Our favorite writers muse on their muses as we bring back the "My i-Con" essay series for the second year in a row. From Grimes to Grace Jones, read every heartfelt ode to personal style here.
In the aftermath of the election, the internet was brimming with articles on how to weather political arguments with your family at the Thanksgiving table. But the only argument my mom and I got into was about Solange: "I don't like her. She's weird," my mom told me, unprompted. I was flummoxed — how did my mother find out about Solange? — but also unsurprised. (She also finds guacamole, sushi, and New York weird.) My mother eschews the unconventional, and Solange — openly and often — disrupts the norms of "likable" or "pretty" or "normal," even though I find her all of the above.
It reminded me of conversations she and I would have in my childhood, where I had no interest in wearing matching dresses with my four younger sisters or curling my hair — the hardest she ever laughed at me was when I told her I didn't really like "floral textiles" when I was 10 years old. It's not that I didn't think those totems of femininity were bad — they just weren't what I wanted. I don't have a style, but a sentiment: What is out here for me? It's an amalgam of items that make sense for me — pink lipstick, giant braids, the color yellow — and I never feel weird or untrendy for sticking with my staples. "I really like Solange," I told my mother, forking into a portion of macaroni and cheese. "She always looks like herself." She looked like herself when she got married in a floor-sweeping cape with flowers in her hair; she looked like herself when she wore a canary yellow dress of tutus — replete with matching leggings — to the Met Gala; she looks like herself — resplendent, unique — next to her superstar sister.
But you have to keep up with whatever version of herself is playing right now.So every two months, I Google Solange. It's a ritual, part of my style cycle: day 1, I get braids, six hours in a swivel chair, hunching beneath Sonia's nimble hands, holding my ears down when she tells me to; day 15, after my braids loosen around the edges, the tiny whips of hair slacken and relax, I can twist my braids into a giant bun that crowns my head; day 27, cramps, light spotting; day 47, I start to get anxious about taking down my hair in the next two weeks, committing to trying a new style. Each time, I think, "It'll change everything," as if, finally, this one look will truly telegraph how I feel inside: bright and full of whimsy, a little dangerous, mostly lazy, clever and playful, zany. I wonder if Solange feels the same way.
I never paid much attention to Solange before I cut off all my processed hair — in 2014, mostly by accident — and then she was all I could pay attention to. Going natural — ceasing to relax or process your hair to alter its naturally kinky state — is more than a cut or change; it's a relegation back to where you began, a process that's as inceptive as birth. Before I head to the salon, I search furiously for photos of her — when else do we get to peek ahead at life? What I am most interested in is the progression — I can see her style and hair changing with every click — the marks I would hit. I found all my answers. Her hair was about the same size as mine in late 2010, and then she had braids for a while, and she popped up at this event with a full afro in March 2011, and then she had a straight weave here — aha! She grows and changes, just like me!
But then I couldn't stop — it's more than the hair. It's her face — doe-eyed, full-lipped, bright — which I couldn't replicate if I tried, so I've timidly adopted her pops of color. Her lipsticks — vibrant reds, pinks and purples, all drawn from the palette of a sunset — seem to match her mood. Her occasional eyeshadow is always applied brazenly — during some shows, it crosses the bridge of her nose to link her eyes together — and rarely quiet. Her clothing seems chosen from only the sharpest sections of the rainbow: all citrus colors and bold patterns that set her brown skin alight.
In my searching of Solange, I've found that what suits her generally suits me: oversized box braids that go down to my waist, a small, afro-ed halo that frames my face, the occasional loose waves of straightened hair. But what suits her best — a carefree approach to style, the deployment of clothing as true expression, the disregard of the conventions of normalcy or prettiness — is the real lesson I've gleaned from my feverish Googling. I feel comfortable with all my choices when I see them on her, like she's trying them on for me, showing me it's OK.
Text Jazmine Hughes
Photography Anna Hanks via Flickr