Behind the seams: Shaneel Lal on their evolution of style

22 June 2022
By Fashion Quarterly

In a seven-part photographic series we ask our favourite trendsetters how fashion makes them feel.

Shaneel Lal. Photography: Holly Sarah Burgess.

This week we talk to law student and activist Shaneel Lal and ask them about their evolution of style, favourite outfit of all time, and dressing as a trans-non-binary person.
How would you describe your personal style? 

My personal style is a balance between finding clothing that is affirming of my identity and keeping myself safe as a trans person. I have to consider the place I am in, what time it is, and if there are people around looking to bully trans people. I have reached a point in life where I do not have the capacity to care for what others think though. It is a fine balance.

How or in what ways has your style evolved over time?

My style has evolved as I have accepted myself. Growing up I was forced to wear masculine things and prohibited from wearing feminine clothes. When I accepted myself as a trans person, I let my true self shine through. My style is an embodiment of my feminine energy and that is often expressed through big, flowy clothing.

Do you think fashion has the ability to alter your mood?

Absolutely. Every time I have an event or a  shoot I spend a bit of time picking my outfit. A good outfit immediately puts me in the mood to slay the day. I feel like a good outfit can vest the power of a girl boss in any person. I don’t have bad outfits. Some may think otherwise but the great thing about that is they don’t have to wear my clothes. I have been intentional about my purchases and so I love everything I own. 

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What is your preferred way to shop?

I have struggled to find clothing that fits me well all my life. Men’s pants were often too wide around the waist and women’s pants were too short. These early experiences have made me very skeptical of shopping online. I try to only buy things that fit me in person. The extra step of tailoring deters me from buying things. I invest in quality items. That does not necessarily mean buying designer. I feel like there is a lot of shame around wearing clothes that aren’t designer. I couldn’t care less.

What are your go-to outfit staples? 

My go-to outfit staples would be my black turtleneck, black high waist wide leg pants and black converse. A full black outfit is timeless and chic.

Can you tell us about one of your all time favourite outfits that you’ve ever worn?

My favourite outfit is my tapa. My tapa isn’t just a piece of clothing. When I put my tapa on, I strengthen my connection with my ancestors. My tapa looks like a dress. Every time I put on my tapa, my ancestors rejoice at the reclamation of indigenous queerness. My queer ancestors were forced into hiding through colonial criminalisation of queerness. I choose to adorn myself with overtly queer clothing because I am making up for the years my queer ancestors lost. 

What about one of your first memories of a good (or bad!) outfit? 

As a kid growing up in Fiji, there were not many styling options for me. My earliest memories of an iconic fashion look is when I wrapped my t-shirt into a blouse crop top and wrapped a towel around my head as a wig. That is quintessential queer childhood culture. 

How would you say fashion makes you feel?

Fashion allows people to express themselves in their most authentic forms. It has allowed me to achieve happiness as a trans person. When I put on my outfit every morning, I look in the mirror and see someone I have learnt to love. As a kid I was not allowed to wear feminine clothes. Wearing feminine clothes often resulted in punishment. A part of healing has been reconnecting with my love for feminine clothes. 

Discover more of our favourite trendsetters and the transformative power of fashion in the new winter issue of Fashion Quarterly, on sale now

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