Advanced Style On The Subject Of Bullying

[Philip in inspired clothing]

The other day I received an email from Philip,in South Carolina, on the subject of being teased and bullied for dressing unconventionally. I had just had a conversation with some of my “Advanced Style” ladies about this, so it was the perfect time to reflect on this important and especially relevant issue. I usually keep the blog pretty light but I wanted to share Philip’s email and my response with all of you and give you the opportunity to share your thoughts . Please join the conversation by commenting below. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Philip writes:
Dear Ari and Advanced Style Women,

I am a young gay male in my 20s currently living in South Carolina. Since I was young I have loved to express myself and I learned about style from my grandmother. She would wear large jewelry and dresses with bold patterns on them. Every since I was young I have been teased on picked on for the way I express myself through my clothing and style. What advice would you give to someone who is being teased or laughed at by people daily for the way they dress? How do you deal with the negativity? 

Columbia, South Carolina 

Hi Philip,
Thanks so much for writing in. I have had the same experience as you, digging in my grandparent’s wardrobe and wearing colorful and patterned shirts throughout middle school and junior high. There was a moment in High School where I toned down my style, but I wish I had kept on expressing myself. I have learned a lot from the ladies that I meet In New York. They sometimes get laughed and stared at, but they continue to dress up ad ignore the negativity, in fact 90 year old Ilona responds, by saying, ” I did this for you, to make you smile.” 
I was teased in High School but had the support of a creative group of friends and a wonderful mom and grandmother. If you don’t feel comfortable dressing up how you want, take small steps towards expressing these ideas. I used to wear fun hats, like my grandfather’s fishing hats and vests. Do what makes you feel comfortable and know that you will have your whole life to dress up. Sometimes I would wear something a bit more conservative but wear a colorful pair of socks. Remember you can dress up at home, make videos, start a blog and share your style with others.
It is important to express yourself and dressing up is only one facet of the creative process. If the bullying gets too much, put your ideas to paper, take photos. I  used to draw pictures of extravagant ladies and it would help to get my ideas out. Remember that there are many people like you and try and connect to them. Stay confident and remain an individual. It is your individuality that will take you places. It definitely gets easier as you get older and stay true to yourself. 
Ari Seth Cohen
Your reply really means a lot to me. I keep reading it over and over. Today I went to school feeling a bit paranoid, but I kept thinking about what one of your amazing lady friends said once, “at least once they walk by you and laugh at you they will remember you. you will had made an impact.” I would love to hear what the ladies have to say about my issue, and I’m sure many other young peoples same issue. You can include my name if you would like.  Your blog has become a huge inspiration for me. I am thankful that you are finding these ladies and I’m thankful for these ladies bravery and fearlessness to live their lives so boldly. 
Thanks Again…

Some insight from the ladies…

  • The first thing I think about, Philip, is that you need to feel safe. If the bullying becomes threatening, you have to take it to someone who can help protect you. Having said that, my advice is this: once you realize that there are no rules that other people can impose on you and that you can express yourself and that you're not alone because there are other people all over the world expressing themselves in unconventional ways, as well, it becomes easier. I used to try to fit in–I live in a small, very conservative town in West Texas. But I finally gave up. Now, at 54, I do what I want. My hair is an inch long, and orange, and I have rather a lot of tattoos–I got the first one at 45. I dye my own clothes and so wear mostly orange, hot pink, purple, acid green–colors not really popular among women my age–or anyone else around here, for that matter. Add to this that my husband of 34 years is black, with a shaved head, wearing the same colors (I dye his clothes, too), and you can imagine how people stop and do double takes and giggle. But it's OK–the way I look makes me happy, and the best thing: when you dress to express who you are inside, you meet other people who feel the same way. It's the BEST way to meet like-minded people, and once you feel confident in striding out looking the way you feel inside, your whole world will grow exponentially larger and more wonderful. It's like Ari's ladies say in the video, too: you may get giggles and funny looks, but you'll also get people who are delighted with your look and who will tell you you've made their whole day. And that will make your whole day, too.

