At HommeGirls, our favorite dress code will always be Come As You Are — even if that means a men’s suit jacket and boxer shorts one day and bodycon vintage Alaïa the next. Which is why we love actress Tracee Ellis Ross — a woman with countless alter egos and a huge closet to wardrobe them all. For this special HG feature, Tracee opened up her closet to us and pulled out some of her most prized treasures (Mugler! Margiela! And did we mention Alaïa?). She also sat down with HGEIC Thakoon Panichgul to talk about clothing as armor, the importance of self-expression, and the unparalleled beauty of a functioning pocket.
Thakoon Panichgul: Everyone in our office freaked out over the
photo you posted of yourself on IG wearing the HommeGirls boxers.
It was so spicy. Tell me about your love of fashion.
BOTTEGA VENETA mohair coat; ALEXANDER MCQUEEN vintage boots.
Tracee Ellis Ross: I mean, I come by it honestly, because of what I was born into. But not all my siblings have the same lust and love and connection to fashion that I do. For me early on, the way I dressed myself was armor. I remember talking to my mom and trying to pitch why I needed to go shopping. And she was like, school shopping happens...
TP: How old?
TER: Oh, um 11, 12. It was so specific. I was so specific. I mean, you know, like Benetton turtlenecks folded over with an Elsa Peretti kidney bean hanging out. Like my Ralph Lauren purple argyle vest, my Keds with my slouchy socks and my little skinny jeans. I wore glasses in different colors. I had a pink pair, purple pair, red pair depending on what I was wearing. I loved Norma Kamali. I loved Agnes b. And I remember asking my mom, so when do I get to go shopping again? She was like, I
don’t understand. I was like, it’s a new season and she said, yeah, school shopping happens in August. And I was like, excuse me, Mom. I don’t know if you know this, but there’s seasons for clothes. So what I bought in August doesn’t work now. And she was like, yeah it does. Make it work.
TP: You ticked off all of the best brands: Benetton, Agnes b., Norma Kamali...
TER: — Robert Clergerie shoes...
TER: My mom told me to get a job at a certain point. She was like, yeah yeah I don’t pay for all this stuff. I don’t know what you think this is. I make sure you are fed, you have a roof over your head and that you have doctors appointments and you have clothes on your back but we don’t do fashion. That’s not what a mother has to do. She’s like, that’s on you kiddo. That’s your obsession.
TP: So if not from your mother, how did you first become obsessed with fashion?
TER: I was a magazine girl. I have magazines from ’83 all the way through like the late ’90s when I stopped collecting them. Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, like everything, and I would just comb through them. I thought my life was like an editorial shoot or like a runway. And then I started working at Ralph Lauren, so I had a lot of Ralph Lauren. And then and it was always like a game — how could I get
the things that I felt matched my taste. I started to become a vintage girl. All through college I would do the Salvation Army.
BOTTEGA VENETA mohair coat.
TER: I still have a brown velvet, little blazer that I bought for like seven dollars. I’ve had it copied like, four different times in different fabrics. I loved vintage shopping. I had a collection of Levi’s cords in like salmon and green... and that’s just the way I did it until I started making my own money. As a kid it was armor for me and then as a teen it was sort of the way I dressed myself and then it became the
way I express myself — it was a form of creative expression. I just have a genuine love of clothing. Not fashion. Clothing.
TP: You had a stint working in magazines too, right? I remember you telling me that you worked at Mirabella back in the day.
TER: Yeah. I started modeling when I was like 15, 16. I was with Wilhelmina Agency. When I turned 18, Thierry Mugler asked my mom to walk in the butterfly show. And she said, sure, as long as my daughter can come, it’s her birthday, she wants to be a model. So I went with my mom and we flew on the Concorde with Linda, Naomi,
Christie and Cindy. And I had fittings and I did one passage with my mom and then two others. My mom left me in Paris because Brazilian Vogue wanted to shoot me. Paris Match Magazine wanted to shoot me. And then I stayed with Azzedine Alaïa for a night. He let me go through his racks of clothes from the show and choose three outfits head-to-toe, all of which I still have. I can’t really fit them all, but I fit one, which I wore in the HommeGirls shoot. Through modeling, I met Jade Hobson, and Katherine McLeod who were at Mirabella. It was Jade who asked me have you ever thought of being an editor? And I was like, no, cause I had no idea what that was. I was like, do you mean writing? Like I didn’t know what she meant. She said, well, let’s stay in touch. So when I graduated from Brown a few years later, I started interning at Mirabella.
TP: Oh my god, amazing.
TER: Leslie Johnson, who was a market editor at Mirabella, took me under her wing. I used to go on all the market appointments with her. I went on a trip to Milan with Jade — and this was before, you know, Vogue Runway and any of that. Jade would sketch and I would sit and watch. And when Jade left to go to New York Magazine, I went, too.
TP: How incredible. And acting?
TER: Shortly thereafter, I started acting. I realized that as much as I loved clothing, that my creativity was better expressed through acting and that I would continue styling and clothing myself.
TP: Well, that segues perfectly into my next question because I have the images from the shoot in front of me and I feel like in each of the looks, there’s a different persona that you’re giving.
