July Westhale may be the most resourceful woman I’ve ever met.
She taught me that clothes should be free, lipstick should be bright and when in doubt, add a belt. An Oakland resident for seven years, July is is a Pushcart-nominated poet, activist and radical archivist. She is also a talented jewelry designer, a thrifting genius and a badass queer femmeshark. She is never wrong, so if she hands you a dress and you’re unsure, just try it on, it’s gonna look fabulous. July was kind enough to share tips on Oakland upcycling and fashion.
Tell me about your love of upcycling. What tips and tricks do you have to share?
I come by my upcycling skills naturally, growing up poor working class in the agriculture belt of California. My mom volunteered for our church’s clothing drives and always pulled fabulous outfits for me, switching out old clothes of mine, creating a never-ending cycle of donation and swaps. In all my pictures as a young person, I’m wearing absolutely fantastic outfits that were completely free or bartered for. I also benefited from the hand-me-downs of my two older sisters and local community.
Nowadays, my collective mentality of resource-sharing is the same. My personal style is one of lots of colors, patterns, and accentuation. Most every day, I wear patterned tights, a miniskirt, boots (usually motorcycle or this real busted-up pair that I painted gold), big earrings, and some kind of animal-print jacket or cardigan. I like to pair patterns and colors. Pink heart crop tops with electric blue bandage skirts. Pastel blues and florals with hot fuschia. Try to see the color potential of a piece when you pick it up from the clothing swap table/thrift store rack, neighborhood free box. Can it be belted? Worn as a dress? Cut and cinched? Every single piece of clothing has at least a dozen different incarnations, if you think about it in the right way.
Developing community that shares your identity and aesthetic is extremely important. I don’t mean necessarily someone who dresses like you/has the same taste, but someone who understands how you like to express yourself, gets and respects your identity, and can challenge and expand your fashion horizons in different ways. Some of my best friends are people who dress and love things that are really different from what I’m about, but I make it a point to always say, “Sure, I’ll try that on!”, because really, you have no clue until you take the leap!
Top 3 places to thrift in Oakland?
How do you support your earring/lipstick/miniskirt habits?
I work as a journalist to pay the rent, writing for a number of online and print publications throughout the country. It really supports my poetry habit, which is my true passion and life force. My professional work is in a wide variety of subjects—identity, politics, community, breaking news, but my creative work tends to focus on the neurological breakdown caused by personal and national trauma—the sort of ambivalence and multiplicity of how emotions work. Why we can feel devastation and carnality at the same time. That sort of thing. I graduated last year from Lesley with an MFA in Writing, and I’ve been working on a book-length manuscript that should be finished in July of this year.
What do you love about Oakland?
How much time do you have? Primarily, I love the situation of Oakland. How it is surrounded by so much natural beauty—the ocean, the bay, the lakes and creeks, the hills for hiking, the rose gardens, the lush greenery and edible plants growing in between the cracks of the sidewalks and next to buildings made of corrugated steel. I love how Oakland is a city that fights back, that people take to the streets when they feel like their systems aren’t representing their voices, like the riots after the Oscar Grant verdict, or the origins of the Black Panthers, or the way a stoplight was installed in my neighborhood by the citizens, who raised the money themselves when the city wouldn’t pay for it, just to keep their kids safe. Everything is possible in Oakland. Of course, this is not uncomplicated—gentrification is rampant, and the effects of how we live and who we push out is always something I’m thinking about and talking about.
Describe your femme style philosophy.
I love femininity in all its forms, but especially hard femininity. It’s an everyday act of war to walk out of the house looking how you want to look, especially in a society that is dominated by patriarchy and body-policing. So for me to be in my late twenties, to be rocking a very torn-up, busted, hard femme aesthetic—well, it feels like a revelation/revolution/a miracle that I’m here, with a pink flower in my hair and a wall around my heart.