  • I met 2 guys last week who I will blog about one of the days this week. They said exactly the same as you. They are from a small town in Portugal and suffered this kind abuse from small minded people. They told me that one of the reasons they like to live in London now is that people accept them as they are and even like the way they dress. They are now both studying fashion at one of the world most prestigeous fashion schools here in London – St Martins were the likes of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen studied. Seth's ladies are a fiesty lot and Seths answer to your letter speaks volumes. It becomes easier with time to express yourself – Ilona words are very wise and a great retort " I did this for you, to make you smile." Love it. Oh by the way have you ever watched the flim the naked civil servant? The story of Quientin Crisp and the follow up An Englishman in New York. He had a tough life but may be inspirational all the same. I wish you the strength to overcome what are the short comings of others. Love Dvora Xxxx

  • Philip – you look quite fashionable to me! But of course a lot of people find something threatening if it's unfamiliar to them. I used to take a lot of heat for wearing crazy clothes growing up in a small town, and that was really frustrating. I think the most important thing as others have said is finding a peer group of people who are likeminded and will appreciate your style and your special qualities. If you can't find that in your town, try the surrounding towns, or better yet, the nearest city, where you're more likely to find arty counterculture peeps.

  • Anonymous

    hi philip, I opened this website and noticed a beautiful young man first — you, of course! Your creativity will enable your life force, be your strength, and — perhaps — your career. As to the bullies — they're out there as you know too well. I hope you can successfully get away from them and find a group of other creative people. Another school perhaps, a fabulous life later on in some urban center? You're reaching out, so you will find a way. And, yes, the other writer was correct; make sure you are safe.
    love to you, anna

  • Philip,
    I'm a conservative-dressing liberal thinker. I applaud you for dancing to your own tune, but you might find it easier to do that dance in a larger city on either coast. There you will find more like-minded individuals who make our lives more colorful and add vibrancy to our days. Best of luck to you. You are more loved than you realize.

  • dear philip, my name is rachael and i own a vintage and handmade shop in columbia called pack rats. we're a little quirky ourselves and love to dress up when the mood or occasion strikes, but i just wanted to let you know that you're always welcome to escape by here and chat a little fashion or try on some clothes for the fun of it or just hang out and forget about the ugly parts of this town if only for a little while. there are some great and fashionable people here (though a small group – they're here!) who will appreciate you for who you are – just keep your head up and do your own thing.

  • Rf.

    In the wise words of my best friend (of 13yrs).
    You laugh because I'm different….. I laugh because you are all the same!
    don't let anyone one put a freeze on your creative expression.
    I like you grew up in a small country town.. being the different one. Now, i life in SF and continue to dress how i want. Working in a high end boutique. putting together outfits for people to buy. Creating window displays that make people stop in and shop.
    I could not agree more… It does get better!

  • Ari, thank you for sharing this brave young man's letter with us. He is to be applauded for his courage to dress so uniquely in a place where conformity is the 'norm', but as I always say, "Define/DEFY Normal!"

    I would second Erica's statement that people are always threatened by the unfamiliar but they are also threatened by those who DARE to try and do things differently than anyone else – it is a mark of BRAVERY that Philip is marching forward in a way that so many others can not when you see many people conform to the style of Banana Republic or The Gap. Philip, it means you are thinking since you are taking time to create and wear fabulous outfits and as Martin Luther King Jr once said:

    Nothing pains people more than having to THINK!

    Philip – keep being creative in your mode of dressing! We all support you and we are all very proud of your creativity and style!

  • sandra

    This is how you deal with negativity. You Don't. Their laughter is your visceral message to exit stage right.

    During the early civil rights era, and continually today in some areas of the world, people with darker skin are ridiculed.

    In some areas of the world people who are short, fat, tall and the lists go on, are laughed at and brutalized.

    Your clothes are a choice and hopefully they don't define who you are. It's your character that counts. Remember the dream of Martin Luther King.

    I think what you wear will draw you to people who understand your need to be creative. But their resonance with your creativity is not an indication of their character.

    I have personal health issues which are obvious to many people and I wouldn't trade anything for my experiences because my personal pain has made me a less critical and more compassionate person.

    Even if you associate with others who dress as creative as you, watch their behavior. Just because someone expresses their creativity in their dress or looks doesn't mean they are any better than anyone else.

    So, my answer is don't dignify the foolishness and hopefully this lesson will inspire you to treat others with respect.

    My expression of the point may not be "perfect", but I hope you get my drift. Your character is not determined by what you wear, but who you are.

  • i'm here to second much of what's already been said. it will get better as you age. self-confidence is worth so much. don't put your energy into naysayers. all advice i try to remind myself of as well.

    remember that it's very easy for most people to be automatically, reflexively dismissive of someone breaking from convention. unfortunately, that's a predominant mood in our society. this doesn't excuse the eye rolls or other snide behavior, but it might help to think some people might not be complete jerks (though some are)… they're just not really paying attention to how they're responding when faced with something or someone different from themselves. if that makes sense.

  • Hi Philip!

    I am very impressed on your sense of style and fashion. Keep it up!

