On Being Unapologetically You: Fifi the Queer Icon
by Jackie Andrews
Last week, Future Heirloom Editor Jackie Andrews introduced our new platform in our first Letter From The Editor. This week, you’ll get to know Jackie through the lens of their childhood alter-ego, Fifi, and learn about how this colorful childhood character has influenced their fashion sense and penchant for dramatic accessories, their career, and most importantly, who they are today. Get out your feather boas and get ready to play dress-up.
I was born a maximalist. From a very young age, I loved playing dress up, and I always gleefully piled on as many scarves, feather boas, jewelry, tiaras, and sparkly hats as I could—typically several at once. The concept of moderation was completely lost on me. In my toddler years, I would put together these maximal ensembles, and demand to be my older sister’s hairstylist. Over time, this particular persona of mine was dubbed “Fifi” by my mother, and even today is still cited as one of her favorite memories of my childhood self. Fifi is immortalized in a frame in my parents living room, but has spent the better part of the past two decades of my life relegated to a distant memory, dormant in the recesses of my mind.
Fifi was more a part of me than I knew. Echoes of their unapologetic, fabulous flair are a common thread in so many of my fashion phases, large and small. There was one year in elementary school that was defined by a large collection of oversized silk flower brooches and hairclips (think a slightly more restrained clown flower), in every color of the rainbow and a variety of shades that were paired, without fail, with every outfit I wore. In middle school I discovered my mom’s collection of richly patterned silk scarves from her years of working in Manhattan, and I enthusiastically styled them as ascots or belts on a daily basis (admittedly with mixed success). In high school I sewed my old Girl Scout patches all over a pair of jeans, which then spilled over onto a jean jacket; I didn’t hesitate to wear them together, Canadian-tuxedo style, and I even hung the pants in my AP art show senior year. I wore all-over patterns and power-clashed well before it was cool, had a lipstick shade for every occasion, doodled on my face with eyeliner, and used Vaseline to glitter my eyebrows. Fifi watched over every one of these sartorial decisions like a fairy godparent, even when I didn’t recognize them there.
I came out a little over four years ago, and have undergone many evolutions of self in that time; I’m sure many more are to come. But one thing is certain: my quintessential style spoke for me even when I didn’t have the language to describe the way I experienced the world, and that instinct has only gotten stronger in me. On any given day, you can find me wearing “too many” types of floral patterns at once, layering my growing collection of sequined garments together, donning platform sneakers in neons and patterns, and accessorizing with abandon. (Most notably, frequently following my own self-imposed rule of looking in the mirror and then putting on at least two additional pieces of jewelry.) These instincts were paralleled in my studio practice as well: as I progressed through art school, glitter and sequins became an increasingly important material in my work, despite (and indignantly, in spite of) the disdain the art world historically has had for it. That inclination toward glitter-encrusted surfaces was always something that my inner child called out for, and I finally learned how to listen.
As my work and my wardrobe got increasingly bold and outspokenly queer, my list of style icons did as well, including people like Harris Reed, Demi Lovato, Alok Vaid-Menon, Sam Smith, Billy Porter, Iris Apfel, ABBA, and of course—Elton John. In recent years, I’ve also had the honor of being told on more than one occasion that I had the vibe of a “lesbian Elton John,” a high compliment that I will surely wear as a badge of honor for decades to come—it might even make an appearance on my gravestone. But a couple months ago, something within me inexplicably brought Fifi to the forefront of my mind.
It suddenly became very clear to me that while all of these experiences and role models had certainly shaped me, my true queer icon has always been Fifi. Discovering my true self and learning to embrace my identity fully has meant years of slowly returning to that unapologetic, young self. Fifi would certainly admire the person I am today, and I’m lucky that I’m finding my way back to that inner child, one head-to-toe sequin ‘fit at a time.
Written and illustrated by Jackie Andrews.
Illustrated using images of Fifi and Jackie Andrews throughout childhood and adolescence, wearing many of the garments and accessories mentioned above.