I never thought, in a million years, that one day I would be dressing high school girls.
That’s because I couldn’t have foreseen the market shifts ahead of me, and frankly didn’t understand the changing complexities of body image and gender stereotypes in our modern culture.
Indeed times are changing, which was highlighted recently when we made a Cherrywood Flannel Suit (one of our all-time best sellers) for a client unlike any other.
Dominique “Nikki” Ziehl is a high school senior in Los Angeles California. She’s only 5’2″ but she is, without question, one of the most interesting people I’ve had the opportunity to write about.
I love interviewing our clients because everyone has a different reason for gravitating toward custom tailoring, and this one did not disappoint.
I left her interview responses relatively unedited because she is well written and I think her words alone highlight the universality, and significance, of the service of tailoring.
TURN THE PAGE
D: Where did you grow up?
N: I was born in China and adopted by my parents when I was two years old. I’ve lived in Los Angeles ever since then.
D: What were the very first influences on the way you dressed?
N: The biggest style inspiration for me was Elliott Page. I connected with him sentiments of self-expression and self-image – of wanting to dress in masculine clothing.
He was the first person to ever wear a suit the way I wanted to. Most of the suits I’d seen before were feminized [short jackets, stretchy fabrics, made to accentuate “feminine shapes”].
When Elliott Page first appeared at the Vanity Fair after-party, they wore a straight-cut Saint Laurent tuxedo jacket with a white dress shirt, black tie, black pants and black boots. The whole silhouette was very androgynous; there was a perfect balance which made for a very powerful image, in my opinion.
After that, I experimented with a custom suiting brand in Los Angeles and it really opened my mind to the possibilities of bespoke tailoring…I could actually have clothes that looked – and fit! – the way I wanted them to.
Now I only buy bespoke and luxury men’s goods.
D: How did your style change or evolve over time? Were there “phases”?
N: I was definitely a lost child.
I didn’t know a lot about the world in general and struggled for a long time with finding an image to relate to.
No one in my family had any sort of influence on my natural attraction toward menswear. My parents actually tried to steer me in the opposite direction, if anything—always putting me in dresses and taking me to the girl’s department.
My desire to wear more masculine clothing grew just as fast as I did. My mother tried supporting my interest, letting me shop in the boy’s section for a while. I bought a lot of clothing from Shaun White’s line at Target. But when I hit puberty, the clothes weren’t fitting anymore, and I was lost again. I stuck mainly to jeans, t-shirts, and oversized jackets for most of my teenage years.
Formalwear was the biggest issue. I didn’t enjoy wearing dresses, but I could never find anything else that matched the formality of the occasion that would fit me. My parents believed I was just being stubborn, but it was really taxing on my self-esteem. I was uncomfortable with myself, and the feminine clothes just perpetuated this discomfort. I knew that my father didn’t condone my choice to wear boy’s clothes. He believes heavily in binaries—that boys should dress and act like boys and girls should do the same with their gender.
The biggest challenge for me wasn’t discovering who I was—that part came naturally—but rather communicating sentiments as basic and fundamental as, “this is who I am, this is how I see myself, and this is how I want you to see me”.
Truthfully, I used to not understand fashion or even like it; being a tomboy I thought fashion was vapid, but now I find myself appreciating it—enjoying it even—because I’ve found clothes that accurately reflect my personality. Discovering the bespoke world changed everything for me. As a naturally shy person, clothing design helps me share who I am without having to speak much. Simply put, I’m able to buy what I want and have it look and fit the way I want it to.
Finding my personal style has definitely been a journey, but now I’m right where I want to be—open and unfettered.
D: What is your occupation today? And your career path to get there?
N: I’m actually a senior in high school right now.
I’m not sure what I plan to do as a career, but I definitely want to do something with fashion. I’ve considered becoming a fashion stylist, designer, or doing something in the bespoke world.
I do know, however, that wherever I end up in this industry, I want to have a more personalized approach. I appreciate clothing because of its sheer power as a constituent for expression and communication, and I want this philosophy to be the foundation for whatever I do.
