A Bettr Series

On top of being an extremely talented photographer and fashion creative, Ethan is a personal friend whom I love and admire dearly. In this interview, he is candid about his journey growing into who he is today. Ethan describes his relationship with clothes as one that brings him joy and comfort with his sexuality. Through his words, I hope you see that his spirit is warm like the winter sun, spicy like a Negroni, yet curiously gentle like a cocooning butterfly.

For Ethan, wear is dismantling constructs.

 

Let us start with a short introduction of yourself and what your habits around clothing wear and use are.

I am a single (jk don’t have to put my relationship status - sorry Ethan! I am leaving this here!) cisgendered Chinese Singaporean gay male creative and photographer that works mainly in the realm of fashion. I was previously studying at Central Saint Martins in London, but I am now about to start school at LASALLE College of Arts, next month. I also work full-time as an e-commerce and content creator for a LA menswear brand based locally. It has been a roller coaster journey for me since arriving back home, but ultimately, I am thankful that I am in a relatively good headspace in my life.

What are some thoughts that come to your mind when you think about the clothes you wear and adorn?

For me choosing what to wear depends on the occasion, i.e. where I am going and whom I am meeting. Usually, I think about stuff like — does this flatter my body type and does this turn heads or not (depending on whether I wanna feel low-key or extra). But the overarching theme is to dress differently in the most subtle way. I don’t tell anyone this, but I also love to randomly try on clothes from my wardrobe as a pastime. Ever since I accepted the challenge to consume less (and save more $$$ to buy designer or high-quality pieces that have been made more ethically and responsibly than by their fast-fashion counterparts). I want to find new ways of imagining new ways to wear the clothing I already own and have worn before.

Given its current state, it is sometimes difficult to reconcile with the fashion industry being nourishing and additive to our lives. But, I believe that our clothes do provide us with joy and comfort through the process of ongoing use. Does this remind you of any instances/encounters with clothing and how so?

Yes, I think this relationship is really special. I think about how much my style has changed over the past 5-6 years and feel that I have progressed with the way I identify myself within society. On hindsight, I used to be closeted about my sexuality and was afraid to show any signs of femininity in my style, body language and speech. As a result of my intentional concealment, I adopted a very straight-acting style and posture.

However, as I have since become more open and accepting of who I am. I allowed myself to dive into more fun and liberal ways of clothing myself. I still wouldn’t say I dress “more gay” or “more feminine”, especially where we should be dismantling heteronormative functions and associations. But I like to play along the lines of representing my masculinity as a queer male. As a result, I feel like treading the lines of what our heteronormative society perceives as masculine and feminine binaries is something I like to toy with.

I would mainly describe my relationship with my clothes as one that brings me joy and comfort with my sexuality. I feel like each phase of personal style I once had was a full-time relationship that I was committed to at various points of my growing up. The process of progressively shifting towards a different style almost symbolises a break-up with the previous phase. Then, I work on forming a new bond with whichever style I am experimenting with.

The psychology of our time is crucial, more so now, in a world where nothing we know stands against the test of reality. Part of me believes that this translates into what we choose to keep wearing. How do you think this has affected the way you view your wardrobe?

I agree that it very much so affects the way I view my wardrobe. To delve deeper into this, I would say that my attitudes towards a certain style or type of clothing are extremely fluid and not stagnant. For instance, a year ago, I wouldn’t think I could pull off a certain look. But in the next year, you would see me wearing that look for like 6 months straight. My wardrobe helps me to keep an open mind.

Going back to how I tread the line between heteronormative masculinity and femininity, I pay attention to what flatters my physique. I subconsciously create a balance between fluidity and restriction. I used to want to blend in because I denied myself of my sexuality.

