“Did you see how she was dressed?”
“Why would she wear that if she didn’t want the attention?”
“She was asking for it.”
We’ve all heard one of these asinine pseudo-excuses when someone is trying to justify or pardon some form of inappropriate, unwanted, unsolicited sexual advance (or worse). I’ve heard both men and [sadly] women state the above comments with great conviction.
Having lived in both Manhattan and Hollywood, I am no stranger to street harassment. I’m also very experienced when it comes to assumptions being made about my character based on what I’m wearing. For instance, in the club scene (an admittedly depraved culture), I switched from wearing dresses and heels to sporting tougher, “safer” apparel (black jeans, leather jacket, combat booties, etc.) to escape all the unwanted attention. Not only did I receive less advances and inappropriate physical contact (get your hand off my ass) — I got more respect from men.
But that’s a problem. Because I should get respect regardless of the fabric draped over my body. Whether it’s a crop top and fitted skinny jeans that show off my a$$ets or baggy sweatpants and a T-shirt, I’m the same person with the same morals (and sex drive). So let’s get one thing clear — I am never “asking” for anything. I dress for me.
That’s where Jessica DeFino comes in. As the Founder of IDressForMe.com — and the associated hashtag movement, #IDressForMe — DeFino has made it her mission to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault as they pertain to fashion choices. In the exactly two months since she launched the instagram account for the movement, she’s gained 600 followers (and counting), featured a handful of fashion-forward supporters, and frequently posts simple–yet poignant–messages like “Not asking for it,” “Clothes are not consent,” and “My outfit is not an invitation.”
She’s a total boss. And I had to get to know her better.
1) First, tell us a bit about the woman behind I Dress For Me. Who is Jessica DeFino?
I’m a 25-year-old Jersey girl living in LA, where I work as a wardrobe stylist and fashion editor. I started out styling within the music industry, helping bands match their sound with a look. I was lucky enough to work with Daughtry, The Fray, Jason Mraz, and Atlas Genius early on in my career. What I loved about my job was helping individuals take who they were on the inside and express it on the outside, so I moved towards personal shopping in order to foster that personal connection with my clients. Somewhere along the way, I started my blog, Hell or High Fashion, which transitioned into writing about fashion for web and print. My work has been published in Harper’s Bazaar China, L’OFFICIEL Singapore, Marie Claire China, Conde Nast Traveler, and ELLE Mexico, all of which have helped expand my knowledge and involvement in the industry of high-fashion.
2) You’re at the helm of a super kickass movement. What inspired you to launch I Dress For Me? Why is this initiative so important to you?
It sounds hippie-dippy, but the idea for I Dress For Me came to me while I was meditating. My mom had given me a book called Awaken The Spirit Within by Rebecca Rosen, which is a guide to discovering your life’s purpose. While following one of the book’s meditations, I Dress For Me popped into my head, and I couldn’t shake it. I immediately bought the domain name, and reserved the Instagram handle, because I knew right away that this was going to be a big part of my life!
I’ve experienced sexual assault and harassment countless times — haven’t we all? — and I always resented the idea that I “asked for it” or “brought it on myself” just because I like to dress up and put effort into my appearance. After the Isla Vista shootings [where Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree to exact revenge on women who dressed provocatively and then denied him sex] and the #YesAllWomen movement, I knew I wanted to be involved in solving these issues in a bigger capacity.
Fashion plays a role in so many women’s stories of sexual assault and harassment, and we’re constantly being asked, “Well, what was she wearing?” It seemed to me that there was a big opportunity to marry my love of fashion and my passion for this cause.
3) Much like the #ImAGirlBoss series we do here on RN, you use hashtag culture — #IDressForMe — to get the word out, and encourage engagement on social media. How has the reception been? Do you find a steady increase in followers/participants?
Using the hashtag #idressforme seemed like a natural first step for our movement. One of the biggest hurdles in ending sexual assault and harassment is that the topic is taboo, and no one wants to speak up about it. The hashtag is a low-stakes way for people to stand up for a cause and have their voice be heard. Hopefully, #idressforme can play a small part in opening up the conversation about sexual assault and harassment, and take some of the shame out of speaking about our experiences.
The reception has been great so far! I definitely see our numbers increasing day by day, and there are nearly 1,000 people who have used the hashtag on Instagram already! Eventually, I’d like to have our hashtag become a resource for funding — as in, for every person that uses #idressforme, so-and-so organization will donate $1 towards education and prevention programs. I’m really excited about the potential of #idressforme!
4) On your website, you state the statistic: 57% of the population agrees with the idea that a woman’s character can be interpreted through her clothing. Have you personally ever been mistaken for someone you’re not based on what you’re wearing on any given day/night out?
This happens all the time — sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in ways that lead to larger issues. The instance that stands out in my mind the most happened while I was on a first date with a new guy in college I was wearing a 50s-inspired outfit: a halter top with a sweetheart neckline and high-waisted shorts. I thought I looked super cute, and can still remember that outfit completely, down to every last accessory. We were walking through the park when my date started to get handsy. I politely asked him to stop. He persisted, groping me and chasing me when I tried to walk away. Finally, he pushed me to the ground and said, “What’d you wear that low cut shirt for then, just to tease me? To show me what I can’t have?” I was extremely lucky that he walked away, but unfortunately, most women who end up in that situation are not as lucky.
5) In your own words, what is a fashion feminist?
To me, a “fashion feminist” is someone who recognizes that fashion and feminism are not mutually exclusive. It’s OK to ask for equality and be excited about the latest Saint Laurent collection. It’s cool to demand equal pay for equal work and spend that pay on an insanely expensive pair of Louboutins. You’re allowed to fight for equal rights in a miniskirt.
6) Who are your fashion forward feminist idols?
Emma Watson, who has done an amazing job of being a voice for feminism in an industry obsessed with sexualizing women. Leandra Medine of Man Repeller — I think that one is pretty self-explanatory. Beyonce! Jennifer Lawrence, who handled her nude photos being leaked with grace and power, and has been a vocal advocate for change in that area. Madonna, who recently opened up about her experiences with rape. Karl Lagerfeld, who turned his Chanel SS15 runway show into a very fashionable feminist protest. There are some that argue that his show trivialized feminist issues, but I think anything that makes feminism such a hot topic is amazing!
7) Describe IDFM in three words.
Strength, style, empowerment.
8) If IDFM could do a campaign with any women’s fashion or beauty brand, which would it be?
My DREAM campaign would be with Nasty Gal! Nasty Gal has been a pioneer in the women’s empowerment movement within the fashion industry, and I think they would be a perfect fit for our message.
9) If IDFM could have ANY female celebrity as the face of the movement, who would best represent the mission?
Personally, I’m obsessed with Solange Knowles’ style, and would love to have her on board as an I Dress For Me ambassador.
10) What are your goals for IDFM? Where would you like to see the website, guest blog, and instagram one year from today?
One year from today, I see I Dress For Me having tens of thousands of followers. I see our hashtag becoming one of the “standard” fashion hashtags, like #ootd or #whatiwore. I see our guest blog section growing and partnering with prominent bloggers, designers, and brands to reach as many people as possible. I’d like to see a line of #idressforme clothing and accessories — tee shirts, canvas bags, mugs, wall decor. I see I Dress For Me taking on a large role in sexual assault counseling centers, and setting up branches on college campuses to promote education and prevention. Pretty lofty goals, but I really think the time is right for the I Dress For Me movement to flourish!