TER: I always say clothing is a form of expression for me. People are like, what’s your style? And I’m like, I don’t know, it depends on how I feel. Like some clothing makes me feel strong, some clothing makes me feel demure. So depending on what I’m wearing, a new character comes into form. So the outfits I wore that day created a very specific sort of world. We played in my closet. It’s interesting because all the looks for the shoot were a little bit of a sex kitten.
TP: Mhmmm I see that.
TER: But also there’s like a sort of mature power to her. And I love that all the looks were anchored in these two pairs of Alexander McQueen shoes that are from when he was designing — treasures of mine that I’m so glad I never got rid of. Clothing creates a vibe, you know?
TP: So tell us, how many personalities do you have?
TER: Oh, I don’t know that we could count, Thakoon. I have some specific alter egos that have appeared online. There’s Madame Hiver. There’s Caliope Champignon. I mean, I have a lot of alter egos. I think that’s the fun of dress. I call my closet my happy place. When I’m not in a great space, my favorite thing to do is to play dress up in my closet and make outfits.
MAISON MARGIELA vintage dress, vintage suede fringe boots.
TP: Amazing, amazing. I mean the Kansai Yamamoto. The energy from that was just so sexy but also super fun —
TER: And also like a little quirky.
TP: Yeah, exactly. But then so different from the Alaïa. The green
one was beautiful.
TER: The green one is ridiculous.
TP: Ridiculous. Ridiculous.
TER: And the Margiela....
TER: I have found so much freedom in the evolution of gender in our world now. And I’m so grateful for it. It has expanded my expression as a person. Even if you can’t really move your arms, there’s such a sense of power in the Margiela. There’s also pockets. I love a pocket.
TP: That was such a memorable collection for Margiela.
TER: Yeah. And isn’t it funny now when you look back, at the time
those shoulders seemed so exaggerated, and now they don’t seem
exaggerated at all.
TP: Not at all.
TER: It’s fascinating. I kept the hanger that the dress was sold on
because it was so large — but it doesn’t feel large now.
TP: When you talk about gender and the neutrality of gender now, which we’re all in an era of openness, was this something you felt when you were younger?
TER: In some ways, but I didn’t have the language.
TER: I feel like culturally young girls are taught to dream of their wedding, not dream of the life they want to build, and I have pushed up against that since I was a kid. But I didn’t know what that was, and it stems from the binary nature of gender and this strange construction. We know where it came from and what it was for: to keep people in their place, and people’s own fear of expression, and identity. The
more that I gained the language, the more I go, like what the fuck? I mean, and I have genuinely experienced such a sense of freedom in so many different areas in terms of what I’m allowed to do to what I think I’m allowed to wear, you know. For me, clothing genuinely is one of the ways that I harness my power. It’s how I want to present myself to the world, how I wanna show up and how I want people to
see me. I cannot control how people see me, but my image and what I wear can change the dynamics between me and another person. And so I am very purposeful and intentional about how I use what I wear. And being — appropriate is not the word — effective. Like wanting to be effective in what I’m wearing.
FERRERA vintage snakeskin chainmain top.
TP: Do you buy men’s clothes?
TER: I do, yes. I do buy men’s clothes. I have a real curvy body so men’s pants are really difficult but men’s jackets I find much better. Men’s sneakers always come in better colors. It drives me crazy. And I love a tie. When I guest-hosted Jimmy Kimmel. I wore a suit and tie.
TP: What’s your favorite suit?
TER: Right now I have an old Balenciaga suit that I can’t stop wearing. It doesn’t wrinkle so it packs so well. It’s from the first unisex collection. It looks great with a dress over the pants.
TP: Amazing, beautiful.
TER: I love Saint Laurent lines — the way that he’s brought that men’s suit into women’s wear. Often what I love about a men’s jacket is the strong, clean line. That sort of pinched-in women’s jacket? It just doesn’t always work for me.
TP: I think it’s also the construction. In menswear everything down to the pocket details is more functional, more practical. It’s as if some designers think that women don’t care about those things.
TER: It’s really interesting. I mean, I do think I would use my pockets more if they were functional.
ALAIA vintage leather jacket; KATHERINE HAMMETT denim skirt.
TER: My friend Monica is constantly looking for jackets that have good pockets. My mom is also always looking for jackets with good pockets for travel. There’s a utilitarian energy that I love and a functionality of clothes. I don’t like clothes that wear me. I like to wear my clothes. I’m not a huge person who does a full look. Well obviously for the red carpet. I work with Karla [Welch] for that.
TP: I love that you guys are fashion obsessed!
TER: I mean the two of us are ridiculous. Like as soon as the show happens I’m sending looks to her and we’re like going through it. And then half the time I’m like we got to find somewhere for me to go because I don’t go anywhere. I’m a regular shopper. I always have been. I like my clothes for my life. The first two years on Girlfriends, I was wearing all my own clothes because we didn’t have the budget to
get the clothes that I wanted. So many of the iconic first season things were mine. They’re still in my closet. I have them. Can’t fit them, but I have them. But I learned back then that once I wear something on TV, for a show as a character, it loses some of the energy for me. It loses that thing. So for me, my clothes are like my little treasures. That’s why this shoot is filled with some of my treasures that I haven’t worn. They’ve just been kind of tucked away.