It also does not help that dating in Singapore, a country that’s not supportive of being out and open, perpetuates a certain look for gay males that appeals to the majority population. There are times where I would most definitely like to wear tighter and louder clothing, but due to the restrictions of my physique (and mainly my self-consciousness of my body), I have since found ways to dress differently from the crowd while still allowing myself to indulge in the way I view my body. This must have been the biggest shift since I decided to step out of the closet. Now that I’ve become more comfortable than I’ve ever been about my sexuality I’m not afraid to dress differently and be comfortable with being different.

Are there any particular outfits that you are loving at the moment? 

I recently made my first big purchase of the year with my salary and got a special edition ISSEY MIYAKE Pleats Please printed long-sleeved top. It was made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the "me ISSEY MIYAKE collection" based on the concepts of “light and compact, comfortable, easy styling, easy care and clothes that make life comfortable”. Marking its 20th year, the original print patterns are selected and reproduced from the archive as “LIMITED EDITION 01/02” series. The one I bought is a reproduced version of a 2001 print that consists of a vibrant black and white skateboarding photo. I am drawn to how the pleating on this top is visually different from the usual vertical pleats iconic to the brand, with striking colours contrasted against the B&W print — giving it a messy but contemporary, abstract look.

I was also looking for a mesh long-sleeved top for the longest time and decided that this was a good addition to my wardrobe. Mesh tops are ideal pieces to have if you feel like layering in Singapore and just want to have some fun prints sticking out from underneath a plain layer. I thought this was such a unique piece to own, as it marks my journey as a conscious consumer by investing in quality and interesting pieces of clothes that I can truly appreciate as art, rather than monthly buys of trendy items from any of the fast-fashion stores.

If possible, could you narrow down to one piece of garment in your wardrobe that you wear the most often?

I would have to say in general that would be baggy trousers and jeans. Specifically these pair of khaki ones I stole from my dad’s wardrobe that he had owned for many years now. Baggy trousers are the way to go! First of all, there’s just so much more breathing room for your legs (and other areas if you know what I mean). I enjoy seeing my pants move in motion with me as I walk. This gives me some form of satisfaction, like my clothes are alive and moving with me.

As cliche as it sounds, what’s your style and has it evolved over time?

I would say my friends and the people I spend time with definitely impact my style the most. Most of my friends from CSM love dressing up, experimenting and expressing themselves. I recall on various occasions when I witnessed them wearing certain pieces of clothing. Seeing how good they look in these clothing simply entrances and inspires me to try new things all the time.

I also have a different group of friends who love thrifting and seeing how they can get some unique pieces at a steal is what tends to direct me to look at thrift stores in London first before anything else. On a more mainstream/pop culture relevant note, I think Billie Eilish has a hand in influencing my style right now. I mean, the green hair!

Ethan’s habits of wear prove that style and identity is a constant work in progress. In his ongoing process of figuring out what works for him and flatters his body, he pays attention to the intricacies of creating a balance between fluidity and restriction. His open-ended interpretation of his relationship with clothes reflects a desire to break out of certain expectations that once held him back from being himself.

As a personal friend of Ethan’s, reading his answers to my questions warmed my heart. I love the way he talks about clothing in motion with his movements and stages of life. Something I have been thinking about — how different garments represent the memories of various stages of my life. What stories do my clothes tell? For instance, who was I when I wore that navy blue floral dress? How did I make people feel and how did I feel about myself in the dress? What about this dress made me “feel right” 2 years ago, and why do I no longer reach out for it?

Starting with myself, if I think more of my clothing as pieces that hold meaning even after I take them off, I would have a very different relationship with my clothes.

Also, since the start of this series, I have learnt that interviewing your friends about their relationship with their clothing can bring you closer to their thoughts. Maybe try it next time with your own friends. Ask them about their relationships with wear and let me know how that goes!

 

About Xingyun

Xingyun Shen

Xingyun is a fashion business graduate who advocates for a more humane fashion system. Seeking to address the importance of intersectionality when analysing fashion sustainability, she runs @noordinaryprotest as a platform to call for a shift in mindset. Her favourite time of the day is 5 pm, and her go-to fashion activity is swapping.