THE MEANING OF POWER DRESSING
W/ MAUD ‘DAINTY FUNK’ ACHEAMPONG
Photography: Maud Acheampong
Meet the multidisciplinary performance artist Dainty Funk, created by Maryland-based Maud Acheampong. By using Tiktok, Youtube and Instagram them/their work explores the false dichotomies between what is beautiful and what is grotesque.
The meaning of power dressing is a complicated subject. The word power in itself is multipronged, it can be positive or negative, used to describe a saint or a tyrant. As far as fashion is concerned, power means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But when do clothes stop being clothes and start to become symbols of strength, defiance, and resistance?
Fashion is one of the few safe spaces to explore identity and the concept of ’power dressing’ referring to a particular style, commanding respect, conservatism, and boldness – might ultimately have lost its power. Now we tend to choose style before gender, wearing loose-cut suiting to parties, and a-going-out top to work. A new kind of tenue de ville is taking form, and are shaping a new vision for a gender-fluid future. This spurs the questions – what does it mean to be powerful today and how does that reflect the way we dress?
Tell us about the origin of Dainty Funk.
What does power dressing mean to you?
I really enjoy feeling structured in an outfit, I like shoulder pads and angular lines and when I dress in that way it transcends confidence and I feel true to myself and impenetrable – comfortable but also like a badass. The type of outfits that make me feel strong and powerful varies, sometimes it’s through a tight corset and sometimes through an oversized shoulder-padded blazer. And even though I like the idea of clashing, mixing and exploring patterns and clutter it’s always rhyme or reason in what I’m wearing and that’s the thing I enjoy about power dressing. To me it’s all in the details – every detail is well thought out and close to my heart, but for someone else, it may look like the opposite. That’s probably my best-kept secret.
“It basically comes down to being respectful to the origin of things and being able to pay homage to the people that paved the way for trends, fashion and culture.”
When do clothes stop being clothes and start to become symbols of strength, defiance, and resistance?
I think as a black non-binary person there’s the expectation to prescribe to ‘respectable’ silhouettes to combat stereotypes that the world has created about black people but also to prescribe to androgyny in order to convince people that I am a non-binary person. Dressing the way that I do and not conforming to those stereotypes makes me feel true to myself and that’s one of the most powerful forms of resistance, especially in marginalized communities. To wear whatever you want and to take control of a body that has been targeted and policed for so long makes me feel powerful and grounded. It’s like saying ‘they can take away this and that but they can never take away the way I express myself’.
I also think it’s super important in conversations of fashion to talk about cultural appropriation and specifically who benefits from it. There was this fad of nonblack models that had like Bantu knots, dreads and braids on different fashion stages and at the same time, there were still laws in the US preventing black people from wearing those hairstyles at the workplace. That’s an important responsibility that people who enjoy fashion need to realize. When we’re asking for representation within fashion, whatever the representation may be, we have to recognize where it’s coming from. The reality is that a lot of people are still at a disadvantage from participating in things that are culturally significant to them whereas others are praised for using cultural expressions that weren't even theirs to begin with – and it’s being called a ‘fashion innovation’. It basically comes down to being respectful to the origin of things and being able to pay homage to the people that paved the way for trends, fashion and culture.
What garment and accessories empowers you at the moment?
I love corsets, they’re one of my favorite fashion pieces. I think it’s because they toe the line of soft and lazy silhouettes with structured and angular ease and that’s the best of two worlds for me. You can be wearing sweatpants and a corset and people will be like ‘yeah, that’s high fashion’. It’s also a way to trick people into thinking that you know what you’re doing. Corsets are also a good way to elevate an outfit that you feel is missing something. I have quite a large collection of them, mostly vintage.
I also have far too many shoulder-padded blazers, to be honest. They represent the same feeling as the corset, but they also help to blur the lines between masculine and feminine without making me feel like I’m trying to be androgynous. So my go to’s are basically corsets and blazers, but another garment that I’ve grown to love is the sweater vest. I like their slouchy silhouette and maybe it’s more of a comfortable feel to it but comfort is also power. Modifications to my body can be very powerful, like dying my hair or shaving my eyebrows, those types of things certainly play big roles in my outfits.
“I think the fact that I’ve surpassed the ability to be embarrassed and have purposely relinquished the need to be cool has really helped me to push the boundaries when it comes to the things that I wear.”
What garments or traits in a person give them/their authority according to you?
Confidence of course, but even more than that, the inability to feel embarrassed or ashamed. I think the fact that I’ve surpassed the ability to be embarrassed and have purposely relinquished the need to be cool has really helped me to push the boundaries when it comes to the things that I wear. And that goes for the people that I look up to within fashion, they’re not necessarily the big names, it can be people I see on the street or on Instagram. More than anything it’s in the way they make the clothes their own and by being true to themselves and wearing the clothes that they like to wear.
Another thing that’s really important is kindness. Fashion is meant to be inclusive. I mean, to be a person that enjoys fashion is to never insult or berate people with different styles, that’s just a low blow to me. Fuck the standards for fashion, it’s about what makes you feel good and when you get to that point everything you wear is going to be fashionable.
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