What Do You Become When You Can’t Be Yourself?

A look at the role of clothing in the struggle to shape one's identity in the film Pariah


Something stuck with me after I finished watching Pariah for the first time, but I couldn’t quite put it into words. The film is strong, emotional, and surprisingly realistic compared to other lesbian films I’ve seen over the years. It took a second watch for me to realize what was really moving me throughout the pain-laden plot: the clothes. I have never seen a life so ruled by clothing as the main character Alike’s. For her, clothing can mean fear, strength, punishment, or acceptance. It’s all about the timing.

Pariah opens in an all-ladies club, and Alike (or Lee as most of her friends call her) sits in awe of the women dancing on poles in front of her. She’s accompanied by her best friend Laura, who appears to be much more experienced in the scene. The two complement one another perfectly: Laura with a diamond stud in one ear, an Afro, and a red plaid shirt, and Alike in an oversized striped polo, do-rag, and cap.

But when the pair separates on the bus ride home, Alike starts to strip. The hat comes off and a bun of corn rows is revealed. Under her polo she wears a tight pink t-shirt with sparkle embellishments that spell out “Angel,” and small hoop earrings are added to complete the look. Her old clothing, along with her lesbian identity, is tucked out of sight into a small army-print bag.

At home, it becomes obvious why Alike needs to hide. With an extremely religious mother and absent father, she is constantly pressured to look like a normal, pretty, teenage girl. Her mother, ruled by the fear that Alike is in fact a lesbian, constantly urges her to go shopping, and makes a point of commenting on clothes that “really complement her figure.” Like her hidden bag of boys’ clothing, Alike stuffs the truth beneath layers of fear and uncertainty, and continues lying to her parents. Meanwhile her mother continues buying tight pink clothing in too-small sizes and complaining to her friends that, “For some reason Lee just doesn’t like anything I pick out for her anymore.”

Upon arriving at school the next day, she rushes to the washroom to change again, this time swapping her feminine attire for a tight white undershirt, a large graphic t-shirt, and a cap. Although she’s in clothing that mirrors her friends, she still seems uncomfortable and detached, miserably drifting through the day alone. When school is out, she switches back and heads home where she’s pressured about what boy she’ll take to the homecoming dance. The switches continue back and forth, over and over. Just watching it is exhausting.

From “strapping” with a dildo in her pants to look “harder” to impress a straight girl, to softening and finding a middle ground between who her friends think she is and who her mother says she is supposed to be to try and find happiness, Pariah covers every step of Alike’s transformation and every layer of clothing she pulls onto her body and off again. When she finally realizes there’s nothing wrong with the person she’s been hiding, she breaks and the truth she has been piling under bedazzled t-shirts, cardigans with pulling buttons, and skirts is revealed. She finally gives herself permission to stop changing, and settles somewhere between the two extremes she’s been trying to dress for. With her hair uncovered and tied in a loose knot, earrings in, and fitted sweatshirts where massive polos were once donned with shame, she is no longer Alike or Lee: She is simply herself.

Pariah puts the importance of dress into perspective for us. Not only is dressing important to how we feel about ourselves, or how others perceive us, but it has the power to change our lives, for better or for worse. In Alike’s case, one poorly timed outfit swap could crumble her entire life, her family’s love, and her friendships. It made me realize although clothing has always meant freedom for me, it can be the opposite too. Some people are trapped in their clothing, and there’s no simple zipper or button solution to release them.

Sofia Is Zig Zag Awesome

What our assistant publisher Sofia Luu wore to WORN

What inspired this outfit?
I worked the outfit around my shirt and tights. I had to dress up for Halloween later and my costume involved the shirt and tights I was wearing. As a commuter, I have to be careful with what I wear and consider all possible scenarios.

Tell me about one of the items you are wearing.
I received the watch for Christmas last year. For a long time I had a bad habit of purchasing watches, wearing them for a short while and then when the novelty of something new wore off, retiring them from my wrists forever. My mom guessed it would take a week for my bad habit to kick in with this one, but she was wrong and I wear it every day now. Without it, I feel naked.

