Op-ed: Ellen DeGeneres, Style Icon

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com September 17 2013 4:43 AM ET

When I was 12, Ellen DeGeneres was my style icon.

At the time, my parents tried to instill this well-meaning habit where I was forced to wear a dress or skirt once a week.

"Michelle, one day, when you're a professional businesswoman/attorney/astronaut, you're going to thank us," I'm sure one of my parents said.

"You need to know how to iron your clothes, and shine your shoes, and blah blah blah."

I mean, they have to know that the moment I got off the bus, I ran to the bathroom to put on a pair of pants, right? Well, I guess they know now.

This came at a time when I was stealing my dad's shirts and sometimes even his jeans to 1) look like Da Brat in an IZOD and 2) hide my ridiculously exploding pubescent body. Just as the women in a long line of big-boobed, long-legged, short-torsoed, bootylicious bodies before me, I woke up one morning and I suddenly had all kinds of rebooted body parts that I had no control over. I hated the attention I got from pervy adult male strangers and my middle school classmates (the boys who absolutely needed to stare or try to touch, or the girls who were so sure I had a boob job. At 12.). So I hated wearing dresses, skirts, or anything that attracted attention to my body in a womanly manner.

In the mid-to-late 90s, we were still riding the waves of supermodel era with the likes of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Tyra Banks, but Ellen's uniform of Hush Puppies, Levis, and blazers were what I was all about. I dreamt of my life in the future with a siiiick wardrobe styled after Ms. DeGeneres's look. Who needed Chanel when I could have Keds? Forget mom-jeans; dad jeans were where it was at. And vests! As far as the eye could see!

As Ellen's career has evolved from a semi-out, satisfactorily liked comedian to a super-mega-power lesbian comic, so has her style. We all have some Lewinsky-era outfits that are absolutely cringeworthy now, and of course, Ellen does, too. But she has developed a sense of style coveted by straight and LGBT women alike. That very fact says a lot about how we're (slowly) evolving as a society that accepts different meanings of being a woman. We're getting to a place where we can lose the sexual orientation-uniforms — it's no longer, "Pick one: flannel or mini-skirts!"

Being a lesbian should not mean you can only either wear plaid (unless you want to), or forever have the asterisk known as "lipstick" placed before your orientation. Being a straight woman no longer confines you to clothing worn only to appease men with narrow ideas of what a woman is supposed to look like. And I think Ellen DeGeneres is a major contributor to that change.

America's most powerful lesbian parades on television every day in front of stay-at-home moms and people taking sick days, and she doesn't have to wear a ball gown or a Jackie-O dress to do it. Not only does she have a fantastic sense of style, but she owns it. Then again, she has to stand next to her gorgeous wife, Portia de Rossi on red carpets, so she had better look halfway decent.

Ellen is the patron saint of dapper women everywhere, queer and straight, who like to don blazers, bow ties, and Oxfords (I guess Janelle Monae is her protégé). I find it interesting that the eleventh season of her show premiers right around all of these Fashion Weeks. It gives me hope that an oddball 12-year-old girl somewhere out there sees Ellen and realizes that she doesn't have to dress a certain way in order to qualify as female. Besides, fashion comes and goes, but a person's style endures.

Personally, I hate the idea of identities dictating how I have to dress. I gave that up in high school with my Hot Topic wardrobe. I'm not butch, and I'm not femme. I live in t-shirts, sparkly necklaces, sneakers, and knee-high wedge boots (see above). I have a love/hate relationship with fashion magazines, and I have a pretty amazing Pinterest board collecting looks ranging from couture to comfy. And on no day of the week will you catch me willingly wearing a dress. The same goes for Ellen.

 

MICHELLE GARCIA is The Advocate's commentary editor. Follow her on Twitter @MzMichGarcia or her Pinterest board, "Don't Be Shocked, I Like Fashion."