Photography by Sabrina Santiago
Dress Code is a new photo-interview series exploring identity and personal narrative through fashion, style, and self-expression. This installment features Brandon Tan, a photographer and writer from New York City.
DRØME: How do you identify?
Brandon Tan: Publicly, I identify as a gay man--it's easier. Lately, I've been giving notions of gender and sexuality a lot of thought. For most, accepting gays and lesbians is 'keeping an open mind,' but even that is restrictive. Labeling anything is restrictive, really. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow I'll fall in love with a woman ...doubtful, but not impossible.
How would you describe your style/aesthetic?
It's constantly changing. I get bored easily. Style is something really personal to me. I really don't appreciate people who are quick to dismiss it as materialistic. Sure, some parts are, but it really is such an important form of expression. Why not translate your personality from your interior to your exterior? I like to challenge gender norms in subtle ways; I'll paint a few nails or wear womenswear here and there.
What makes you proud to be who you are?
Facing adversity. Looking back to where I was a few years ago, I am so proud to be who I am today. I went through a lot of rejection and disapproval from my family for being who I am and it got to a point where I couldn't look to anyone for support or acceptance, so I had to provide it for myself. I went from one of the lowest points in my life to complete confidence and self acceptance. Once you love and accept yourself unconditionally, you won't seek approval from anyone else. There's nothing more empowering.
How do you use style / aesthetic as a tool to explore or express your identity?
I'm a big believer in "look good, feel good." Style is nonverbal communication. It's information. I like to use style to express my personality and affinity for design and fashion. It can also be used as a rejection of social scripts. Style and aesthetics are also major vehicles for exploration of identity. The first time I tried on women's jeans I realized how much I preferred the fit. Now, If I like a piece of clothing and it fits, then I'll wear it regardless of what gender it was intended for.
How has the way that you express yourself through fashion / art changed over time?
It's always changing through the vehicles in which I choose to express myself--be it photography, video, style, writing, etc. Similarly, a lot of people feel like they have to find a singular form of expression to commit to, but I think that's restrictive. I'm trying to work on not limiting myself to any discipline. If I have an idea or concept I want to express, I want to be able to look to any sort of platform to express it. Right now, I've been focused a lot on writing, but I've been drawing and painting since I was a kid, and I'm always expressing myself through my personal style. I'm hoping to keep working on photography as well.
One piece of clothing / accessory you can't leave the house without?
My jewelry! I feel naked without my rings and bracelets. A lot of them are personal pieces, whether gifted, handed down, or collected from different places I've traveled to. I'm pretty committed to silver right now, but trying to incorporate some gold in there and mix the metals.
For more about Brandon, you can follow him on Instagram: @branduh