What is the best book to read in this outfit?
Lizzie Garrett Miller’s Tomboy Style. Miller’s book and blog have been a reliable source of inspiration for me for a while now.

What style icon would wear this outfit?
I have a feeling that Ursina Gysi would wear this on her day off.

outfit credits // skirt > H&M, shirt & jacket > thrifted at Value Village, shoes > vintage Roots, watch > vintage from ebay

photography // Zoe Vos

The Motherloads

Everything we know about fashion, we learned from our TV mothers

Television opponents like to accuse parents of letting the boob tube raise their children. I gotta say—what’s wrong with that? For decades now, TV has been home to some effective mothers, from the lax and laid back to the strict and tough, with the wardrobes to match.

In deciding to profile some of the most stylish TV moms, we didn’t, of course, imagine this to be a comprehensive list—just a picking of some of our staff’s particular favourites. Want to gush about Jane Jetson or Peggy Bundy? Tell us in the comments. But first, sit down, read what we have to say, and don’t forget to eat your vegetables.

1 > Roseanne Conner from Roseanne (1988-1997)
Although comedian Roseanne Barr succeeded in turning her “Domestic Goddess” standup routine into a half-hour sitcom, the look of her character on Roseanne was anything but divine. Sweaters, simple button-downs and jeans made up Roseanne Conner’s wardrobe—that is when she wasn’t wearing her retro-kitsch waitress uniform.

The costumes were a way for the show to reflect the everyday authenticity of Lanford, Illinois. Roseanne battled with the wardrobe master over pricey clothes which made her “look like a show pony rather than a working-class mom.” As she wrote in New York Magazine, “I wanted vintage plaid shirts, t-shirts, and jeans, not purple stretch pants with green-and-blue smocks.”

The wardrobe master admitted that head office instructed her to ignore what the star wanted to wear because they did not approve of how Roseanne was portraying the character (despite the fact that the character was obviously based on herself). While not a trendsetter, Roseanne deserves credit for sticking to her guns and bringing some realness to ‘Must See TV.’ WORN celebrates Roseanne for wearing what she wanted, even if we never found out what the deal was with that ubiquitous chicken shirt. // Max Mosher


2 > Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
As a kid (and, okay, kind of recently) we’ve spent many a sick day watching re-runs of The Cosby Show and wondering how one family could be so sartorially spot-on. Mr. Huxtable had his iconic sweaters, and Denise—well, Denise’s style was clearly not dreamt up by mere mortals. But the one family member who is most deserving of our nail art-embellished and bracelet-jangling applause is Mama Huxtable (Phylicia Rashād) herself—er, let’s just call her Clair.

Clair was a hard-ass, capital ‘M’ Mom (and lawyer) who could make you clean your room whether you liked it or not—and she’d wear a pile of jewels and a brightly coloured onesie while she did it. Then she would throw a matching apron over top and whip up a roast dinner without scuffing even one of her immaculately manicured nails. Even when she was working in the garden, Mama Hux was put together; she pulled weeds with style in oversized dungarees, a plaid shirt with rolled-up sleeves, and a straw hat.

It’s impossible to pick a favourite of Clair’s outfits, but a recurring look she owned and we’ve always envied was the oversized blouse and skinny trouser combo; there were usually shoulder-pads involved, and there was always a carefully selected set of jewelry on top, with the occasional belt to pull it all together. Mrs. Huxtable’s knack for style is simply undeniable. // Stephanie Fereiro


3 > Vivian Banks from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
Two actresses may have played Aunt Viv in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it was the original who was the most memorable. Janet Hubert played matriarch of the mansion from seasons one to three. She was spunky, stylish, and a rare sight as one of the few dark-skinned, black women on TV.

