Fashion, at its best, is about self-expression. But the industry still denies too many people that freedom—especially in sustainable fashion, where accessibility and inclusivity are oft-repeated buzzwords but rarely the reality.
When the stars align, though, things can get a little magical. In this essay, the author, screenwriter, and #DisabledAndCute creator Keah Brown recounts one night of surprises, glamour, and sartorial success—and how much that means.
What to wear to the Hamptons?
This autumn, I went to my first party in the Hamptons. I was there to surprise my friend Selma Blair at her cocktail party for the premiere of her documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair,” which is now streaming on Discovery+. Once I agreed to be the surprise—I had never been a surprise before—I was excited and slightly worried because I am disabled and I live in a world where clothes aren’t really designed for bodies like mine.
I love clothes anyway, and I make it work every day. My particular disability is cerebral palsy, and even though I walk full time, I still find it hard to have clothes drape my body in a proportionate way because the right side of my body is shorter than the left, and I tend to favour leaning toward it, so my spine is decidedly not straight.
There was also the question of, what does one wear to the Hamptons, the swanky but beautiful place I had only ever heard referred to on television? The Hamptons, the kind of place where decidedly Black and disabled people might not belong. Well, I’m not one to say no to myself or turn down an opportunity out of fear.
So, a week and a half before I was supposed to surprise my friend, my mom and I went out to find my outfit. To my absolute surprise we found the outfit and accessories of my dreams in the first store we stopped at.
I tasked myself with finding an outfit that fit me well and showed a little skin—an outfit that said, this may be my first Hollywood-like event, but it wouldn’t be my last. What I wore made that kind of statement: a black blouse with sheer long sleeves and sheer detailing at the bottom, paired with black and white striped pants with black buttons up the front. I wore black loafers with a brown stripe on the side. I wore a cheetah print hat that was the same colour as the stripe on the shoes and paired the look with gold jewellery, brown lipstick, a black nail polish manicure, and the excitement of a kid on the first day of school.
I live in a world where clothes aren’t really designed for bodies like mine.
Making a beautiful entrance
When the driver pulled up to my Airbnb in Brooklyn to take me to the event, I felt like the fanciest person. The car ride to my hotel for the night was spent listening to songs that made me feel my most confident. At my hotel, I double-checked that everything was where it needed to be, FaceTimed my mom and friend who were back at our Airbnb, and before I knew it, it was time to go.
Once I arrived, I thanked my Uber driver and walked up the walkway to give the attendant my name, feeling a thrill when I was checked off and escorted inside. After some small talk with the person escorting me, I sat at the first table I saw, careful to keep all the outfit’s pieces in place. I wasn’t alone; there were already people mingling. I’m not a naturally shy person, so I tried to make small talk and be friendly without success.
As many times as the Hamptons were discussed in the TV shows and movies I grew up watching, no one addressed the sort of “If I don’t know you from something, I’m not interested in talking” vibe I got when I first arrived. Don’t feel sorry for me, though. I had a blast once the guest of honour and the brilliant people behind the documentary arrived.
The surprise went off without a hitch thanks to Troy Nankin, Selma’s manager, who came up with the idea and planned the whole thing. We all became fast friends after I interviewed Selma for the May Town and Country Magazine cover on the issue of beauty. We kept in touch and realised how much we had in common when it came to music and a love of concerts. Selma and I bonded over a love of hotels, books, makeup, and fashion while being able to commiserate on the realities of disability and chronic illness.
I felt beautiful, and confident in the way that clothes that fit well and feel good allow for you to be.
Feeling right when the stars align
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My budding relationships with both Troy and Selma feel very sacred and important—as important as feeling and looking good for me. So, of course, we took tons of pictures as keepsakes of this moment in time. Me and my comfortable-but-oh-so-cute outfit landed on People.com when a Getty Images photographer snapped a photo of Selma and me taking a selfie.
I knew my mom and I had chosen correctly weeks earlier when the Christian Siriano told me I looked gorgeous. I met a few wonderful people that night, and it felt like we had been friends our whole lives. There’s so much magic in that.
So, even though my clothes were not designer and my body is not one you might often see at events like these—in my black blouse with sheer long sleeves and sheer detailing at the bottom, black and white striped pants, and cheetah print hat—I felt like I didn’t have to question if I belonged. I was surrounded by people who cared enough to make sure that I was comfortable, happy, and fed, which is the way to my heart after all.
I tried my best to stay in the moment that night, and looking back on it now, the beauty of it all was that I was there. And I felt and looked like a star.
Keah Brown is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. She is the creator of #DisabledAndCute. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire UK, and The New York Times, among other publications. Her debut essay collection, “The Pretty One“, is out now. Her debut picture book, “Sam’s Super Seats”, will be out August 2022 via Koklia books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers. (Author photo by Greyley’s Moon.) Find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her website.