  • Anonymous

    i'm an SC native, too (raised by my grandmother, too!)– and wanna encourage you to take up Rachael's offer and get to know your community outside of school! there's always a group of happy mutants- you just gotta find 'em!
    be proud & take heart– Stephen T. Colbert is from Charleston! Andie McDowell, of all people, fled that hideous burg Gaffney, by way of Columbia on her way to fame!
    while all your rude brethren graduate & run smack into life and their own sorry selves- you'll already be well practiced in awesome; so hold your course!

  • Oh Philip!

    I wish I couyld give you my 60 year old brain that says I really don't care what others think!

    But how did I get this brain? By being where you are at your age…and experiencing life's journey to now.

    Reaching out is important. Just reading all the comments above everyday will help. Be strong in your heart. You are the only you on the planet!

  • Dear Philip,

    I love this photo of you – so stylish and handsome!

    On the serious topic – try not to get dragged down in the negativity of others. Set the example by being above it all – honestly, was there ever a style icon who wasn't teased? High school is the worst of it, stay strong and stay positive. As you can see here – your small minded town is NOT the majority.

    Stay fabulous, please keep us updated and I hope the support here buoys your spirit! Do you have a blog? Or a Flickr account? I'd love to see more of your creative outfits and offer support! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    i think as long as you wear what you wear because it makes you feel good, and not to separate yourself from others (which has a different energy to it), you will find that most people enjoy your style. some won't, but you can't please everyone, can you? if you wear the style, and the style doesn't wear you, that also helps. and wearing whatever you wear with a smile goes a long way toward melting any ice you may encounter in a person's stare. if style comes from a place of joy rather than a f*@k-off place, it tends to be accepted more easily. have fun, and remember what sandra above said, it's who you are behind the costume that really matters.


  • That was a great post. My take on bullying is that the bullies are insecure and usually ignorant to what they don't understand and need to make themselves comfortable by ridiculing it. Growing up in upstate New York, I got used to being stared or laughed at, and it still happens living in NYC. But I just take it as a compliment. And usually the people who do the ridiculing are dressed even crazier than I am. I mean, really, baggy jeans and a sports jersey? What is this, Canada?

  • Today, I wore to work a "carpet" coat from the 1970s which I inherited from my grandmother. One of my co-workers came over and asked where I got it, saying that her daughter would love to have one. We spoke for some time about vintage clothing and wearing out-of-the-ordinary garb. After work, I stopped by the grocery store, where several people stared at me as though I were wearing a live wildebeast. Guess which one I have chosen to remember? You cannot control what people say and think. You can only control what you chose to retain. Let's see some more pictures of your style. 🙂

  • Phillip, Thank you for your self disclosure and courage. There isn't much for me to add to the eloquent comments above. I wear hats every day, and some people are uncomfortable with my self expression. I have decided that it 'weeds out' people that I don't want to spend time with anyway. However, I realize that it's easier to have this attitude in an urban area than in a small community. Thank you for bringing this issue to Advanced Style, and thank you Ari for addressing and naming this abuse.

  • sth

    Philip – Have you seen the "It Gets Better" project? Just look it up on Google. It talks a lot about young people who are harrassed and bullied – because they are gay or lesbian or transgendered, but also because they may just be seen as "different". All kinds of people and groups have made videos to reassure younger people they can get through hard times, because it really CAN get better – and will.


  • sth

    Oops, I forgot to mention that although some of the videos in the "It Gets Better" project can be pretty heavy (they were prompted by teen suicides), there are also wonderful, encouraging and uplifting moments. I love the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles singing "True Colors". (Makes me all teary, but in a good way!)


  • Philip: I was teased and bullied in public and high school because I was "different", and at the time, would have given anything to to fit in. Now, I am a stronger, more independent, and creative person for it, and have surrounded myself with people who appreciate me for the person I am. Shakespeare said it best – "this above all: to thine own self be true…" Take heart Philip, there are many people like you out there and you will find your community.

  • dear philip: in 1964 when i was 11, i wore a lavender rosary, my grandfathers white button down shirt, jacket and tie, black tights, and a big, poofy, annette funicello flip. everyone made fun of me. i've always been different! sometimes i have withdrawn and tried to be "normal". but it never works=) i think you look just fabulous! i bet other people secretly wish they had the boldness to dress like you do! keep it up. it WILL get better as you get older!

