Identity in men’s fashion - a conversation with model and style influencer Jae Tefaree

As London Fashion Week is upon us, we at Kindred. note the style evolution of our male associates. The assumption is that men have it easy and they can just throw on a t-shirt, some jeans and trainers; then they're ready to go. Identity in men’s fashion has always been subject to criticism, especially if we go against the grain of what is considered “manly”.

It's quarter to one on a Monday afternoon and 24-year-old model and style influencer, Jae Tefaree has taken time out of his lunch break to talk about what identity means to him in fashion. Wearing a light blue zipped-up fleece and a hooded black puffer jacket, he describes how his sense of fashion fits into his lifestyle.

“The fundamentals remain the same, even though I dress differently depending on where I am,” he says. “I’m at work, but it’s still me. What I’m wearing will still be considered stylish and alternative, but I’m still adhering to the dress code. I’m professional, yet I can go to a party right after with the way I’m dressed.”

Tefaree, a British-born Black Jamaican queer man, describes his style as “urban, elegant and a cross between classic and futuristic.” The confidence he has built whilst experimenting with his style is something he had to evolve through his life experiences.

“It first started with this guy I used to go to secondary school with. He used to be very flamboyant with the way he dressed, but he was very fashionable," he says. "It gave me the confidence to wear X, Y, and Z in my way and style. Since then, I became more confident. By the time I got to university, I found friends who were similar when it came to fashion, so I felt more comfortable experimenting further and wearing other things.

Since then, I've got used to it and found my kind of look. But I'm not going to be pretentious, sometimes I still get anxious. Now that I've reached the next level in terms of becoming more feminine with the way I dress, last year was the first year I wore clothes with more exposure of the skin, like crop tops and spaghetti straps.”

Andre Leon Talley at the opening of 'Black Fashion Designers' exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York
Andre Leon Talley at the opening of 'Black Fashion Designers' exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York - December 2016 - Source: Seth Wenig/Shutterstock

Tefaree thanks the pioneers that have come before him. Including André Leon Talley, the first black queer man to hold the creative director position at Vogue in 1983, who died last month. For Tefaree, fashion is meant to be an expression of yourself and “people either applaud it because they want to do it, or they can do it too". Talley could do it too and was a force for representing people like Tefaree.

“I resonate and have sympathy for him (Talley) because in an era when racism was high, it would never be okay to be who he is, still he managed to join and be a part of the fashion industry,” Tefaree explains. “He’s a historical figure, the same way we see Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Marcus Garvey. He is now a staple.”

London has become increasingly dangerous and hostile, to people like Tefaree whose courageousness is constantly tested when venturing across the capital.

"There have been times when passengers have passed us by and made negative comments, but it's something that I've always ignored because I'm used to that judgement." Tefaree recalls. “One time I was leaving a queer event to go to another queer event. We were all in crop tops, some people even had press on nails and eyeshadow, and we got a lot of looks. But you also get positive comments, you get the admiration, so you just focus on the positivity.

People might disapprove because they don’t feel comfortable or confident enough to dress how they would like to dress," "At the end of the day, we are all creative beings, and we all have our style and aesthetic that we like. Having that confidence to do what you need to do should always be at the forefront. Fake it until you feel comfortable.”

Nonetheless, Tefaree is still very much aware of his social limitations, even in his immediate circle. “If I’m going to an event with my straight friends, the way I will dress will be completely different from if I was going to a queer event,” he says.

Tefaree’s switch of identities resembles a superhero who is concealing their powers for when it matters most. “Last Saturday I went to a ‘straight’ event, so I was in a black shirt open chest,” he describes. “I still looked good and suave. But if it was a queer event, I'd probably have worn an off the shoulder, more fitted look with more make-up on.”

It feels like women have it easier - when they explore their style they are usually met with less criticism.

“If a woman wants to wear more masculine clothes such as a certain type of tracksuit, she could do that very easily without feeling anxious or that they’re going to be judged differently,” Tefaree explains. “Whereas a guy, especially a Black guy – it’s kind of always felt like you had a limited number of options that you had to play about in."

However, Tefaree recognises that times are changing, and people have become more "fluid", however, he doesn't think society is "a hundred percent there yet.”

With his “elite” style, Tefaree “has many different inspirations” and early influences include his “diva” mum.

“Her wardrobe used to have jewellery, handbags and shoes, that was my first insight into fashion,” he says. Growing up, he also took inspiration from fashion shows and different television shows, with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air being a standout. Tefaree was also intrigued by Rap and R&B 90s and 2000 aesthetic. “Their style was very different compared to that kind of genre beforehand and set the tone for our generation and the new era of fashion,” he says.

His favourite brands today include non-binary stores that have adapted to the new generation, such as Dion Lee and MISBHV. “They adhere to the time and era that we're in,” says Tefaree. “Especially Dion Lee which does male corsets. Those are the brands I think of when I think of my style.”

Tefaree's advice to others is to ignore what other people think about your style “even if you’re in a bin bag, someone is going to have something good or bad to say. Put yourself out there.”

Looking ahead, Tefaree pictures brighter colours and holographic glasses becoming a trend in the next three years, specifically “sunglasses that move”. We pulled a photo from his Instagram and asked him for insight on his style and the occasion.

“That was a video shoot, and we had to pick out the fits we liked,” he says. “The vibe was a club scene which was kind of grungy. I thought the jeans will look good because I like the colours with my skin tone. I liked the mesh because it gave a rough look for the top half. I also had these boots on that were giving 80s punk.”

I guess it was summer, and you weren’t cold?

“Not cold like I am now, I’m shivering.”