Will Smith’s dayglo tanks were no match for original Aunt Viv who stole scenes with her classy, luxurious style. The sitcom mom was rarely seen without a piece of gold jewelry. She wore suits that were masterfully tailored and jumpsuits that cinched at the waist. Her nails were always manicured, her hair always full. Even when she was cuddling in bed with Uncle Phil (that’s her husband, Will’s uncle), the woman always looked beautiful. Producers eventually fired Hubert over contract riffs, replacing her with Daphne Reed from seasons four onward. And Aunt Viv was never the same. Her wardrobe wasn’t as fly, she wasn’t as forthright, and she probably couldn’t pull off this dance in a pink unitard. // Mai Nguyen

4 > Morticia Addams from The Addams Family (1964-1966)
Morticia Addams is the spooky mama of the Addams Family; played by Carolyn Jones in the ’60s sitcom that paired creepy, gothic sensibilities with a sense of humour. Morticia (the Frenchies amongst you will recognize the word “mort” means “death”) is the ultimate domestic housewife with a demented twist. Her dark yet refined look was a fixture of the show, and she is considered a style icon for classy goths both inside and out of the fashion world.

Morticia was never seen without her cascade of sleek, black hair, cat-eye make-up and clingy, floor-length black gown. She ruled her household with cool (yet perfectly manicured) hand, in contrast to her excitable husband Gomez, who could barely contain his sexual attraction to her. Morticia’s trademark style oozed glamour, and was somewhere between a silent movie star and a grim funeral-goer. // Isabel Slone

5 > Florida Evans from Good Times (1974-1979)
Florida Evans, played by actress Esther Rolle, was the lead character and fiery mother of three in Good Times. The series followed the Evans family and their lives spent in a housing project in a poor, inner-city Chicago neighbourhood. While working class families had been shown on television before, depicting the lives of black characters living in such impoverished conditions was a breakthrough in the genre.

So what’s a ’70s housewife in the projects to wear? Polyester, and lots of it. Florida’s outfits may have been tame compared to the funky wardrobes of her children, but she still had mad style. Her most memorable looks had her dressed in head to toe orange—just as fresh and bright as the fruit. Though this might be a clever comment about the state that Florida shares her name with, perhaps the choice was just a compliment to the autumn hues of the Evans’ ’70s living room. Dressed for a wedding in her “JC Penney Original”—a vibrant orange dress complete with matching bakelite necklace—Florida declares that her outfit for this uptown occasion is a little tight downtown. Like a good mother should—ain’t we lucky we got em!—Florida speaks the truth. // Jenna Danchuk

6 > Marge Simpson from The Simpsons (1989-present)
Marge Simpson has become so ingrained in pop culture as one fifth of the most iconic animated family, her style has become taken for granted. Sure, one could argue that she’s meant to represent the typical housewife (though what does that mean, really?) but quick—how many small town stay-at-home moms do you know who rock a green strapless dress, orange pearls, and a bright blue Bride of Frankenstein-style beehive? A mother of three, she understands the value of clothes to the extent that she can stop a counterfeit jean ring operating out of her car hole by recognizing their faulty stitching.

Marge is never more conscious of clothing than in the episode “Scenes from a Class Struggle in Springfield.” After rationalizing the purchase of a dramatically discounted Chanel suit (“It’ll be good for the economy”) she gets invited to a country club inhabited by Springfield’s elite. Marge desperately wants to be accepted by this new crowd, for whom living on a budget and meatloaf do not exist. It’s a world that the always resourceful Marge doesn’t understand, but nonetheless runs her sewing machine ragged trying to get the maximum mileage out of her Chanel suit. Eventually she learns that clothes are just textiles, capable of getting destroyed with the wrong amount of pressure on her sewing machine pedal, and that while they reveal a lot, they can never truly compensate for one’s values. Plus, let’s be real—her hairdo is way more chic than anything the women at the country club were sporting. // Anna Fitzpatrick

7 > Betty Draper from Mad Men (2007-present)
Ice-cold blue eyes shoot daggers through cat-eyed sunglasses, while fitted waists and full skirts cause children (even her own) to run in the other direction. January Jones as Betty Draper, or Francis rather—if we are able to picture her outside the golden era of her and Don and that blue velveteen headboard—is the ultimate in ’50s housewife style. If Grace Kelly put on an apron and went to therapy, she would be Betty. Never a blonde strand out of place or a smudged rouge pout—even while in a nighty, shooting the neighbour’s pesky pigeons.

