Shishida shows off a custom suit named the
"Esther" by Thuy Nguyen, owner of Thuy
Custom Clothier, during the 2016 About-Face Embody
Awards: Transforming Fashion at Impact Hub San
Francisco on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.
FRANCISCO — Two weeks after glowering, stick-thin
models strutted the runways at New York Fashion Week,
San Francisco played host to a fashion show of a
women of varying sizes and modes of gender expression
glided across a small stage, smiling and laughing as
they happily modeled outfits that ranged from a flouncy,
lime-green sundress by San Francisco retailer ModCloth
to a classic masculine suit and tie, specifically fitted
for the curves of a female body, by Oakland-based Saint
Harridan. The appreciative audience made up mostly of
women — young, hip and edgy, as well as silver-haired,
elegant and successful — at the Impact Hub San
Francisco on Mission Street applauded between sips of
wine and signature Campari cocktails.
occasion was the annual Embody Awards, presented by
About-Face, a nonprofit that works in Bay Area schools
to improve girls’ self-esteem by challenging society’s
unrealistic and unhealthy images of beauty. This year’s
celebration came in the form of "Transforming
Fashion," an alternative fashion show to honor four
groundbreaking Bay Area designers who are creating
"inclusive, body positive" clothes.
our honorees are working to change fashion so that true
self-expression is available to women and those born
female-bodied," said About-Face Executive Director
Jennifer Berger. "We want girls and women to be
free, and we want them to think for themselves and to
dress as themselves, not someone else."
show is yet another sign that media portrayal of women
is changing. It follows such recent headline-making
moments as Mattel launching a new line of Barbies in
different body types and skin tones and Sports
Illustrated putting a plus-sized model on its cover. The
show also coincides with the growing number of smart and
rebellious women who are using social media, blogs and
books to promote more body positive messages.
surprisingly, the Bay Area is a hotspot for so-called
body positive activism, in part because of its creative,
educated population, ethnic diversity, large LGBT
community and its acceptance of alternative lifestyles.
Taylor Jay, one of the designers honored, put it:
"People are more real here."
a Bay Area native who cut her teeth in wardrobe styling
and retail in Los Angeles, now runs a boutique in
Oakland’s Laurel district where she creates a line of
flowing, feminine dresses, tops and pantsuits that
flatter women who wear a range of sizes, from 0 to 2X.
her signature black cardigan wrap. During the show,
model Felicia Miracle Cippola demonstrated how the
cardigan, which falls below the knees, can be worn in a
variety of ways — hanging loose as a sweater over
casual pants or wrapped into a Diane von Furstenberg-style
notes that her customers have jobs, families and busy
lives, so they want clothes that are comfortable,
versatile and well-made but that also make them feel
confident and beautiful.
pretty much express who you are through your
clothing," she says. "My customers want to
feel comfortable in their own skin."
Gregg Koger, co-founder and creative director for
ModCloth, also creates clothes for a range of sizes,
from extra small to 4X.
has gained a devoted online following and national media
attention for using nonprofessional models, including
its own employees, to market its vintage-inspired
dresses, swimsuits and other clothes. The retailer has
also vowed to never retouch models’ images in
Photoshop, a position that may seem antithetical in an
industry that has long resorted to such tricks out of
the belief they’re needed to sell products.
credits style bloggers and social media activists for
changing the definition of what’s attractive,
including in advertising.
idea that models have to fit into a narrow definition of
beauty to sell clothes is just not true anymore,"
model for the show was Julianna Salguero, of San
Francisco. Pretty, blonde and curvy, she glided onto the
stage in the lime-green sundress and did a twirl to show
off its flared skirt and the playful hemline print of
dolphins leaping through waves.
fun and quirky, and it has pockets!" Koger said.
Her mention of the pockets generated an especially
enthusiastic round of applause.
Jay and Koger, the other designers honored also create
clothes that they and their friends love wearing. But
Mary Going and Thuy Nguyen’s personal preference for
men’s clothing has allowed them to move into a unique
market, designing masculine-style custom suits for butch
lesbians and transgender men.
own story illustrates the challenges such women face. In
2008, when California started issuing same-sex marriage
licenses, Going wanted to wear a suit at her wedding to
partner Martha Rynberg. When she tried men’s stores,
she either faced customer service that wasn’t
welcoming or she couldn’t find anything that fit
ended up having a suit custom-made. Measured to fit her
shoulders, breasts, hips and 5-foot, 3-inch frame, the
suit filled her with confidence and left her thinking
"this is how clothing should feel on me."
hunch that other lesbians and transgender men would
appreciate that feeling has paid off. To launch Saint
Harridan in 2012, she netted $137,000 in prepurchased
garments through Kickstarter. She’s also opened pop-up
stores in 15 U.S. cities and in September opened a
flagship store in Oakland, Calif., for custom fittings.
it may be nontraditional to design men’s suits for
women, Going’s designs are anything but. At the show,
model Cal Light playfully vogued across the stage in one
of Going’s sleek but classic black wool suits.
"From the beginning, we were really going for a
traditional men’s design," Going said.
who fled with her family from Vietnam in 1975 and was
raised in San Jose, creates for her Thuy Custom Clothier
designs that are more "edgy."
of her well-tailored men’s items are infused with
feminine elements, a nod to the influence of her
parents. Her mother, for one, was a master tailor of
traditional ao dai Vietnamese dresses. "Growing up
around the constant humming of my mother’s sewing
machine and a father who was a sharp dresser was my
experience (in forming) my style and fashion
sensibility," she says.
the show, model Koko Shishida wore Nguyen’s
"Esther" suit, with its fitted gray jacket
over a billowing white blouse and leg-baring trouser
the other designers, Nguyen, who works out of her San
Francisco apartment, says the Bay Area is a good place
to be creating designs outside mainstream sensibilities.
One side project is to help parents get their
gender-fluid children affordable prom suits.
year, I lent out suits for prom at no cost," she
something she can’t see doing in many other places.
in a bubble in the Bay Area," she notes, "but
in a good way."