Private: 5004A – Stephanie Schroeder, another chapter

I'd describe both my demeanor and style of dress as urban cowgirl. My standard outfit consists of faded Levi's, a black T-shirt and black boots. I live in New York City and that's an acceptable dress code for almost everywhere. In fact, black is almost required, at least for writers and artists. My jeans may not fly at fancy, exclusive restaurants, but I don't frequent those types of places, both because I don't have the money and because I cannot wear jeans!

I don't like people controlling what I wear, or how I choose to look – or behave. For example, I don't wear any makeup. I have in the past, but have since chosen to wear what I consider a cosmetic mask that covers my face. I like my natural presentation to the world.

I feel at ease as me. I don't worry about labels: am I femme or butch, top or bottom, girl or boi? These conventions and inventions don't concern or appeal to me. I'm unaffiliated and independent in my thinking, my actions and my movement – and in my attire. I resent anyone and everything that requires anything of me beyond faded Levi's, a black T-shirt, black boots, and my own fiercely independent personality. I want to feel comfortable at all times, not restricted in or by clothing, place, time or thought.

My wardrobe is not a question – or in question – anywhere except at my office, where I am quite suspect. I'm out as a dyke, but still have to conform to an "upscale business casual" dress code for a boss who is very old school in her thinking. She cares more about (traditional) style than substance and disapproves of my admittedly lame attempt to pretend to appear "business casual." For example, she has demanded I wear a suit to new business meetings. She actually bought me a suit! And no, I don't mean she chose it – she gave me her credit card and told me to "pick out a pantsuit [she knows I won't wear a skirt] that you will feel comfortable in and get two tops to match." Generous, I suppose, if I actually wanted to own a suit, which I don't.

It's a quandary how to dress, what to wear, and what to buy with limited resources knowing I have to satisfy a corporate boss while also maintaining my personal integrity. I figure my company loses at least 25 percent of productivity from me because I cannot wear my Levi's. Dress pants don't agree with me and make me feel uncomfortable all day, ergo, not nearly as productive as I might be either psychologically or work product-wise. I've had a lot of discussions on this topic with my lesbian sisters, other queer-identified peeps and straight women friends. The consensus is that it's really hard to determine how to dress and navigate a workplace (or gauge the dress code for an interview) that generally doesn't allow for individuality or appreciate a range of gender expressions.

To me, dictating how others must dress (in other words, workplace dress codes), is just more social control, especially of women – even when it's carried out by women. Controlling women's garb is a real turnoff! What attracts me to other people of all variations, whether it be lovers, friends, colleagues, or others, is most definitely people just being themselves no matter what others think. I dig individuals who are not posturing or posing, not trying to fit into any human-made box, label or description. I love independent thinkers, unaffiliated creatures, radicals, rebels, creative folks, outlaws, free spirits and contrarians of a progressive and positive sort.

I'm not a big moviegoer, I don't read pop culture magazines, and I haven't watched much television for the past 25 years, so I am not sure who is currently in vogue, is considered the most fashionable celebrity, or the trendsetter or tastemaker of the moment. But, I can say that the usual suspects of most tomboys occur to me when thinking about style as well as substance: Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich.

I'm all into Rosie the Riveter, suffragette Victoria Woodhull, and anarchist Emma Goldman. Entertainer Josephine Baker comes to mind, too, as does photographer Margaret Bourke-White and aviator Amelia Earhart. Women who flout convention and stand up to fight for themselves and others, and those who continue to just be themselves are very sexy, exciting, and interesting indeed.

Jumping on any sort of bandwagon is anathema to me. Creating my own life adventure is of the utmost importance. I've been on the edge of death a few times and survived. My self-created mission is to challenge the suffocating status quo and imagine ideas and concepts and offer, in my writing, different and unique ways to not only survive, but also to thrive. I'm an adventurous soul who wants to create and live a novel life. Like free lover Woodhull, freethinker Goldman, and free spirit Baker, I strive to be free from constraints of all kinds, including the particulars and peculiarities of my own intellectual and physical limits, and live and think outside the median. And do it all with style.


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Photo credit: Maeghan Donohue

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