“Fashion is a form of art. It’s the first thing people see before you say anything throughout the day,” says Hailie Sahar, one of the five transgender leads in Pose, which ended a successful first season on Sunday night.
But while much has been discussed about the show’s groundbreaking premise and history-making talent, less discussed has been one of the most obvious aspects of the ballroom scene the series centers around: fashion.
Every week, in addition to being treated to a healthy dose of late ’80s nostalgia, viewers have been treated to pure fantasy on the floor of the ballroom, as category after category invites contestants to dress up as their dreams. And in a promotional video for the series, the impact is explored by the cast as they discuss the role of fashion in Pose and in the lives of both cis and trans women.
“The clothing on this show is a reflection of who we are as people,” explains series star Mj Rodriquez, who plays Blanca. “When you wear a piece of clothing, you’re always going to channel something different because you want the garment to look good while you’re sashaying and turning it out. And I think that a lot of women of [trans] experience, we do that within the ballroom scene when we’re wearing a garment.”
Dominique Jackson, who plays sometime-villain Elektra, agrees.
“Empowering yourself through fashion, through the ball culture—is something that all of us do,” says Jackson. “We always want to be in the latest fashion because sometimes, that’s what gives us validation.”
In order to procure the latest fashions, ballroom contestants often resorted to “mopping,” which the cast explains was code for shoplifting. “Those things were survival tactics to live, to have garments for the ball,” Rodriguez says.
Sahar, who plays turncoat Lulu on the series, puts mopping in an even more poignant perspective, explaining that it was a crime of the necessity, due to the circumstances of being so deeply marginalized. “[Y]ou go to look for work, and they’re saying ‘I’m not going to hire you because you’re transgender, or because you’re gay, or because you’re black,’” she says. “Then what are you supposed to do?”
But the leading ladies of Pose are also interested in the ways fashion unites us—particularly the way it unites women, who are often expected to adhere to a certain code of femininity.
“Fashion affects us tremendously,” Jackson notes. “And I think that’s not a cis or trans question, that’s just a woman question in general.”
Rodriguez agrees. “When it comes to fashion, there’s a certain expectation—just in general, as a woman—of what you’re supposed to look like; that’s the one thing I know. And I feel like we share that a lot—that’s a beautiful thing to share.”
And for Angelica Ross, whose journey as Candy on the series has centered around finding ways to give herself the appearance she so deeply desires, the experience is universal—as is the power of fashion to transform and empower us.
“Fashion is one of those things that allows you—and any woman—to accent features that she loves, and to sort of diminish or cover or hide other features she might not like,” says Ross. “Whether you’re cis or trans, if you know yourself well, if you know your body type well, and know what makes you feel beautiful? You can slay, Girl.”