What Makes Me, an interview with Stray Daze
Stray Daze is an emerging fashion influencer, based in Brooklyn, New York. Stray’s unique sense of style, melding feminine details with masculine cuts, is featured on Instagram @straydaze, as well as her website and blog, stylewithstray.com.
In the past year, Stray has built a following of over 7,500 followers on Instagram, with posts receiving hundreds of likes each, and garnering the attention of the fashion elite. Most recently, she was featured in InStyle magazine, in an article titled “Hair That Comes Out For You,” an opportunity to share her story of style, queer identity and authenticity. In February 2018, Stray launched her blog as a way to “document the process behind how I throw things together, push myself to expand my wardrobe, take more fashion risks...and learn more about myself.” And it’s this mix of writing and imagery, open and personal, that resonates with her readers.
Joshua Williams: At what point in your life did you realize the effect of fashion on how you were seen as an individual, or how you wanted to be seen in the world?
Stray Daze: I'd say it didn't really happen until a few years after college when I started to fully come into myself. I always say that I was a late bloomer. It took years to start feeling good about myself because I struggled internally for so long. With time, I overcame the dark cloud that was hovering over me and wanted to try a little harder with my appearance. I made an effort to impress myself so I could start giving myself compliments. For so many years I didn't look in the mirror and say nice things to myself, so I had to take the time to appreciate who I was—the inside as well the outside—which started the process of creating my look.
JW: How did this connect with your gender and sexual identities? Was there a moment of intersection, an aha moment, where fashion and identity aligned?
SD: Yes, for sure! I came out at a young age and wanted to dress more masculine as a kid, but it was looked down upon. I experimented with feminine and masculine clothing growing up and always felt more comfortable in masculine clothes. I knew in my future I would dress more masculine and I couldn’t wait to leave for college and have my own identity without judgement. But, I went my entire first year of college presenting to the world as someone who wasn’t me because I had pretended for so long. During my sophomore year of college, I made up my mind to truly be me, even though I was still a little afraid of how people would perceive me. I never felt beautiful in feminine clothes, but once I started consistently dressing more masculine, I was happier and finally felt free. I remember my first day at the mall shopping for a new wardrobe full of "boy" clothes and it felt like Christmas. I was so happy!
JW: Was there a kind of symbiosis between fashion and identity at that moment, an alignment?
SD: Yes, there was for sure! I always wanted to dress in a more comfortable and free way. When I finally stopped putting pressure on myself to fit society’s norms, I found my own identity. I can say, without a doubt, fashion helped me to discover my identity.
I’m in the middle spectrum of a boy and girl. For so long, I showed my feminine side, and then I started to dress super masculine. I still like a little bit of femininity and try to blend masculine and feminine when it comes to my style. I feel like that’s what works for me right now!
JW: Once you became more aware of your own personal self, was their a struggle then to find clothes that fit or expressed your personal style?
SD: Yes, I was getting frustrated going into the men's department and not being able to find pants that made me look masculine enough. The pants always emphasized certain areas--my hips wouldn't fit into the pants. It was a struggle, and I wasn’t making a lot of money, so I decided to learn how to make my own pants. I went to a sewing class at Mood Fabrics, learned the basics and made my first pair of pants, ones that looked really good on my body. I realized, ‘oh wow, this is the look I liked and wanted.’ Around the same time, I decided I wanted to change my hair—the pants and hair kind of blended together. I unexpectedly became myself without even really knowing it. I started to develop my personal style.
JW: At what point did you realize you had a fashion point of view that others were interested in? That was shareable and even marketable?
SD: Yeah, totally! I guess it was after making a pair of shitty pants--I made them look good on the outside, but no one could see the inner workings, which was for the best. I was heading to the train one day and a lady stopped me and asked, ‘where did you get those pants?’ I was thinking, ‘are you talking to me?’ She was the first person to ever ask, but more and more people would just come up to me and say they liked my pants, style etc. I started selling clothes for a little while, but I realized that was not my calling. I realized that I could just style my own clothes and look, which ultimately led me to creating the blog. It was a way to document my looks over time. And people ended up actually liking it, which was awesome!
JW: Why do you think it’s important to document the process of creating your style, the good and the bad?
SD: Honestly, it goes back to me not being okay with myself growing up. I feel like for a long time I hated photos of myself; I hated looking at myself and seeing this person who I didn't really connect with. I lacked self love and I was very insecure. I finally had this ‘aha’ moment around the age of twenty five, when I thought, I'm done feeling and living this way and not appreciating the body that I have. I can now look back in the past and recognize my growth, look at photos of me as a kid, accept who I was then, and be all right with who I am now. I'm no longer afraid to look back, because I can see how far I've come.
JW: This idea of documenting your process was important to you personally, but did it become a way to give your readers insight into their own style journeys?
