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Growing up queer in the countryside, here’s how one fashion student found his fit

WORDS BY JONTI RIDLEY
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH CONVERSE

“The most important person your heart beats for is yourself.” 

There’s something about a comfortable outfit that really, truly hits different. I’m not talking about elasticated waistbands and jersey cotton; we’re all well aware of the importance of physical comfort after spending an awful lot of time in our sweatpants in recent months. I’m talking about emotional and psychological comfort – the kind of comfort that feels so perfectly, inarguably you.

Despite often being disregarded as simple vanity, our physical self-expression – the way we dress, walk, do our hair, wear makeup (the list goes on) – is vital to our self-esteem and mental wellbeing. Converse has tapped into the conversation of comfort with the recent redesign of its classic Chuck 70 – now with extra cushioning via the brand’s OrthoLite sockliner.


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The Converse team collaborated with its Converse All Stars collective, of which model and fashion student Nathan Monte is a member and contributor. “For so many years we were taught to look stylish, or cute, is to be uncomfortable or really cold – just not feeling in your place, but it’s so nice we can finally gel the two worlds,” he tells me.

Much like myself, Nathan grew up queer in the countryside. For those not in the rainbow loop, growing up in the country is often a sink-or-swim situation, one that chews you up – and lord knows how it’s going to spit you out. Nathan says he’s “thankful for the resilience” he showed in the schoolyard, while his early experimentations in fashion helped “structure” his thought processes when curating his own style today. “I was very adamant no one was going to crack me, and that’s stuck with me, a little to my detriment sometimes.”

Nathan’s drive to strive for authenticity and self-fulfillment rather than praise is one he’s carried from youth. This healthy self-love seed was likely planted by his mum, who often reminded him, “the most important person your heart beats for is yourself”. Obviously, Nathan’s mum sounds like a legend. “Whenever I look back at ‘old me’, I’m so proud of that young, little boy that I was. I was quite weird, quite eccentric, a different vibe to the town I was growing up in and I really just stuck to it.”

It’s easy to understand why the queer community has such a deep connection to fashion and style – it was our first piece of armour when facing a world that often rejected us. Whether it was born from self-expression or self-preservation, queer coding in the way we dress and present ourselves acts subliminally (or not so subliminally) as beacons to fellow queers.

 

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A post shared by Nathan Monte (@nathanmonte)


Growing up in the country meant that your beacon was frequently misunderstood or misrepresented, but the validation and safety that came when your message reached the right people was incredible. It’s that early work in authenticity and experimentation that has led to so many breakthroughs within the fashion industry. “Queer style and the queer outlook on design is something to be looked up to, or look towards – we are the pinnacles of creativity, in my mind,” says Nathan.

Regardless of where you grew up, your first pair of ‘connies’ were something to brag about. Mine were red and black hightops, one of the first pairs of shoes I felt comfortable in because they were genderless. Nathan got his first pair at “10 or 11” for his dad’s wedding and thought they were simply the “coolest”. “I was so excited to wear them to school and flex my brand new Converses,” he tells me as we reminisce. “And the fact they were high-top as well – everything was cooler with a hightop then.”

For a seemingly simple pair of canvas shoes, that eagerness to ‘flex’ runs a lot deeper than any price tag or label could. Both of our memories are rooted in our desire to express a part of ourselves. Sure, it was a bit of fun showing a new toy in the schoolyard, but sharing an item that we feel reflects our style, personality, thoughts and feelings to our chosen community is a vulnerable experience that runs a great risk for an almighty reward. 

Nathan called this redesign “refreshing” – and he’s absolutely right. It’s time fashion became more inclusive and although this seems like a baby step, this is a monumental leap for thousands of people who are often overlooked in mainstream fashion. “With a diverse shoe such as Converse, it’s stuck around for the ages and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. So for a company like Converse to rethink something that’s worked so well for them for so long is great, because these other companies are just mindlessly producing.”

By redesigning the Classic Chuck 70 with physical and emotional comfort at the centre of the conversation, Converse is giving everyone the freedom to express themselves with their own style.

Find your comfortable with Converse here.

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