  • Catherine

    Dear Philip – I don't really have any more wise words to say than all of the above, but I just wanted to add my support and to echo some of the previous points – firstly, stay safe. Secondly, try not to let other people's negativity make you bitter. It's all too easy to start to judge all those who don't dress as you do, but you don't know what's going on behind those boring jeans and tee-shirts, try to stay open-minded, good and positive yourself. That quoted retort from Ilona is priceless! What a wonderfully dignified and good-natured response! I'm 40 and am only just starting to dare to venture out of my jeans and tee-shirts into the colourful and vintage clothes I love! What a waste of dress-up time! Thirdly, unfortunately it's just a fact that people can be nasty and ignorant. I was teased for having skinny legs, my brother for daring to have long hair during the 80's, my sister for having Downs' Syndrome. There'll always be something. Lastly, you simply cannot please everyone, but if I stare and smile, it's because I admire you! Wishing you every happiness.

  • Catherine

    Oh and I forgot to say to nurture your creativity, it is precious! If as Ari says you need to channel it differently sometimes so be it, but please don't try to stifle and deny it. That way leads to regret later on.

  • Marie-Christine

    Hey Phillip, I only have one real piece of advice for you: get the hell out. You're probably in one of the worst places in the world to be young, gay and fabulous. Even Chapel Hill would make a world of difference to you in terms of finding people who appreciate you. But if you can swing Austin or Montreal, all the better. Also, it doesn't take teeming hordes that like your style to make you feel as fabulous as you look, just a few will do :-). And lastly, try to get a hold of 'role models' by John Waters, and read up on his fashion adventures, you'll at least be heartened in knowing you're not alone (actually you'll be hurting from laughing so much, but that's OK).

  • Marie-Christine

    PS: I've found in dealing with bullying. Why, how to stop it etc. Everyone should be familiar with the mechanics of the process!

  • As well as this wonderful site – please check out Stylelikeu – I find it uplifting and inspiring – you'll find a few Advanced Style ladies there too!

  • Phillip – I love your picture. OMG. Let me guess, you live in a town where everyone wears blue jeans and tons of camouflage clothing? Where what's hot to wear is dictated by what's on sale at the Bass Pro Shop? It's that way in our southern town of Shreveport, Louisiana. That is such a boring way to live.

    This post about you has generated a lot of good comments.

    I would just add that if you do "play it safe" and bury your creative side you risk losing yourself. I'm afraid I did that and now in my forties I'm trying to figure out who I'm supposed to be. I think Mother God wants us to be our best creative selves, after all don't most of us call God/That Big Energy in the Sky (you can pick any name you want …) the Great Creator?

    P.S. I just discovered this blog. It is so awesome. I'm tickled to see Ricë reads this. She is very inspirational!

  • Ricë, i loved your comment, as well as your blog, which i took a look at. Phillip, i think that there's been some excellent advice here; i would agree with Ari that modifying your approach temporarily could be a good move. As soon as you can, though, you should come up and check out Asheville, NC, where i live! This is an amazing place for self-expression, and has a very large and active gay population for a small town, too. I think you'd quickly find yourself finding people you could fit in with, here!

  • Philip,

    My dear, I must also say that the most important thing is to be safe. As a mature transgender woman, I know all about stares, comments and bullying. Ari is so right. There are many ways to express yourself in addition to your attire. I'm also a big fan of hats. Writing, blogging, photography, drawing painting and designing are wonderful outlets. I love my sewing machine as if it were my own flesh and blood. Be safe, be creative, be bold and fabulous.


    Cate O'Malley

  • Philip, I experienced teasing in high school for my unusual fashion choices. Many times it took the form of snickers and whispers more than outright comments to my face, but I also was teased in general for being the skinny, awkward, shy, gawky, glasses-and-braces new kid so the fact that I wore some odd clothing just added to the pile of reasons I got teased. It sounds like what you are faced with is a bit more intense and constant than what I went through, but here's the thing. Late in my senior year, one day a boy sitting in front of me with whom I was casually friendly but not friends, turned around and said to me, "You know, you always look like your clothes were made just for you." And he was not smirking or laughing, he was just making an observation. No one had ever complimented me for having personal style before – even my friends sometimes ribbed me about what I chose to wear. I was blown away. He and I never became friends, but that one comment was something I held onto fiercely for many years to give me strength to take fashion risks. I'm shy by nature and always have battled with the conflicting desires to be invisible and left alone, and to wear what I feel like wearing, knowing I might draw attention to myself. To someone who has never cared about pushing fashion limits, or to those rare individuals who find it easy to do their own thing and damn the torpedoes, it may seem mystifying that one might need much courage, but I think expressing something outwardly for everyone to see that might not receive positive reactions is extremely brave, and I applaud you. The real point of my story is that even though it may feel like everyone is against you, or at least everyone who is not already your ally, there are probably a few people in your school who admire you for your bravery but don't feel comfortable sticking their neck out to tell you so. It's highly likely that you have secret fans you will never know about. And that you give them hope and inspiration by your willingness to express your flare, your style, your choice to live how you want to live. In fact I myself feel a renewed energy to dare to have flare because of finding this blog and because of your words (and of course your photo).