To the world outside her suburban windows she is perfect. Her anxiety cramped hands hide in white day gloves, and as an audience we rarely see her looking dishevelled. Even sulking in polka dotted chiffon, she still manages to look way more put together than I would after a marathon Kleenex fest. For the most part, however, Betty’s costume is just that. A suit of tafetta armour, protecting the ideal she upholds.

And while the fashion thirsty Mad Men watchers in the past few seasons may have—like Don—found a new muse that’s more their cup of Scotch (cough, Megan), I would urge you not to overlook some of Betty’s sartorial adventures that prove she’s not just a cookie cutter gingham clad housewife. Remember when she recalled the story of being a muse to an Italian designer and pulled out that racy silk romper from the back of her closet? Or the time she bought that yellow bikini from the auction and confronted Don about wearing it outside (Hi, Feminism!…That is until he shamed her out of wearing it by saying she looked ‘cheap’—not cool, Draper). And, ummm, hello, this hair!? // Casie Brown

8 > Jo McGuire from Lizzie McGuire (2001-2004)
Lizzie McGuire was always one of the coolest 13-year-olds who managed to rock some the most flamboyant outfits the Disney Channel ever did see (your move, Hannah Montana). Her mom, Jo McGuire, on the other hand, was much plainer and often deemed by Lizzie as uncool. And yet, Mrs. McGuire was awesome—her look was former-hippie-turned-soccer-mom, who although plain, never lost her quirky flair. Jo’s hair was always in a simple yet complex up-do that even sometimes supported bright bandanas intricately laced. She also seemed to have a cardigan in every colour imaginable, and wore poignant thick rimmed glasses before they were the hip, go-to accessory. Still, what especially put Jo McGuire within the high ranks of super cool moms was the fact that she took Lizzie bra shopping with an enthusiasm and active motherly support that isn’t so common on television. She helped send a body-positive message to young girls wherein lingerie was seen as a part of growing up and womanly empowerment instead of a tool for male seduction with voyeuristic connotations too often seen in teenage dramas. // Paulina Kulacz

image compilation // Zoe Vos

Charlotte Wornette

Our new editorial intern is really into Cosby sweaters, tacos, and very bright lipstick

Basic Facts: I currently make coffee for a living, which, all things considered, is a pretty lovely occupation. I spent five years in Halifax, mostly in school, and have only recently moved back to Ontario. I miss Frenchy’s and being close to the ocean. Otherwise, I like Toronto just fine.

I wore a uniform all through high school, so I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to personal style. I found Value Village at 18, and it was a revelation (so many Cosby sweaters!). I tend to be that person who buys an item because I can’t tell if it’s really ugly or really awesome. Usually it’s both.

I’m really into: Masonic symbols, those sneakers that are secretly platforms, everything Alicia Silverstone wears in Clueless, Solange Knowles’s new single, very bright lipstick, tacos.

Confession: I don’t ride a bike (I know, but I like walking!), I hate pickles and, despite being a veggie, I think (vintage) fur is alright.

Want to hang out?

Current Inspirations

Miss Moss
I’m not going to lie—every second pin on my Pinterest comes directly from Miss Moss. This South African blogger nails it when it comes to fashion photography, dream purses, and three-tone colour palettes. She rocks peach like no other.

Honestly… WTF DIY
I love me a crafternoon and I’m never short of inspiration thanks to the DIY section at Honestly… WTF. Here lie the secrets to recreating Dolce & Gabbana floral tiaras, Miu Miu bejewled heels, and dozens more gems from both on and off the runway.

Ann Freidman’s Pie Charts on The Hairpin
These blog entries are like the latest episode of Girls: hilarious, mildly embarrassing, and way too close to real life.

Gems (formerly Where the Lovely Things Are)
Uniquely combining independent designers, kitsch accessories, and children’s literature, Gems adds a touch of whimsy to my time on the Internet.

Closet Visit
Who are these women? What do they do for a living? Can I be best friends with all of them?

photography // Zoe Vos