Name: Wontons (It’s what I’ve signed all my drawings with, and then people started calling me that. Some have asked if it’s my real last name, which always prompts a quick primer on Chinese culture from me.)
Location: San Francisco
What do you do, in your own words, and how long have you been doing it?
I live in juxtaposition and I’ve been doing it for 27 years. I look about 17 but feel about 87. I’m a practicing Roman Catholic but reject that notion that I have be conservative as a result of my faith life. I love the aesthetic of 1962 but would be hard-pressed to live in such a time of open oppression of women and people of color. I don’t think it’s particularly new; most women live in constant conflict within themselves. I enjoy and embrace it.
What is your personal fashion philosophy?
Looking good (that’s your definition of good, not someone else’s) takes work and will always change. We live in an era when everything has to be easy and instant. Overnight sensations from YouTube and reality shows, cooking delicious meals in 30 minutes, looking “effortless” — these are all fallacies. I’ve taken a page from how men and women have dressed in the past: attention to detail and taking time to develop outfits. I’m pretty low-maintenance, actually, and I pride myself in that, but it’s taken me years to figure that out, and I still don’t have most of my personal style figured out. It frustrates me sometimes, but I just have to take a deep breath and remember that fashion, like any other aspect of self-awareness, self-discovery, and well-being, takes a lot of time, and that’s okay. Research, try some new things, regroup, try again. No one rolls out of bed looking fabulous (unless that’s your thing, in which case, huzzah), and no one is born self-aware (unless you’re Woody Allen, in which case, huzzah again).
And don’t conform to gender norms unless you really want to, because gender norms almost always guarantee misery. I still feel frumpy when I’m surrounded by big hair, shift dresses, and towering stilettos at networking events. Gender norms are hard to shake, but it’s totally worth it.
Where do you like to shop for clothes?
Thrift stores and discount shops. My family and I didn’t have much when I was growing up, and kids in school were very cruel about it. It’s all learned behavior, of course, and it always upset me that they were learning that from home or television or the mall. Growing up, my parents always told me that the look was more important than the price, and I didn’t really embrace that until college. Plus, shopping thrift stores and discount shops saves money and ensures I’m not locked in a “who wore it best” competition with anyone.
Who are your personal style icons and influences?
With a resurgence of more “performance art” in pop music (i.e., Gaga, Nicki Minaj, et al.), there’s definitely been a return of musicians who also push fashion and style. Lately, I’ve been so pleased to find a return of great role models for androgyny and gender-nonconformity, which is refreshing after years of everything being “menswear-inspired.” Ladies like Hannah Billie of Gossip, JD Samson of Men and Le Tigre, Khaela Maricich of The Blow, Robyn, and particularly Elly Jackson of La Roux have been revelations. From an earlier time, 60s icons like Grace Slick, Beverly Bivens of folk rock group We Five, all the British Invasion bands like The Zombies, Peter & Gordon, The Rockin’ Berries, and Motown groups like the Miracles have been steadfast inspirations. And Bowie, Boy George, and dear friends Bianca and Broadist ladies Caroline Shadood and Roxy Roknian for preaching body positivity, of course!
If you could live in any era of fashion history when would it be?
1963-1967. I grew up dancing along to The Beatles, The Everly Brothers, The Spencer Davis Group, and The Buckinghams with my mother, so I’m a huge fan of clean lines, bold color combinations, and sharp tailoring.
What are your current favorite clothing pieces, accessories, and beauty products?
At the moment, I live in tapered, pleated slacks and trousers, Cosby sweaters, bowler and pork pie hats, crisp button-down shirts, summer sport coats, brogues and deck shoes, and costume jewelry. With regard to beauty products, I’m the worst person to ask about that. I’m allergic to a lot of products and my makeup routine isn’t much more than keeping my eyebrows groomed, my skin clean and moisturized, and a lashing of lipstick if I feel like it.
You are a visual artist, and many of your drawings are very fashion oriented. Tell me more about your art and its relationship to your personal style.
When I grew up, drawing was a way to cope with my reality–my family’s transition to the U.S. was frought with economic hardship, and I was a relatively odd child who couldn’t identify with other children my age. I was either too religious, too nerdy, too fat, or two weird. Drawing clothes, or what I thought was fashion design, was my way to escape to a better reality. I could have full control over what I drew, and, because they were my creations, I owned them. Drawing high fashion was so great for this; it was so far removed from reality, and that’s stuck with me through the years. It’s not
such a direct coping mechanism anymore, but I can definitely still draw to relieve stress. Of course, drawing and creating has informed my personal style. I often test looks on paper before even trying them on myself.
The other thing that I draw a lot is beards.
If a clothing line or design house approached you wanting you to develop a line with them, who would you want it to be? What kind of pieces would you want to create?
Without question, it would have to be Balenciaga. Cristóbal Balenciaga defined modern fashion for women in the 60s, with previously unused colors, shapes, and influences. As a Roman Catholic, his vestment-inspired pieces blew my mind, and I would love to design more from that period in his career. Of course, I’d love to design unisex clothes and shoes as well.
Your parents are also very stylish people; do you think they influence your style at all?
They absolutely do! I’m very close to my parents, moreso than what’s conventional in the U.S. Part of it is cultural, but the other part is my upbringing. Our early years in the U.S. were difficult, and we became very close-knit as a result. I’ve learned a whole lot from them, and their philosophy for personal style was part of larger life lessons. Though I don’t dress like them (my mother still grimaces at some of the things I wear), their style principles have stuck. I’m lucky to have progressive-minded parents who still care about fashion. For one, my father applauds my exploring gender-nonconforming fashion choices, and I don’t know how many dads would even care about that sort of thing.
Any general style tips for our readers?
Take the time to develop your personal style, and when you’ve found a look that works for you, wear it with pride. Clothes will always look good on a confident, happy body. Keep your shoulders up and your head high–this is your look, your time to shine!