection to lesbian history and culture in the way I dress. Alice adds:[I’m] much less aware of what I’m wearing, especially when I’m around other people who are exploring their own styles, especially other queer people. It’s really stimulating to know that there is a whole community around my identity.
What makes Medwards and Newnham unique to Cambridge is their high proportion of gay students; it creates a field day for queer-style explorations. Molly (she) is a Fitz student who says, “Newnham and Medwards have a diverse and tight-knit queer community, which gives individuals the freedom to express their identity through fashion and [be] supported by a mass network.
University environments can arguably make queer people feel locked into the “type” they present. Amelia (her) says she feels “overreceived” when she wears a skirt: “Because I dress so masculine in general, I end up turning heads, or getting comments ( mostly positive) if I’m wearing a skirt or something.” feminine. Sometimes I just want to live my life and wear what I want without being noticed. This is exacerbated for trans students; although Medwards is outwardly a college that admits a multitude of gender expressions, cis women are still the norm. Stevie says, “Obviously, as a transmasked person at an ‘all-women’ college, I feel pretty separate from everyone else in terms of fashion.”
Indeed, the models interviewed unanimously said that Medwards is more of a “hyper feminine” environment than Newnham. There are still major issues of diversity, visibility and recognition: Newnham’s gender recognition policy states that they admit students who are “formally recognized as women”.
For me, Medwards has been a place to find out who I am aesthetically alongside people going through similar journeys. Stevie eloquently sums up the beauty of queer Medwards fashion: “The strength of pride at both colleges is a force to be reckoned with.” It’s as important now as it ever was.
Photography: Beth Baljak Interviews and text: Lily Kemp Direction: Lily Kemp and Anna Chan