Culture: poetry, prose, review

Steal Her Look

by Lily Welling


A shirt, in tissue knit, evoking the veiled Vestals of Rome. This skirt, with its Soviet Suprematist sunburst. Boots she may have dug out of the mud at Verdun. A girl dispossessed takes a radical new shape, and she says to herself, I think this is how humans dress.

Raised by wolves and seeing in the people around her nothing friendly or familiar, imaginative historicity took the place of an implicit understanding of self that only normal children are allowed to have. A ramshackle persona built from visual associations of groups, eras, fantasies that felt immediately familiar, associations she wants to embody, a wardrobe of found objects of indeterminable era. I might pass as a wraith if not as a woman. A sneer behind her, always behind her, after she’s passed, after she has her back to them. Someone didn’t play along, doesn’t have the romanticist fancy, really just wants to know if she has a dick. She talks to a student coordinator about trans issues on campus and is misgendered the entire time. She makes a note to think about her voice before she opens her mouth. Would I be more or less obvious if I dressed the way the other girls on campus do?

Ethereal, sheer layers, so that people might think they dreamt seeing her. Always grounded with big, black boots, to excuse heavy footsteps. Associations to intimidate, to keep people at arm’s length. Her shortest pair is still a foot tall. Her favorite has nails driven into the heel.

Authenticity was a common anxiety amongst fashion circles she traveled through, always as a pretense to establish who does and doesn’t have permission to wear their favorite designers, and almost universally based on inference about people they had no intention of talking to. But authenticity has always been implicit in the way she bought and wore clothes; rarely and until they disintegrate completely. Nothing is purchased without it first enrapturing her, sometimes months, sometimes years before she got them. Nothing goes on her back that did not first receive a fanciful context in her imagination. Doesn’t this look like chitin? Wouldn’t this be right at home on the bridge of a Spacing Guild barge? Nothing gets worn out without first considering how it might influence people’s reading of her gender and whether or not she can deal with it that day. She dresses for mental health more than for the weather.

Steal her look. Your boots must be leather, stiff and unyielding. They will hurt you for two weeks. Bottoms can be as narrow as possible, or else voluminous and of intangible fabrication. Dresses, if worn, are only to be in the style of the proto­revolutionary chemise a la reine or the artist’s smock. A jacket should appear to have once fallen from a motorcycle, or else mimic the shape of modernist sculpture. If you look in the mirror and see anything other than a wretched terror, undress and try again.

Your boots must be leather, stiff and unyielding. They will hurt you for two weeks.