A little bit of backstory…
I was ten when my family nicknamed me their “little anachronism.” By that time I’d already cycled through obsessions with fashion from ancient Egypt, the Victorian Era, and the 1920s, and was begging for an authentic 1950s poodle skirt, complete with sugar-starched crinolines. Our resources were limited by money and our small-town Oregon location but somehow my mom (who hated sewing) managed to cobble together the costumes I longed for. As a teenager I was a theater kid and thrift store hunter. In college I bounced around between Theater, Art History, and English majors.
What I really wanted to do was write and to study fashion. Unfortunately, at the time I was taught that “being a writer” meant penning novels and fashion meant designing, selling, or producing clothes; it wasn’t a real subject you could study, and it certainly wasn’t a serious option for a scholar or a thinker. So it never occurred to me that I could write about fashion. Instead I wrote stories that were praised for their voice, imagery, and character but lacked—um—plots. And I learned about fashion sideways, after hours: through art, novels, movies, magazines, and vintage shops.
After college I continued to pursue both writing and fashion in my own odd way. I did development and communications for an arts nonprofit in Minneapolis and worked as a costume designer on the side. However, it turned out I inherited my mother’s aversion to sewing. And while I loved many things about my nonprofit job, it wasn’t the kind of writing I wanted to do full-time.
In my late 20s I finally discovered the MA in Visual Culture: Costume Studies program at NYU. There, I began to focus my writing on critical interrogations of fashion and dress. When I completed the master’s degree, I worked for a year as a research assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. It was a dream job— except by that point I was hooked on writing, research, and ideas. So, I went on to earn a PhD in Cultural Studies from UC Davis. My doctoral work focused on ways that fashion works together with other forms of representation (pop culture, literature, art) to shape things like identity, labor and power relations.
After the PhD, I returned to Oregon. Once I accepted that I had no interest in a traditional academic career (even if such a thing still existed), and that I wanted to write things that people would actually read, I started figuring out new roads into fashion and cultural studies. That’s when I started freelance writing. It’s also when Elise Chatelain and I co-founded Dismantle Magazine: Fashion, Popular Culture, Social Change.
Dismantle is an online magazine that aims to make critical work on fashion and popular culture accessible and engaging to a general audience. We nurture emerging writers and artists, and help academics share their ideas with a less specialized reader.
For the past few years my professional time has been divided between teaching critical fashion and cultural studies at Pacific Northwest College of Art (where I helped develop a new fashion studies minor) freelance writing, and running Dismantle. And, just between you and me, sometimes I still write voice-y, plotless fiction, too.