On the Catwalk: Feline Fashion & Celebrating the Cat Lady


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Photography by Sarah Race

Photography by Sarah Race

Cynara Geissler is a triple threat: a pioneer of the fat-fashion blogging scene, an accomplished author and speaker, and a kick-ass cat mom. She also has an impressive collection of feline-adorned apparel (and her darling feline, Autumn, sports an anthropomorphic bowtie). Having recently given a talk at the local launch for the essay collection Women in Clothes, Geissler was the perfect person to converse with about the wonders of felines and femininity and what it means to combine those two elements in apparel.

Megan Jenkins: Hey! Let’s talk a bit about your history in fashion blogging.

Cynara Geissler: Well I started posting outfits of the day in a LiveJournal community called Fatshionista, and it was exclusively about fat people finding fashion. There’s also a Flickr group called Wardrobe Remix, where people post their street style—that inspired me. It was great, because it was people from all over the world, people of all different races, creeds, and financial backgrounds. I was always sort of interested in fashion as a community because you’re inspired by other people around you and your style evolves because you’re pushing yourself. I was never really an individual style blogger for that reason, I prefer to be a part of collective groups, because I see it as sort of an artistic endeavour.

MJ: Could you tell me a bit about your work with Women in Clothes, and other projects that you’re involved in right now?

CG: I’m not actually in the book—which is funny, people just assume I’m in the book—but they invited me to come and just give a talk. So I gave a talk on was something that I call “Toddler-Grandma Style,” and it’s basically just about how toddlers and grandmas in society are the least viewed through the male gaze; they’re not considered sexy. There’s an episode of Glee where Kurt says, “She manages to dress like a toddler and a grandma simultaneously,” and that’s like, the ultimate insult, right? Because she doesn’t know how to sex herself up for a man, or how to be desirable. So in my talk I said that I think more people should adopt this way of dressing, because we all have these weird internalized rules that I think are mostly about dressing for the male gaze. And I think that when you start dressing outside of that, you just start to have way more fun. People would always say to me, “You can pull that off,” and it would leave me thinking, “Well no, I don’t have a VIP pass or something that allows me to do it. I just do it.” [I also] just sort of encouraged people to wear a million brooches, or wear more than one print at a time—you don’t always have to be wearing a beige suit. That’s apparently what adult women are supposed to be wearing to be taken seriously. And the thing about patriarchy is that you’ll never be taken seriously. It’s kind of a loser’s game. There’s this idea that if you’re close to desirable, there’s more to lose, or something like that, but the fact is that there’s always going to be people that will ignore you because you’re a woman. So you might as well dress for yourself, and dress for joy and have fun. I’m also guest editing the Culture issue of [local magazine] Poetry is Dead, so that’s coming up.

MJ: Do you remember the first piece of cat fashion you acquired?

CG: [Geissler hands me her first grade elementary school photo] So I think that was the first one. And of course when I was a baby, my mum had things like kitty and bunny animal suits, you know, when you put babies in little onesies. So I can date it back to being a cat every Halloween.

Geissler, sporting her cat fashions way back in 1989.

Geissler, sporting her cat fashions way back in 1989.

MJ: Do you have a favourite?

CG: I really like my “Hooked on a Feline” dress from Modcloth, because it’s kind of an illusion print. People don’t often realize it’s covered in cats and there’s a nice little reveal moment after they’ve looked at it. Though it’s a little unusual for me because it’s kind of neutral.

MJ: Would you say that there’s been a rise in popularity of cat apparel and related items that correlates with the influx of YouTube videos?

CG: Yeah definitely, I think the advent of Lolcats especially is tied into the popularity of cat-printed items. It’s great for me, because it used to be hard to source really zany cat prints. I think we’re definitely in a boom for cat clothes, like with laser cats, Keyboard Cat . . . We’ve got a lot of high-powered cats now. Nyan cat, and of course Grumpy Cat, Lil’ Bub. I think it used to be like, Garfield, instead of generic cat prints. I remember there being cats on stuff but it was mostly cartoons, it was not this idea of wearing a realistic cat, which I think was really connected to spinsters. I actually just read an article on how cat imagery was used for suffragettes in Britain, around first wave feminism. Men would compare women to cats to try to infantilize them. So it’s like the existence of cat memorabilia could be found in these little pockets, but now it’s reached critical mass. I think it could be the tools we have at our disposal now—it’s much easier to take photos, and to circulate them, and at the end of the day, cats are funny, and warm, and they do dumb stuff and try to fit in really small boxes. When I was growing up, I’d never have known about Maru, in Japan, but now we get to enjoy the circulation of images and videos from all over the world.

MJ: Do you think that the cat lady image has been reclaimed?

CG: I do, actually. I think the whole cat image is that you’re supposed to be like a sex kitten, which of course is fine to adopt if you so choose, but then if you’re not a cute cat, you’re a weird cat spinster lady. Like from The Simpsons. I think Taylor Swift and her kitten Olivia Benson kind of signals a young, cool cat lady and there’s no longer this automatic association with spinsterhood. Now I think we can all sort of joke about it, whereas a few years ago you might have been hesitant to be associated with that at all, at the risk of your dating prospects, you know? But I don’t think it’s just women who enjoy cat printed items either now, like Urban Outfitters had put out cat-printed ties and button-ups [for men], so that makes me think that the image is sort of crossing gender lines too. I do think that for a really long time cats were associated with domesticity, and were feminized, while men would go out hunting with their cool hunting dogs. It’s funny to consider how cats have shifted culturally. I think they’re semiotically slippery. Like you have Hemingway Cats, which are associated with masculinity, because Ernest Hemingway had a bunch.

MJ: Is there solidarity in being a cat lady?

CG: Yeah, I think so! Spinsterhood has more pride associated with it now—obviously it comes from a very antiquated, patriarchal idea that if a woman is not married by the age of 22, she’ll just be a burden to her family for the rest of her life. But we’re maybe shifting away from thinking of women as being most valuable when they’re connected to a man, so I think there’s a bit of subversion in the cat lady idea. We’re supposed to feel sorry for the cat lady, but I think that we’ve now accepted that it’s better to be happy, and single, and living as a lone woman than just settling for a crappy dude. Pet love feels very unconditional and uncomplicated in a way that trying to be with a significant other sometimes isn’t. There’s a reason Swift is sticking with Olivia Benson, just making music and joking about being a man-eater. It’s pretty great. I’m happy if she’s the new poster girl for being a cat lady. I hope that it represents the sort of refusal to settle for a crappy guy just so that you can feel secure or feel bolstered by male approval. I think we all still sort of seek that validation—I think sometimes you’ll appreciate it more when a man compliments you rather than a woman, which shouldn’t be the case. In being a good cat lady then, I think you just have to care more when a cat compliments you. That’s worth way more.

This piece was first published in 2015 for Issue No. 18: Cat.
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