A few months before legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham passed away in June, the street-style philosopher, famous for donning his blue workers’ jacket and riding his bicycle all over the city to document the joy and humanity of the art and fashion world, captured two rising stylists whose aesthetics he described as “absolutely superb”: Danielle Cooper of She’s a Gent and Sara Geffrard of A Dapper Chick.
It seems only fitting that the visionary and fiercely independent fashion icon was an early fan of these progressive new voices in the fashion industry: both women have made a name for themselves as women who dress in menswear. After starting the blog three years ago, Geffrard has been covered by Vogue, Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post, and most recently, she was profiled by The New York Times; she’s also the founder of an anti-bullying and women’s-rights collective called Dapper Chicks of New York.
Now, the former dancer and multi-sport athlete seems to be standing in a hall full of open doors. But Geffrard’s story of how she got here is a remarkable one: Born in Haiti in the early ‘90s as the youngest of three, Geffrard grew up dancing, doing tae kwon do and playing soccer and basketball. From an early age, she knew that the best uniform for her active lifestyle was what the boys were wearing: “I’d just always told my mom that I don’t like the way girls clothes fit. The pants are just too tight. And you know, she was always very accepting of that.”
But when disastrous Hurricane Jeanne hit the island in 2004, the island was thrown into a massive state of unrest. Geffrard’s mother was abducted, and the lives of her children were threatened. Sara and her siblings were subsequently sent to Queens, suddenly immersed in a wholly new culture that she would struggle to navigate in her pre-teen years.
We talked with the indomitable Sara recently about the path that led her to where she is, what it’s been like to see an aesthetic once relegated to the fringe be welcomed into the mainstream conversation, and what’s next.
So you mentioned that you were pretty much always more compelled to wear boys clothes over girls clothes because they were more comfortable. But at what age did you really start taking an interest in fashion and realize your aesthetic was something very different from what girls are expected to wear?
As far as my interest in suits goes, I made that decision when I moved to Queens. I was wearing baggy jeans and t-shirts. But you know, I would go into a store and people would follow me around like I was doing something wrong. And I didn’t like that feeling. So I thought, “OK. I don’t want to be followed around any more. I want people to respect me.” So that’s when I started getting interested in that dapper style, in suits and stuff.
And then you started the blog?
I started the blog two years ago. I remember just going about and people would tell me, “Oh, you’re looking very dapper.” And a lot of my friends were just like, “Why don’t you start a blog?” But I was really afraid to do it at that time, because I didn’t know how people were going to react. It wasn’t a thing at that point. But you know, I thought about it and it was just like, “What do I have to lose? If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But if it does, maybe it could take me places.” So I just did it. And it surprised me how supportive people were. I mean, I did have some cyber bullies. But I’ve moved past that, and it’s become the best decision I’ve ever made.
In recent years, this idea of gender being a societal construct, and that girls dress one way, and boys dress another way--is starting to be challenged in the mainstream, and your blog is of course contributing to that conversation. What has it been like to witness these things emerge as topics of conversation among a larger subset of the population?
It’s been...overwhelming! In a good way. It’s not something that I ever imagined would be possible. To see it become somewhat of a mainstream thing--for example, big brands like Zara, which came out with the Ungendered collection--to see it become more and more a part of the conversation is really cool. Because I’ve always felt that gender has no place in fashion. It’s about fit. I mean, that goes back to why I started wearing boys clothes--I wanted to be comfortable! I wanted things to fit me the way I wanted them to fit. So it’s really interesting that there’s some sort of visibility and people are paying more attention.
You’ve gotten a bunch of great press. Bill Cunningham thought you were awesome. What has all of that recognition been like for you?!
Such a big thrill! I remember last season, going online when the Times article came out and Bill Cunningham comparing me to Chanel and saying it was remarkable--it was just a very surreal experience. And just a few months later, for the Times to reach out and want to do that piece, that was just--I never imagined something like that would happen to me. I’m very grateful and very humbled.
What affect has all of this had on the blog and on your career as a stylist?
It’s changed everything! It has absolutely created new opportunities. A lot of people have been reaching out, and traffic to the blog has probably...tripled. It’s amazing. As of about eight months ago, styling and running the blog is my full-time gig.
So let’s talk about the Dapper Chicks of New York and how this idea to take on an activist role came about.
So, within a month or two of me starting the blog, I started getting cyberbullied by another blogger. It got to the point where I was so emotionally affected by it, and I just wanted to quit and give up everything. But then I met Danielle Cooper [of She’s a Gent], and we started talking, and we realized that the same person that was bullying me was bullying her. So it gave me the idea right away to start this group that stands for something. A group where we’re breaking barriers and putting things out there that people are really just not comfortable talking about. I went through Instagram and found a lot of women who were dressing similarly to the way I was dressing and who were in the same area. And I just pitched this idea to them, and they all agreed, and it just kind of took off from there.
We get together to do shoots to raise awareness and start that conversation. To really kind of force people to have that conversation. Our goal is to make this aesthetic more mainstream.
Right now I’m working on a project with Liberty Fairs, which is taking place in a couple weeks. I’m also working on a really cool project with Diesel. It’s getting to the point where I’m having to assess opportunities and decide what I’m going to go for. It’s challenging, but really fun.
Any advice for girls looking to strike out on their own? Particularly something that’s challenging the status quo?
Be prepared. It takes a lot. People think that I just get up and take pretty pictures, but that is not the case at all! [laughs]. So much goes into maintaining the blog and styling and creating content. You have to be prepared both mentally and financially. And you can’t give up, because you’re going to get a lot of “no’s,” and you have to see that as a lesson so you can perfect your skills. It’s a hard business. You have to be prepared.