The most amazing thing about fashion is that it’s way more than a pretty dress or awesome shoes—it’s the fastest, surest way to send a message about who we are. And for some people it’s a huge opportunity to claim a stake in their identity. Orange Is the New Black‘s awesome Laverne Cox is definitely one of the latter. As the first openly transgender woman to receive an Emmy nomination, she’s used fashion to explain an identity more complicated than what most of us have experienced.
“The way I dress is really about the message I want to send out to the world about who I am,” she told WWD. “Growing up in Alabama, I was black. I was poor. I was assigned male at birth—that’s how I like to put it. These things defined me, but I’m not any of these things. Clothes were a way for me to announce to the world who I was. I am not any of these things. This is who I am.”
Her style—and access to fashion—has changed since her pre-college days when she was wearing velvet culottes and vintage smoking jackets (though, honestly, those sound kind of awesome). The above pic was snapped from a fitting with designer Marc Bouwer for a potential Emmys dress, and while it’s definitely sophisticated, it still seems like the sort of loud statement she’s always favored.
“For my high school graduation, I wore a zebra robe and a pillbox hat. Running around Alabama in a zebra robe and a turban, I got bullied a lot. It was rough. I’d say, ‘One day I will be rich and famous and I’ll show you.’ And that’s what got me through my childhood.”