Jess Manoogian on Pride, Identity, and Leather Jackets

Hello everyone!

I am so excited to share today’s blog post with you. One of my great friends, Jess Manoogian, talked to me about their own personal style and identity. Jess is queer and trans, and uses they/them pronouns. We both attended the same high school and became even better friends once I joined the staff of our school newspaper. Jess has always been super supportive of me – whether it was encouraging me to start my own fashion column in journalism class or giving me great advice, I have always admired them. To top off their intelligent and kind personality, Jess is fearlessly themselves when it comes to style. Enjoy!

How has fashion played a role in expressing your sexuality and identity?

I honestly didn’t know how to answer this question because it encompasses so much! My gender and sexuality have changed so much since I first came out. I came out when I was 13, and I had this image of what a gay person looked like, like short hair and combat boots and flannels and beanies. I threw out all of my skirts and dresses to erase any trace of the person I was before I came out, and pulled the classic move of raiding my dad’s closet for his old t-shirts and flannels and sweaters and jeans.

For a moment, I worried if I was jumping the gun by wearing men’s clothes immediately after coming out. What if I didn’t have to erase who I was before coming out? I found the skirts and dresses I threw out earlier, bought a pair of heels, and dressed like an extra in a Taylor Swift music video. And the clothes felt great! But when I went out, people called me “miss” and “young lady” and every time they did I felt like puking. So I went back to the flannels and combat boots.

People started calling me “sir” and directing me to the men’s side of the store. Every time I almost corrected them, and every time I stopped myself and smiled, reveling in the fact that I could be in the men’s section without the judgemental stares. I was passing as a man about 50% of the time in public, and I loved it!

When I was in Seattle, I walked a mile in the dead of summer (skinny jeans and combat boots and everything) to get to this one thrift store. I must have been about 15. It was my first time walking alone in a city that big. As I walked further away from the towering corporate skyscrapers and overpriced artisanal coffee shops, I felt more and more eyes on me, surrounding me as I picked up the pace. The heat and the blacktop and the stares were suffocating, and all I wanted was to get to this thrift store. After what seemed like an eternity of wrong turns, I made it. I walked inside and saw this beautiful brown leather jacket on the rack – it was worn but not falling apart, with two sturdy pockets and shoulders that filled in everything I wanted mine to be. I tried it on and knew it was too big, but I didn’t even care because it made me feel stronger than anything. I wore it as I browsed through the racks and even as I checked out. As I left the store to walk through the crowds again, I walked like I could take on the whole world. People still stared, but that jacket felt like armor.

Back home, that jacket went everywhere with me. My favorite outfit back then was my dad’s old blue jeans, his old black t-shirt, combat boots, and that leather jacket. Looking back, it was a real look and now I wish I hadn’t given that jacket away. I don’t even know why I gave it away. People definitely treated me differently when I wore more masculine clothes, and there were lots of days where I wished I could wear what other people wanted me to, for my safety and their comfort. But for all the times I’ve been discriminated against, I’ve also gotten lots of compliments on my hair or my confidence or my jeans. And I know that being out and being myself is an important form of representation! Whenever I’m scared to wear the clothes I want, I think of everyone that could be seeing me and getting the confidence and reassurance they need.

What do you wear to Pride?

Since Pride is usually in June, it’s really hot outside, especially if you’re watching the parade from the streets of LA! So my first tip is to wear something that can withstand the heat – this year I wore shorts and a mesh tank top!

Honestly, the thing that saved my life during Pride was a pair of comfortable shoes. It can be really fun to wear something extra for Pride, but you’re gonna be doing a lot of walking from place to place. If you can walk in stilettos and be fine, great! But my pick would be sneakers.

Top tip: don’t sweat it if you aren’t decked out in rainbows! Pride gear can be really empowering, and it’s a great way to feel at home in the community, but it’s important to consider who you’re supporting when you go shopping for Pride gear. I know that Target and other big corporations have a lot of accessible rainbow merch, but the money you’re giving them is going towards the corporation, not the LGBT community. If you still want to dress in rainbows, consider making your own Pride gear! You’ll have something that you can really tailor to your identity and comfort level, without the pressure of gendered clothing sections! And if you want to spend your money, there are tons of queer-owned businesses; try Tomboy X, Stuzo Clothing, or Wildfang!

What advice would you give to someone who’s figuring out who they are while experimenting with their personal style?

Wear what makes you feel good and powerful, no matter how that looks! I feel like we’re taught that people are supposed to have one consistent aesthetic past age 12, but it’s so much more fun to let yourself play with different colors and patterns and cuts.

A thing that really helped me develop my style was disconnecting clothes from gender. Challenge yourself to let go of the idea that heels and dresses are “women’s clothes” and pants and boots are “men’s clothes.” Your horizons will be so much broader when you do!

Favorite piece of clothing you own?

My favorite piece of clothing I own is my dancin’ rock t-shirt (otherwise known as the baby shirt)! It’s a white t-shirt with the words “THE MOIRE’S” on the front in neon pink, and a black and white baby face on the back with the words “DANCIN’ ROCK” underneath it in the same neon pink. I got it in a thrift shop in Seattle (along with a too-big leather jacket) when I was still figuring out my style. It started as a kind of gross t-shirt that never quite fit right, but when I got to college I cut it into a tank top. It looks really cool with a cute bralette in the summer, or over a long sleeved t-shirt in the winter! It’s been with me through a lot of changes and I feel that history every time I wear it. [END OF INTERVIEW]

A big thank you to Jess for taking the time to talk with me and share who they are with Emily’s Edge readers.

Talk to you soon!

-Emily Berrol

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