Iowa State fashion professor shares her study of queer women’s fashion

Iowa State University Professor of Fashion Kelly Reddy-Best gives a lecture on queer women's fashion on Oct. 24 in the Daniel and Sarah Opperman Auditorium in Charles V. Park Library.

Personal style is seen as a way for people to identify and express themselves, especially when those tasks seem daunting and difficult in other ways.

Kelly Reddy-Best is an apparel, merchandising and design professor at Iowa State University who specializes in queer fashion and style history.

Reddy-Best gave a presentation titled “Queer Women’s Fashion and Style: Collecting and Telling Histories of the Midwest," on Oct. 24.

“Everything I am talking about is centered around this idea that our identities influence how we appear,” Reddy-Best said. “It’s not limited to sexuality. It includes sex, gender, race, body size, religion, and nation.’’

Reddy-Best created the exhibit, “Queer Fashion & Style: Stories from the Heartland," which was held in the Textiles and Clothing Museum at Iowa State University from Feb. 1 to Apr. 24.

She traveled around the Midwest, primarily Iowa, to interview queer women in their 30s and older, and collected pieces of clothing from their wardrobe. 

Reddy-Best focused on 12 women for her exhibit, but plans gather information from 20 to 25 women in total.

“Her study was really thorough down to age group,” said Pigeon freshman Aubrey Dickens. “I found it really interesting she kept it to 30-year-old women and up, because a lot of literature and modern-day pop culture deals with younger people.”

Reddy-Best said women in the queer community often negotiate their gender identity and society’s gender boundaries while creating their fashion identities. 

The women Reddy-Best interviewed all had different style and incorporated different aspects of feminine and masculine aesthetics.

The exhibit highlighted style categories like "Fitting the Stereotype", "Not Queer Enough", "Overtly Proud", "High Femme", "Against the Skin", "Butch", "Celebrating in Ceremony", "Chapstick Lesbian" and "Queer Crip". 

“I was really interested in the queer aspect and how queer people identify and express themselves through their dress and how it differs from heteronormative dress,” said Owosso freshman Brendan Burdick.

While putting the exhibit together, Reddy-Best kept in mind the people being featured in the exhibit. 

With the help of her assistant, she padded the mannequins in different ways to show the true shape and identity of the women. 

“Overt pride is one-way people think about negotiating personality and identity through dress, but there are many other ways,” Reddy-Best said.