An Outfit Inspired by Cleo Wade
While researching for this post, I read an article about Cleo Wade, the poet and activist, that filled me with irritation.
This irritation wasn’t mild. It mimicked a skin rash - a little itchy at the beginning, but once you acknowledge the itch, the irritation grows into an all-encompassing rage.
Let me spell out my rage.
In 2018, when this piece was written, Cleo had just released her book, Heart Talk. (I recommended that book, here!) Heart Talk is a collection of poetry and notes that Cleo had written for herself during tough moments. She compiled them together, hoping that they could support others, too. This article should have covered her book - its conception, her creative process, or what she hopes the book will accomplish.
Instead, the author, Alex Hawgood, badgered her obsessively about her dating life. He included the man she may have dated throughout the article, in the title, and in the URL. He had the audacity to type the line, “Ms. Wade blushed when the topic of her romantic life was brought up.” PLEASE. Is this 1954? She’s a grown woman, not a tween with a crush on Ringo Starr.
Instead, he called her hair “a mop”, a comment that made me want to scream, “HEY BRO, black women have a hard enough time just wearing their natural hair to work without you comparing it to a tool used to clean floors.”
Instead, he passively shamed her for being stylish with a near constant reiteration of the designer clothes in her closet, trotting out that old chestnut that stylish women are frivolous and silly, and can’t possibly be intelligent and serious.
The article ends with a quote from Cleo, “Men shouldn’t define women who are speaking about their work and what they’re trying to do in the world.” And yet, Alex Hawgood did just that. He spent his allotted word count to highlight Cleo’s closet, appearance, and private life, instead of her accomplishments.
I don’t know if the article met with this much rage after it’s publication in 2018, but I am fired up.
I also found a second article, from Australia’s Elle magazine. The journalist, Elle McClure, asked Cleo questions about her work (shocking) such as, “Which poets and writers were most formative for you?” and, “How does it feel to see your work connect with people?” Her private life is never discussed. Her style is, but rather than employ Hawgood’s name-dropping tactic, Elle McClure asks the question, “How does your style play into your sense of self?”
Here’s Cleo’s answer, in full:
Style and fashion have always been such an important part of my journey because as a kid it was the first place I really understood how to express myself. I grew up with not a lot of money so you had to be ten times craftier and find ways to mix and match so you could have something your friends would think was cool. I also love that clothing has this power to bring confidence to your day, because often it's the one thing you can control. So much of how I move through the world is expressing myself all the ways I want to, and I don't feel that I ever have to compromise on that in order to be taken seriously. I mean, I wore the Gucci AC/DC T-shirt to Harvard last week. It's amazing to be able to sit in that space and say, "Be all of who you are." You can wear the Gucci shirt and talk about feminism and your sexuality and how we are going to change the world together, because those things don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Prior to reading that NYT article that caused fire to erupt from my eyeballs, I knew that I wanted to build an outfit inspired by Cleo. This piece, the Elle piece, gave me new inspiration and a new angle. I took Cleo’s quote, “be all of who are you are” and created an outfit using every single style whim I’ve had lately.
I’ve been drawn to graphic T’s like Alex Hawgood is drawn to dating gossip, so I wore one. I chose my husband’s old NASA t-shirt as an homage to Cleo’s poem, “it gets better”. The poem encourages looking up to the sky and seeing the bigger picture. Though I’m not feeling too blue, I’m often guilty of being distraught or impatient by what’s right in front of me. The rocket on the shirt acted as an icon that day, a reminder to look past the little bricks and envision the whole house.
Throughout this fashion experiment, I’ve attempted to break my dependance on black clothing. Lately, though, that’s all I’ve wanted to wear. So, I did. I wore a black skirt that said, “Morticia Addams goes to the beach.” Next, a pair of boot-flat hybrids added edge and protection from the rain. Lastly, black eyeliner. The look read edgier and darker than I’ve been leaning recently, and I was into it.
I capped off my outfit with one final fashion craving - big, dramatic, earrings. I picked some oversize blue tortoiseshell hoops.
Throughout this experiment, I’ve found that when I indulge my style whims and create an outfit based solely on what sounds good, or fun, or comfortable, I’m met with relief. This feeling of ease still surprises me. I’d assume that, in a rule-breaking outfit, I’d be excited-nervous or emboldened, but usually it’s just a feeling of, “Ah, yes, I’ve made it to me today.”
Today, I’m going to wear another “be all of who you are” outfit, because that feeling of relief, of returning to oneself, is pretty great.
It’s Sunday, friends! (My favorite day!) I hope over this next week you wear what you want to and feel fancy and free. I hope that you are respected for both your mind and for your sense of style. I hope that your accomplishments are celebrated and revered. And, lastly, I hope it’s sunny.
Now, a request: if you wear a “be all of who are you” outfit, please, send me a picture! I’m @costumeparade on Instagram. My email here is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to see and chat about what outfits are true to you.
I’ll be back here on Wednesday. See you then!