KANSAI YAMAMOTO vintage jumpsuit.
Back to that Margiela. I was dating an artist at some point back in the day who had a piece or something in the Whitney Biennial. And so I was invited to go to the Whitney Biennial, and I was like, well I’ve got to buy clothes. There were two things I was going to him with. So I got the Margiela and the Prada. A Prada dress, blue and red check. I know if you saw it, you’d be like, I know that collection. It was the collection that had the big pouf skirts, and all the checks.
TP: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Check.
TER: Yeah. And so I bought those two things and I still have them. I still wear them and they’re just incredible pieces that for me, stay over time, you know.
TP: It’s incredible. How big is your closet?
TER: The thing is, my closet is big, but it is not the closets you see on TV in those people’s houses. My closet looks like a vintage store.
TER: What would you call that color? It’s like a terra cotta pink and brass and it’s just chock-a-block full. And then I have a dressing room that is blue with de Gournay wallpaper and I have racks in there because I was trained in editorial. And so that’s the way I pack. And that’s the way I get dressed. When I get something new, I hang that on one side rack and then on the other side I make looks with it. My favorite time to make looks and play dress-up is first thing in the morning. Like, if I wake up really early because my stomach’s really flat. And I like making outfits in the sunlight. I like natural light when I’m making a look. I don’t know why, but that’s my thing.
Tracee's own vintage jumpsuit.
TP: Once a market girl, always a market girl.
TER: Always a market girl.
TP: Can I ask you if there is one thing, like a hand-me-down from your mom, that you consider your favorite?
TER: I’ll be honest with you. The sad part is so much of my closet is immersed with her things that I don’t know which things are hers anymore.
TP: That’s the best answer.
TER: And sometimes I wear them and she’s like, is that mine? And I’m like, it might’ve been. It’s not anymore! I remember in high school, she would leave for a trip and I would go in her closet, take everything I wanted and put it into my closet so that I could live with it and work with it as if it were mine. And then before she came home, I would rifle it all back into her closet.
TP: Oh my God.
TER: And one time, she had forgotten something and came back up the driveway and walked into her room. She was like, what are you doing? I’m like, I’m cleaning out your clothes for you! I’m organizing it! It was gonna be a surprise!
TP: You’re too funny.
TER: Yeah, I was really strategic.
TP: I, of course, think of you as a HommeGirl. But what is a HommeGirl to you?
TER: Okay. So I’m going to backtrack. I had no idea HommeGirls was you. Had no idea. I stumbled upon the Instagram page and was like, what is this? And as you know, as I said, I collect magazines. And so the Homme part I was like, oh, it’s like Vogue Homme. And then girls, I was like, I love that play on words. Your home girl, it’s like your best friend, it’s like your buddy. It’s like your crew, your tribe,
your peeps, your gang. You know what I mean? As a woman, who is now learning that I can be anything that I wanna be at 50 years old, that I can one minute dress in a suit with a tie and the next minute in a frilly dress and they’re all versions and expressions of me. That’s what I see in the magazine. I see that there’s a sense of power in who you get to be by choosing who you want to be — that it’s a sense of
your own agency. And I think that’s what I identify with and that is expressed through clothing. You know I love the reclaiming of the boxer short. I love it so much.
TP: I mean what you hit on is correct. When you see stylists, they’re always dressed in the chicest sort of simple way, almost like men’s outfits. Even if they’re styling couture and fantastical things, their own uniform was always much more interesting. To me, at least. And so, that was the foundation of what I wanted to bring to HommeGirls. But it’s evolved since then into this thing that you’re talking about which is you can be frilly one day and in a suit the next day, but it’s all an expression of this attitude that allows you to be whoever the fuck you want to be.
TER: Well I think there’s — I mean as I know from working in editorial and you do. You know, there’s boxes that have to be checked. And there is the imagination and the fantasy of what fashion can offer and then there’s how fashion works on the street, how you translate that into your life. And as I said, fashion is not as interesting to me as clothing and style. And I remember, Ricky Vider, who was one of the market editors at Mirabella back in the day, only wore black. She had a uniform and I thought it was so interesting. I was like, I’m so confused, she works in fashion. But she has to be a blank palette because all she’s looking at all day are clothes. And, you know, I see Samira’s version of a uniform. I see other editors, that’s their version of uniform. I love that HommeGirls is an attitude.
TER: And it’s an attitude that I identify with, you know? I am so singularly me. I don’t dress for what other people are wearing. I don’t make choices because it’s what other people are doing. It’s just never been me. I really come from some different place. It’s what makes my heart sing, what makes me feel safe, what makes me feel good. That’s what I lean towards. And that’s how I define luxury. To me that is luxury and I know that not everybody has access to that but I had access to the Salvation Army and I looked bangin’.
TP: And now you’re HommeGirls cover girl.
TER: I die, I die!
TP: I die more.
ALAÏA vintage leather skirt suit and knit bodysuit.
"Clothes Encounter" by Martine Syms in HommeGirls Volume 10.