Creating Coalitions of Solidarity via Fashion Choices
Author(s): Nicole Salazar
Nicole Salazar is a second-year student at Soka University of America majoring in Liberal Arts studies with a focus on Social Behavioral Sciences. She is most interested in the topics of psychology, specifically, forensic psychology. She is a member of Soka’s women’s soccer team. Her Mexican family roots and grandmother’s immigration story motivated the research described in this article.
The Project of Returns
I (Nicole) am a 19-year-old 2nd year student at Soka University. I am of Mexican-American descent raised in La Puente, California by my single mother living only four hours away from her hometown in Baja California, Mexico. Throughout my life I’ve understood that I have an immense passion for playing soccer, fashion/clothing, and music; all which I have absorbed from my immediate family members including my grandparents and mom. After learning of the connections and roots my family carried through a pair of Levi’s, I found not only a new appreciation for jeans, but for clothing entirely. Being away from home for college proved to be difficult as I felt a lack of physical and emotional connection to my family. However, the Levi’s allowed me to feel reconnected to my family and reminded me that their presence surrounds me in spirit through my identity and through clothing. I already had an interest in fashion, but it never extended beyond my own fashion choices. Just like the archival adventure allowed me to explore unspoken truths that lived within clothing in my family, I discovered the power of storytelling based on the value of whose history is shared, by whom, and how much is left unsaid.
- My mother shared that she wore the Levi’s to her classes at Cal State LA the year before she found out she was expecting me. She mentioned that she loved the jeans because extreme low-rise jeans were very in-trend at that time.
- My grandmother told me that she remembered wearing the Levi’s while picking my mom and aunt’s from school and when going grocery shopping. My grandma said she saved a lot of money for a while to buy them so she tried to wear them as much as possible.
My archival adventure with clothing in my family sparked my curiosity to discover unspoken truths for other minorities and communities outside of the ones I partake in and furthered my understanding of how clothing can power the voices within these communities. Along with this, I had determined the value of self-expression for clothing in my life but wanted to learn more about what that meant for other individuals and communities who are different from me. This encouraged me to return to the idea of conformity in terms of clothing and what is deemed socially acceptable. I’ve inherited ideas and concepts through clothing from my family but how do these differ or compare to those of other communities who have been raised/live in completely different environments than my own?
After wrapping up our archival adventure, Gesa gave us two assignments to further our archival understanding: our Archival Research Proposal and Archival Research Project assignments. These assignments allowed me to pursue my interest in fashion, unspoken truths/history, and archives via the Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who are “an order of 21st Century Nuns dedicated to the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt” (About the Sisterhood). And while the Sisters are no strangers to all sorts of attention–good and bad–the Sisters recently were headlining news articles due to being invited, uninvited, and later reinvited by the Los Angeles Dodgers professional baseball team to receive the Community Hero Award for their efforts in advocating for marginalized groups within the Los Angeles community. The Sister’s were originally uninvited and had their award revoked due to backlash from conservative Catholic groups who claim the Sisters “make fun” of Catholicism and disrespect Nuns by “mocking” their attire (Netburn). The Sisters later received an apology from the Dodgers and were reinvited to accept their award. While many others would have refused or be hesitant to forgive the Dodgers for their behavior, the Sister’s took it in stride, following the goals of their mission of extending compassion, understanding, and kindness to others [the Dodgers Organization and those opposed to their attendance] (Netburn).
I first learned about the Sisters and their mission through a professor at my University who is also a Sister and was a guest lecturer for my class. In the lecture they shared their knowledge about the Sisters, the archives that are a work-in-progress, and the work needed to uncover and explore artifacts within their digital archives. After the presentation, I became interested in learning more about the Sisters and chose to make them the focus of my research proposal and project. The Sisters felt like the perfect community to focus on my because they are a widely spread community who have immensely diverse members who vary in cultural, religious, sexual-orientation, age, gender-identity, gender-expression, and racial backgrounds. Yet, they use clothing collectively to self-express both who they are as unique individuals and how they come together cohesively to promote the same mission. I related to this as my grandmother, mother, and myself hold and shared stories about the Levi’s. Just like those Levi’s, the Sisters’ carefully curated outfits hold and share stories beyond what they verbally share.