I will always have a tenderness for bespoke menswear, as it cultivated my passion for style and representation…who knows, maybe I’ll open a bespoke shop in Los Angeles if the opportunity arises!
A NEW KIND OF POWER SUIT
D: How has the way you dressed affected your career, relationships, or other aspects of your life?
N: Suiting remedied the overwhelming insecurities and negative social pressures that dominated my childhood.
I’m comfortable with myself—physically and emotionally. In embracing masculine clothing. I’ve freed myself from the enduring pressure I felt to adhere to feminine standards.
Bespoke, specifically, is a symbol of individuality for me. It exists independently with each person, never cleaving to a certain type. It accepts all people, allowing them to create whatever they want, regardless of what body type or style they have.
I’ve noticed a great deal of personal growth since discovering the bespoke world. The difference in my self-confidence is immense; choosing suits as my style of dress is a source of confidence for me, without question.
D: How would you describe your personal style?
N: Believe it or not, if I were to describe my personal style with one word, it would be “gentleman.”
It consists of a mix between Italian, British, and American styles, but the underlying theme with my image is tailored masculine elegance. I try to make my garments look as close to traditional men’s suits as possible and try not to “feminize” them in any way.
When distilled to its essence, I like suiting because of how it makes me feel, regardless of the gender its intended for. Suiting’s gender association with men doesn’t bother me at all. I actually prefer the masculine energy associated with suiting, I find it balances out my feminine characteristics, creating a truly androgynous image.
D: What is the most essential piece in your wardrobe?
N: I’d say the most essential piece in my wardrobe is my pair of brown brogue boots (shown here).
It’s always a struggle finding shoes that I like that are sold in my size (men’s 4/women’s 5.5) and I’m lucky to have found these.
They are the most stylish shoes I’ve ever worn and are wearable all year long, even in LA.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
D: How does AOS compare with other tailors/brands you’ve purchased from?
N: The biggest issue for me is that I gravitate towards men’s clothes but obviously can’t fit into them. Boy’s clothes don’t work because I don’t have a boy’s body, and they look too juvenile.
With other stores and brands, even tailors, I am constantly limited by the gender and sizing of their garments. I love how all of the products AOS offers can be made to fit anyone, and I am not limited in my options whatsoever.
I also love that I don’t have to not worry about how the end product will turn out. The fitting garment made me feel confident that the tailors were going to review my fit, and gave me a chance to give detailed feedback about what I liked and what I wanted changed. With other custom brands, I’m left worrying about how my orders will turn out – wondering if they will interpret my ideas correctly.
AOS also understood the exact silhouette I wanted. Maybe it’s because their background is with men’s suiting, but my suit was perfectly structured to not overly accentuate my more feminine attributes. I’ve found that brands with separate women’s collections often structure their women’s suits differently, which makes it hard to communicate that I want to acknowledge my feminine body type but keep a more androgynous silhouette.
D: What would you like to see from AoS in in the future?
N: I love everything AOS is doing right now – there are absolutely no complaints coming from me. I only wish that I had more money so I could buy more from them.
I’d love to see you guys make some custom braces. I’ve been wanting a set for a while, and since you already have my fit down, it would be great to create a pair that actually fits well.
D: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
N: I dress well because I believe that all people are unique gifts that deserve to be presented to the world in the most beautiful packaging.
I don’t hate dresses; I think they look rather beautiful on other people. They just don’t accurately reflect my personality, and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.
I’d like for people to support women who want to wear masculine clothing; allow women to feel strong and confident about themselves and support them in their desire to represent themselves honestly.
Masculinity and femininity in the clothing industry are purely aesthetic – they shouldn’t be characterized as attributes of power or fragility.
We’re not trying to hurt or offend anyone in dressing masculinely; we’re just trying to find some reassurance in a world of self-doubt.
Thanks, as always, for reading and special thanks to Nikki for sharing her story!
Yours in style,