From kinky pleasure to the ability to fully explore their identity and gender, three couples – and one submissive – discuss the freedom and joy that comes from putting their style in the hands of another
The way we dress is intentional and often strategic, with the clothes we wear offering hints as to our identities. Bridging the gap between the intimate and the public, they are also key signifiers in the way we are perceived by others. People code-switch through clothes, stress individuality, and protest with their outfits, or emphasise faith with religious garments. But what happens when you hand over control of what you wear to another?
Whether through shopping or coming up with outfit ideas together, fashion can be a profound and experimental tool to bring couples closer. Many queer couples choose each other’s wardrobes to explore their identities together, finding joy in expressing themselves and their personalities to their full potential – having sometimes spent years trying to suppress them. Doing so with the support of another gives them the confidence to try things out they’d perhaps never considered or otherwise dared.
“Whether through shopping or coming up with outfit ideas together, fashion can be a profound and experimental tool to bring couples closer”
BDSM also comes into play. Though the mind might immediately skip to chains and whips, kink-culture is all about power play, with dominant partners often asserting a dress protocol for their submissives as part of a mutually agreed contract rooted in discipline. In these consensual relationships, handing over agency when it comes to getting dressed is an opportunity to let go. There is empowerment to be found in defying societal norms and pleasure to be had in the subversion of established power dynamics.
These practices aren’t always easily understood or looked favourably upon, however. When Kanye West and Kim Kardashian first began dating, it was widely reported that West had overhauled his lover’s wardrobe, with the internet descending into a discourse that suggested manipulation and fortification of oppressive gender dynamics. KKW, meanwhile, insisted we were looking too far into things, explaining that she trusted her eventual husband’s opinion and eye for style – thought it’s not surprising that the fire was stoked once again in 2019 when West told his wife to dress “less sexy”, leaving social media to thrash it out over whether or not he’d slut-shamed her.
In a bid to understand the dynamics and emotions behind dressing or being dressed by a lover, we sat down with three couples and one submissive to discuss identity, power, and control, as they open up about the freedom and joy they’ve found in these unique arrangements.
TAYLOR AMBER COWARD (SHE/HER) AND ARTHUR KELSO (THEY/THEM)
“Arthur looks like they came straight from a 70s wet dream so I love dressing them in feminine silhouettes. I also like dressing them like the rockstar they are: lots of blouses, lots of cropped pieces, bell bottoms are everything. We’re almost the same size so our closet is a playhouse for them. I’m a Virgo – aka a crazy perfectionist – so them giving me complete creative freedom is my favourite thing.
Style is like showing up for yourself. I have three Leo placements and I’m a Taurus rising, so I do everything under the guise of wanting to feel good. When Arthur feels good, I feel good. I do consider safety when putting (more feminine) things together for Arthur. It’s already hard being an interracial couple. As we walk down the streets, some people don’t feel the need to hold their tongues and I don’t want to give them another spectacle to look at. But it’s all up to Arthur at the end of the day. On my side, there’s been a lot of aversions because I come from a traditional Southern Black home. Sometimes, my family would be a little upset seeing me dress Arthur feminine. Their mom loves it though.”
“I (used to hide) my femininity from guys to be ‘a man’ with clothing and other things, when in fact I really have never resonated with either gender. Taylor allowed me to expand my comfort in showing my family and friends how I feel as a human more deeply” – Arthur Kelso
“When (Taylor and I) were first dating, we both wore baggy clothes, and I rocked colour where Taylor was more muted – but things have shifted since. Having Taylor’s eye and vision as far as when we do get dressed really brought out feelings that led me to the conclusion I’m non-binary within the last year. Of course, there also a lot of other variables in this process, but she’s helped me to step completely into my truth.
One of the most significant things that I noticed I carried with me was that I hid my femininity from guys to be ‘a man’ with clothing and other things, when in fact I really have never resonated with either gender. Taylor ultimately allowed me to expand my comfort in showing my family and friends how I feel as a human more deeply.
I’ve always had a fascination with clothes. I think it’s the coolest thing ever that we get to choose our characters every day, and be whoever we want to be. I’m super into sustainability. I always want things to be second or third-hand, because I’m sickened by the pollution of the textile industry.”
DANI ANASTAXIA (SHE/HER)
“For my lifestyle as a sub, I find it enthralling when my partner or dom lays out what to wear or has me open up a present with the items in it. There is (an) emotion that builds as I put on the outfit and see myself in the mirror or on the camera and I become that persona.
