At some point, probably while we were all eating white asparagus at Basel, summer arrived. You know what that means: time to banish the faux furs to the back of the closet and bust out your kaftan collection.
Whether you’re shopping for new threads or looking to remix your wardrobe, there’s no time like the summer for a little sartorial reimagining. As you launch your summer outfit research, allow us to introduce your new sartorial muse: the Mickalene Thomas girl.
The Mickalene Thomas girl has a very distinct vibe. She looks just as fabulous in Versace as she does in her grandma’s flowery bathrobe. She wears glitter before noon and doesn’t take any shit. In short, the Mickalene Thomas girl has major big dick energy.
Just for you, we’ve distilled her mystical aura into ten easy-to-follow rules. Without further ado, here’s how you can dress like a Mickalene Thomas girl.
1) Embrace the vintage vibes
The retro vibes are strong in this tableau—and in every Mickalene Thomas work, for that matter. As many critics have noted, her motifs draw strongly on the imagery of the ‘60s and ‘70s. For our purposes, that means hitting the vintage store (or mom’s closet, if you’re lucky). Disco dresses, à la Racquel, flare pants and funky button-downs are just what the doctor ordered.
2) Always get dressed to disco
I don’t know about you, but when I look at a Mickalene Thomas work, I can’t help but hear Diana Ross. You can imagine Rachel rising up from her settee and boogying out the door, all the way to Studio 54. Sadly, we can’t teleport back to the ‘70s, but what’s fashion if not a psychic teleportation portal? Take a cue from Rachel and don a jewel-toned pantsuit for your next soirée.
3) Think Barococo
A 2011 press release cited the Baroque and Rococo as influences for Mickalene Thomas’ mise-en-scène, and I couldn’t agree more. Baroque spells drama, drama and more drama, and the Rococo was all about glitz, glamor and frivolity. “Moment’s pleasure” perfectly sums up the spirit of the era.
Thomas famously uses rhinestones, sparkles and other glittery media to add a little sparkle to her canvases, like this one here. Her bright patterns, rich backdrops, and generally over-the-top décor just confirm her status as the spiritual child of the Barococo (we made that up, so don’t use it in your art history papers). When you’re putting together your summer looks, embrace the spirit of “more is more”—unlike Coco Chanel, always add one thing before you leave the house.
4) Mix your metaphors—and your prints
Speaking of “more is more,” let’s talk about prints. Here’s a controversial opinion: loud patterns play well together. Count the patterns in practically any Mickalene Thomas work and you’ll hit the double digits, easy. In She Ain’t a Child No More #2, we have at least 12. Why not pretend you’re making a Matisse-inspired collage the next time you get dressed? PS: when mixing prints, try to vary size and value of pieces that touch (see: Afro Goddess Looking Forward) so you don’t give strangers a headache. Or, hey, you do you. The only rule is that there are no rules.
5) Go for the gold
When drama is the plat du jour, gold is your secret ingredient. Take your cues from Cardi B, styled by Mickalene Thomas for the cover of the Fall 2018 W Magazine Art Issue. The hip-hop superstar peers down at us peasants from her leopard-print throne, dripping in gold like the modern-day goddess she is. It’s as if Cleopatra learned to twerk. You, too, can channel your regal side with a full look of brassy metallics in dramatic cuts—to be sure, not a look for the faint of heart.
6) Take a walk on the wild side
For serving fierce vibes, there’s no better muse than the jungle cat. Mickalene Thomas clearly knows this, since she peppers her canvases with animal prints: zebra, leopard, cheetah—it’s all fair game. This summer, don’t limit your palette to the leopard midi skirt that everyone and their mother already wore (and Instagrammed) ten times. Channel the pride and daring of your new spirit animal, the jungle cat, and don’t be afraid to break out your own take on animal print.
7) Bootie had me like
It’s all about the booty these days, but this picture makes a strong case that it should be all about the bootie. These aren’t your middle school slouchy boots. These boots were made for walkin’—all over the shattered hearts of fuckboys. These boots could land a job with no experience. If these boots could talk, they’d tell better stories than a rock star’s girlfriend’s memoir. That’s why, in this author’s humble opinion, they deserve a whole rule of their own.
8) Walk it out
Boots aren’t always the most practical summer footwear, but that doesn’t mean that you get to shirk on your shoe duties. Crafting the perfect outfit requires immense attention to detail, so your shoes shouldn’t be an afterthought but a crucial ingredient. Mickalene Thomas makes a strong case for the statement shoe. Her footwear does double duty: it acts as an accent while tying together the whole outfit. To steal the look, opt for a funky pump or a strappy sandal in a bright color pulled from another piece in your outfit, as in Portrait of Mnonja.
9) Top it off
As above, so below. Just because you’ve nailed the statement shoe, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for accessories. The Mickalene Thomas girl knows that, when it comes to accessorizing, you can never do too much. No hat is too kitschy, no flower pin too juvenile. When in doubt, slap on a statement necklace. And some earrings. Add lipstick and eyeshadow to match for good measure. And one more little touch: add a ring and you’re finally ready to leave the house.
10) Slay the day
There’s one secret ingredient to the Mickalene Thomas girl look, and it has nothing to do with clothes. You can snag the perfect cheetah pant, layer on the prints, pop on a pump and pile on the bling, but if your attitude is off, you might as well stay home. The Mickalene Thomas girl isn’t a Mickalene Thomas girl without her signature blend of sass, sexiness and confidence. But don’t take my word for it: here’s how Thomas describes her muses.
Told to Art Voice, July 27, 2018:
“One of the things I look for in a subject is a unique and sometimes unexpected interpretation of what it means to be a woman. All of them have an inimitable charisma, but know their bodies and see themselves through the camera very differently.”
From a 2011 BOMB Magazine interview:
Sean Landers: There is a certain quality in the women you select. Is it their personality?
MT: It’s their confidence and self-awareness.
SL: Is there anything besides confidence that you would put on that list?
MT: Beauty, a little uncertainty, perseverance, and a sort of hunger. All of the stronger qualities I feel I possess. I guess I look for myself in these women.
So there you have it. Soak up her wisdom like an activated almond, then go forth and conquer the world in your disco pants.
Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noirs (2010)
Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via Wex Arts, Akashiam, Art Basel, Hyperallergic, Artnet, Smithsonian, Tate, Pinterest, Ebony and Pitzer College.