The clothing worn by the Sisters and my prior family members touches on unsettling barriers; the Sisters nonverbally challenge gender-norms and stereotypes in clothing along with what society views as acceptable in public appearances in terms of how much attention we bring to ourselves. While talking to my grandma, I learned that she was breaking /unsettling barriers as she shared the challenges and the long amount of time it took her to be able to save up and afford the Levi’s. She had to prioritize paying the bills and taking care of her daughter’s needs before being able to purchase something she strongly desired; I myself wouldn’t need to save for ages to purchase Levi’s nor would I have to put others’ needs before mine to purchase them. I live an entirely different life than my grandma did at my age as I am not a 19-year-old mother nor do I live in Mexico; her desire to cross the border changed the destiny of my life entirely. The Sisters’ clothing, like the Levi’s, are a way to bring the past into the present and break barriers of time. Unspoken truths and histories are present in what we decide to wear and sometimes even why we like certain fabrics, colors, prints, designs, and textiles over others.
My research proposal set me up to work with the Sisters, and I had the amazing opportunity to interview two Sisters who are still active within their community today. I walked into these interviews with questions I planned on asking the Sisters along with an image of an outfit they wore that we’d be focusing on (see pictures below).
I interviewed both Sisters individually asking them questions on their hats (Hoobie’s), makeup, and outfits. The questions dove deep into what impacted their decision for making their appearance along with tying in their personality and life stories into how that has influenced their journey as individuals and Sisters using their clothing and overall appearance to self-express themselves.
After interviewing each of the Sisters I came to an overall conclusion:
“Although I tried to compare the answers given to me… by each Sister, it is unrealistic to do so as they each have their own identities and therefore their own self-expression and messages they are trying to convey. Each interview gave me more insights and highlighted the individuality of each Sister at the same time as they all collectively work as a whole. Although they had some complex and detailed reasons for how they self-expressed through clothing, their clothing choices also had more simple reasons such as adjusting to the weather or wearing a favorite color. The Sisters use the identities that they portray in their clothing to share their self-expression which can fluctuate and vary for different events and times in their lives.”
Reflecting on the Project of Being-With Others Otherwise
The interviews and reflections I had afterwards allowed me to understand not only the immense diversity in the Sister’s community but also the diversity in the power and reasoning for self-expression in clothing for each person. No two people and their fashion sense are the same so neither will their ability and goal for self-expression be the same. Even when not intentionally trying to self-express through clothing, that alone sends its own message. It was powerful to see how clothing connects us across many differing minorities and communities; although we are still so diverse, we can have one big part of our identities in common. This allowed me to realize:
“I felt a connection to my research project through the talk around clothing as a way to self-express. Although I don’t identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ or queer community, I align with the Sisters in finding significance of self-expression through clothing. My style is very important to me, and everyday I make sure I put on an outfit I feel aligns with my personality. Through my clothing I express a lot about myself. Through all the colors I wear I express that I love color and hate things that are bland. Through my color coordination I demonstrate that I’m very nitpicky and love to organize things when they match. And through the floral prints I wear I tell the world that I love flowers, and it’s why spring is my favorite time of the year. Being able to see from the Sister’s point of view the significance that clothing has for them to express who they are and their identities, meant a lot to me because it allowed me to connect with a community and individuals who are part of something larger than myself.”
Fashion choices and self-expression unites us all and allows us to have an unspoken voice which interacts with strangers with whom we may only share eye contact. Unspoken truths and history is shared through our clothing and connects my archival journey with my grandma’s Levi’s to the Sister’s Nun attire and the interviews with Sisters. Without asking questions and trying to discover unspoken truths, we would not be able to give voice to those who are silenced, allowing us to discover so much more about ourselves and how united we really are. By interviewing and giving voice to the Sisters’ narratives, I discovered so much and was able to communicate with a community I never thought I’d have so much in common with.
Lorde’s idea of addressing and unsettling the barriers that exist between us and the future tie into the clothing we wear and the journey’s I experienced while working with my grandmother and the Sisters. Our clothing can carry the lineage of past family members and demonstrate how we’ve grown and sprouted from that as individuals. In many of the Sister’s cases, clothing is about taking pride in all that you are and finding your truth while growing from generational and familial backgrounds into your own variation that best expresses you. The Sisters carry on part of their past lives, continue into our present and show our future selves and generations that there are no restrictions on all that you can express and tell about yourself through your clothing. Future generations will be inspired to not conform to gender-stereotypes in clothing and understand that our clothing touches varying communities of individuals in all settings we take part in. I bridge the barriers of the past into the future through clothing by carrying on my grandmother’s stories and memories tied to the Levi’s; one day I’ll hopefully be able to pass these Levi’s down to my daughter and not only share my grandmother’s stories but also my own.