  • This is my favourite post on your blog, really. In my opinion it is very said that in 21st century some people are still narrow-minded and hate everything that is unusuál or unconformist. I don´t know really why beacause the way he or she dresses couldn´t harm anyone, could it?:D I think we don´t talk enough about the looks discrimination.
    Anyway, I hope Philip will not change who he is and what he wants to wear beacuse it is his private thing and he doesn´t hurt anyone by wearing something extravagant. Fingers crossed for Philip, Advanced style ladies and all people who want to express themselves by the way they dress!
    Let´s hope there will be more tolerance in the world.

  • Dear Philip
    I have often wondered how you are faring. I expect others have too. Please write and keep in touch with all your admirers at Advanced Style. Kindest regards and smiles.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Philip never be afraid do dress how you want to dress, I went through the same thing, but I just wore what I wanted no mater what people said


  • Anonymous

    Dear Philip,

    YOU HANG IN THERE. I spent my whole life in NYC where I was considered invisible, plain, woefully unfashionable & unstylish. Within 2 wks of moving to FL, I was being called "flashy", "gaudy" & heard that the comments revolved around "Who does she think she is? This isn't NEW YORK, you know." Needless to say, I was doing absolutely NOTHING different. I found myself starting to tone down my look, which is saying a lot for someone so unfashionable as me.

    I told a friend, an actor who lives in southern CA, a truly fabulous lady in her 80s. She said, "You have it all wrong. You SHOULD be saying, 'Honey, if you didn't like me before, you gonna HATE ME now!" Indeed. And I went out to my favorite shop & bought the most wonderfully expressive things – but still nothing I wouldn't have worn in NY, where I was plain & invisible. I never leave the house without my favorite sparkly jewelry & hair accessories.

    Here's the bottom line: it surely didn't stop the comments, but I knew there would be consequences. It made my life at work even worse, with my coworkers trying to have me fired, telling my boss I was … well, he never did figure out exactly what they objected to, other than that I'm from NY! I never did make any friends in FL, only some acquaintances who think I'm delightfully eccentric. All I want to do & all I work on every day is to go home to NYC, where people don't judge me for caring about how I look on a daily basis.

    NYC or LA may not be for you & SC is your home. But, you are young enough to take a chance, to go where you can be you, where you can leave your home without feeling as if people will detest you just for dressing in a way that makes you feel happy & attractive.

    You continue to be fabulous.

    Best wishes,

  • When I was a teenager i knew several people who danced to their own tune in various ways – style, interests, attitude etc. those are the ones I remember and hope to see again. The people who as a teen I thought I'd want as friends bored me then and bore me now but I didn't know it was boredom I felt, I jus thought I was struggling to fit.
    But something I want to tell you because I can't tell them:
    There was for example one girl who made all her own clothes from boots to hats, bodices to many layered dresses … She dressed so beautifully and with such care and detail that every time I saw her I stared. I knew her for a few years but I never spoke to her. What I was thinking as I looked was wow, that's incredible, gorgeous, I wish I could do that! I wonder if she'd loan me on of those or help me… Etc. but I never did speak to her and I did stare, trying to drink in all the wonderful details. Now I guess that she thought I was staring and she made a great effort to ignore it, to disregard what I thought because she may have seen criticism. I was her greatest critic but that's what they call someone who reviews a creative work and I was silently applauding, captivated, enthralled!
    Don't let the silent stares worry you, they are your speechless audience, the hush just before the applause. If they don't speak but stare, know that they are with you, not against you and that a smile or even a smirk is the joy you shared with them reflecting back.
    And on the hardest days, when you just can't see the positive in their eyes, remember what my singing teacher once told me:
    "Do you sometimes feel like everyone is looking at you and judging you? Laughing at you?"
    "Yes! How did you…? It's horrible, I hear the sniggers and the…"
    "Don't be so selfish, arrogant! They're not thinking about you, they're worrying about themselves! They probably aren't even talking about you …and if on the rare occasion, they are it's about how you make them feel not about you at all"

    It's taken decades to realise that what she said is true: everyone is either loving what you're doing but too shy to say, or most often they're not even thinking about you really. When I truly realised that I found that people flocked to me – we're all alone and uncertain so we love to met those who light the way.

  • I am a young gay male in my 20s currently living in South Carolina. Since I was young I have loved to express myself and I learned about style from my grandmother. …