In the sub role, I feel as though the moment I am told to wear something, the true submissive in me comes out. I am that doll who is available for others to play with how they please. There shouldn’t be a stigma with BDSM or having someone pick your wardrobe – after all, it is being done to add to the moment or satisfy the other person’s desires on the visual spectrum. Fashion is a powerful weapon that can bring the toughest dom to their knees – or any man for that matter.”
MAKAI FRAZIER (ALL PRONOUNS) AND DARIO SHORTZ (HE/HIM)
“I love when things look nice and sleek on Dario because I love anything form-fitting and he loves things that are loose, so we find some way to sandwich the two whenever we step out. He likes to style me in his more colourful things and he knows I love anything tight, that makes me feel pussy. I love that he understands when I want to feel femme certain days. When I’m staying over at his place and I need to borrow clothes for a night or day out, I can always trust he’s gonna have what I need to feel my best self. With him, by my side, I feel untouchable.
Honesty is key. There have been times when I thought Dario looked so good in a tight shirt and he said he was not wearing it because he didn’t feel comfortable. I was disappointed but I understood. We’ll always give each other a chance – just try on the look and it will sometimes be ‘I love you, but…’
Trusting my partner to dress me is a big deal because I love to be in control of almost everything I do. I hear him say ‘You know what would look SO good on you’ that’s when I know he’s about to pull out something fire.”
“Trusting my partner to dress me is a big deal because I love to be in control of almost everything I do. I hear him say ‘You know what would look SO good on you’ that’s when I know he’s about to pull out something fire” – Makai Frazier
“Styling for me always begins with mood, so I never really know until I’m getting dressed – usually layered and a little oversized. With Makai, I can kinda dress him as a fashion illustration dream boy. He looks amazing in colour and when mixing feminine and masculine pieces like a crop top and baggy pants. Supporting sustainability-focused young designers and designers of colour is important being a person of colour – you want to see success among your peers.
I like how adventurous Makai is with fashion and will try anything once: he’s not afraid to mix and match and getting ready together pushes me to try things I might not normally do. He’s really the best to turn a look with. Safety does cross my mind when dressing him because feminine wear on male bodies can be dangerous, but I never under-dress him because I want him to always shine.
My mom is always complimenting Makai’s printed shirts and his sense of style. She knows it’s fun for us to dip into each other’s closets and share clothes. I remember in the summer we were both in the mood to look amazing. I remember we got dressed up and it was pouring rain. It was so fun the whole time because it felt like an event. On dates, it’s fun to dress each other and see a vision that came from inside our heads.
It is a big deal to let someone else dress you, it’s such a form of everyday expression – I never want to not look or feel like myself. I trust Makai to find a balance of making me feel comfortable and challenging me to try something new when he dresses me. We’ve found a rhythm of knowing each other’s styles and can spot something the other would look really good in.”
NOVA A (SHE/THEY) AND ESTHER LEE (SHE/HE/THEY)
“Usually, when we’re styling each other we have something picked out already for ourselves and the other person builds on that according to our mood that day. When I met Esther, they had a masculine preppy business casual kind of style but I especially love styling them in more edgy, streetwear clothes.
Our clothes are important to us because we find so much freedom in how we express ourselves, which wasn’t the case in our adolescence as Asian Americans with strict heteronormative households. We have an understanding of each other’s style, but while offering each other our own flair we push each other out of our comfort zones which ultimately feels great when we’re happy with the look. Styling one another is almost like seeing each other from the other person’s point of view. If it wasn’t for Esther styling me, I don’t think I would have been able to explore my gender identity as much as I have since I met them.”
“Styling one another is almost like seeing each other from the other person’s point of view. If it wasn’t for Esther styling me, I don’t think I would have been able to explore my gender identity as much as I have since I met them” – Nova A
“I like dressing Nova according to how I think they’ll feel in their outfit! At the beginning of our relationship, I knew that Nova didn’t have many chances to dress in ways that reflected the way they wanted to express themselves in relation to their gender identity, so I always try to keep that in mind and put them in clothes that will make them feel confident and comfortable.
I feel like styling each other comes with communication and trying to understand each other better. Checking in and asking each other how we feel that day is always a part of our styling process whether it’s intentional or not. We also live in a heteronormative society that has restricted us and placed boundaries on our understandings of ourselves and the way we express ourselves internally and externally.
As individuals who have so much in common through our intersectional experiences, the foundation in our styling revolves around our gender identities and an unspoken understanding of how we would like to feel in our clothes according to our gender expression. There is an affirmation in the clothes we put each other in and we know how what we wear will affect how we feel about ourselves.”