SD: That wasn't really my thought process going in, but it's amazing that people are thinking that, asking questions, being curious, and that I can influence them in a positive way through my own journey. I'm all for it!
It feels crazy to think that just knowing my thought process, and how far I've come along as an individual, might help others. I didn’t wake up one day and know how to dress. It’s not a switch that just turned on, a moment when I knew how to do all of this right away. I have definitely gone through all the little stages of understanding me and I just want people to know that it is a process.
JW: Was there a moment where you realized that your Instagram needed to be curated, that a “personal brand” was beginning to emerge?
SD: I would say last fall, in 2017, I had the thought in my head. I've always wanted to have a blog, but I didn't really know what what I wanted it to be about. I knew I wanted a way to connect with my followers on Instagram, but in a different way than just posting pictures with captions. I’m also not very comfortable being on video, so I wanted a different outlet where I could communicate in my own way, with my words. I really love fashion, and a lot of my friends told me I should do something with it. I didn’t take them seriously at first, but then felt like I should. Now was the time to put myself out there. I chose February as the launch date for the blog, without any expectations, and I’m proud that I was able to stay consistent with everything, since I struggle with consistency big time!
JW: You’ve had so much success already! You’ve since created a business around your personal style that goes beyond the blog. What are your plans?
SD: I’m going to stick with the blog for as long as possible. I want to make sure I always keep it fun! However, I do plan on starting online virtual styling sessions in 2019. I want to help people find their personal style. Everyone deserves to look and feel good. Not everyone has that best friend who can just sit on your bed and help you find an outfit for an event. I want to be that friend! I want to create a personal experience for people who need just that.
One morning I got a message from a younger queer person of color, who has locs, lived in a small town, and feels like an outcast. She didn’t think she was beautiful. She found me on Instagram and connected with me, told me how much she looked up to me and what I was doing. She said I made her feel more visible. Her message literally made my entire year, with those kind words! This is why I’m maintaining my consistency, this is the connection I strive for, beyond just styling. Queer visibility is so necessary on so many levels.
JW: How does it feel be referred to as an Influencer? And to have the ears and eyes of the fashion industry, including InStyle magazine?
SD: It’s wild! I mean, I’ve only had my blog since February, and I’ve only been taking this seriously for a year. I can't imagine how much this will grow. It's really amazing, I'm just being me, and people can see that I'm being authentic. I'm not trying to be anything else. It gives me the validation that I'm doing something positive in the world and I should just keep it up.
JW: How does your identity play a role in your style today? And how important is it for you to be a role model in the queer community?
SD: My identity plays a big role in my style today. Since I’m genderqueer, I don’t limit myself to shopping in the men’s section anymore. If I like something, I’ll get it, no matter which section it’s from. As long as it makes me feel beautiful and handsome at the same damn time, I’m happy!
I never thought that I would be considered a role model in the queer community, but now that people are reading my blog and following along with me on my style journey, I have realized that there are people who care about what I’m doing. It makes me want to keep it up, interact with them and make sure I’m representing my community in a positive light. The queer community is full of so many spectrums of amazing people and I’m just happy to be a part of it!
“For me, queer fashion is about NOT being conventional…”
I scream queer when you look at me! That’s just who I am, there’s no hiding it and I don’t want to hide it. My style and personality is connecting beyond just the queer community as well, which is crazy. But, at the end of the day, I’m still going to be seen as queer, even in a non-queer setting, and I think that’s beautiful.
JW: How would you describe your personal style today, and how does being queer play into your style?
SD: My style is street bohemian chic!
For me, queer fashion is about NOT being conventional, and not something you’re going to find on the clothing rack at a typical fashion retailer. I really have to dig and find certain things, and then piece together distinctive and unique combinations. I think being queer plays into my style, because the sky’s the limit when it comes to the clothes I buy. Being able to shop both gender sections is a bonus! Twice the amount of clothes! Haha.
JW: What would you say to yourself ten years ago about style and fashion? Or, what advice would you offer those that are trying to find their own sense of style?
SD: I will start off by saying you should get to know yourself and love yourself first. That's the number one thing that you need to build your confidence as an individual. I wish I had confidence years ago, but everything happens when it’s suppose to. Before focusing on your clothes, you need to understand your body and how you want to feel. It’s important to have a connection with yourself. Then, take baby steps. I think starting with the basics: not wearing too many colors too soon, because color can be overwhelming at first, especially if you don’t really know how to put things together, or know what colors compliment you. Experiment with different fabrics and remember what they are. Take your time, there's no rush. You have your entire life to to find your personal style. It took me almost twenty five years! LOL.
JW: What’s next for you?
SD: Well, as I said, I’m launching my online virtual styling services in the new year. I have a “day job” that pays the bills, but I would love to become more entrepreneurial and continue growing the momentum I have with StylewithStray. I want to connect with as many people as I can and try to make an impact big or small in the world.
—Joshua Williams, Chief Branding Officer