Student Designer Spotlight: Ellie Abrams PO'17

Student designer Ellie Abrams PO '17 models a denim hat featuring her own embroidered designs. (Meghan Joyce • The Student Life)

This week, I sat down with Ellie Abrams PO '17, designer of bean.works. Ellie has been embroidering hats, jeans, and tees featuring her artwork. We discussed her fashion evolution with regard to femininity, sexuality, and self-expression. Check out @bean.works on instagram if you are interested in seeing more of her work!

TSL: How did you become interested in fashion?

Ellie Abrams: I think that up until college, the environment that I was in was very homogenous and all of the girls that I was around were — well, there was a predetermined way that I was supposed to dress as like a “straight hot girl.” First it was, “oh, we wear leggings as pants now.” And then the transition into wearing crop tops all the time — there was a lot of body showing off as we were going through puberty.

I don’t know if I actively thought that there was a pressure to dress this way, but I know that American Apparel was like, the thing to strive for in terms of style. So I worked there summer after my senior year. And I thought that was really sick. Probably most of my wardrobe when I entered college was American Apparel.

I think a big change happened freshman year when I realized I was queer. That was the time I started making different decisions in terms of fashion. I think that I was becoming more intrigued with the dyke aesthetic, and I started to pay attention to how typically feminine I wanted to look on a day to day basis. I’ve always felt feminine, so it’s never been a question of whether I feel like a woman.

I guess it is just the way that I was feminine was starting to change. That was the end of freshman year. By sophomore and junior year I was trying to figure out what my expression of queerness would be, and navigating that was weird. I think sophomore year I ended up wearing the same outfit every day, which was a big sweater and jeans, and not really looking in the mirror that often because I was confused.

Now I have aesthetics that I like to gravitate towards. But I think I still, to some extent, wake up and think, “How gay do I wanna look today?” or “how femme” or “how dykey” and that varies and I don’t think I’ll really settle on one specific thing. The clothing that I have can accommodate however feminine I’m feeling day to day.

TSL: What are your favorite brands? Who inspires you?

EA: In college, I became friends with people who know more about fashion and know the types of brands that are obscenely expensive for a plain tee shirt. And I sort of have gotten a little swept up in that. So I definitely enjoy like bougie brands that sell really nice quality basics, like Steven Alan. But I’ve always tried to keep my eye out for brands like Everlane which are just selling really basic stuff at a nice normal price.

I think that I really love people, whether they’re models or people who are famous on Instagram, that can just be wearing literally a tee shirt and jeans and sneakers and look so sick. And I’m so obsessed with it even though it’s the most simple outfit ever. I think that is when I am most happy and feel most “fashionable,” when I’m just wearing the simplest outfit but feeling good about each piece.

For myself, whether I am feeling dykey or femme, I like to still embrace my femininity while wearing something that doesn’t necessarily show off my boobs. So like ... Princess Nokia is like the epitome. And a lot of that is just the decisions she makes in terms of — she wears like boys clothing. But she still rocks her femininity and talks about it.

Of course part of that is culturally not mine, and I recognize that, but she is definitely someone who I look towards. It is pure admiration and nothing that I am trying to dress as, but the aesthetic of embracing your inner little boy and having that still be sexy and not always made up or in a “high end” piece of women’s clothing.

TSL: What is your creative process like for design/putting together outfits?

EA: I think about how I wanna express myself in terms of femininity, or just what type of feminine am I feeling today. And my wardrobe I guess reflects that.

In terms of bean.works, I think there are a lot of trends right now, like the “Future is Female” trend that is very pussy-centric — I think the stuff that gets the most publicity is “Feminist as Fuck” type of things. I’m still fiddling with my designs and finding out what I want bean.works to be, but I think most of it was inspired by the creative response to the feminist-centric-slogany fashion that’s on Instagram right now, like Frances Cannon and Sophia Salazar, and also just by getting custom orders from people who want hats or shirts.

Most of the community I’ve been inspired by is through Instagram I think. They’re making a lot of body positivity stuff, but also queer-centric stuff that shows all types of female bodies. For me, the thing that I embroider the most is the naked female body, but I’ve been thinking more about what it means to only embroider a cis female body and a uterus. I think I am trying to do my research and learn from other people how to be a queer-friendly, femme-appreciative type of brand.

TSL: How would you describe your personal style?

EA: I know that fashion is cyclical, so I definitely would think of photos of my mom from when she was younger. I love going into thrift stores and finding old stuff. Generally, it would be as basic as possible while making me still feel like I’m me. Tee shirts that are very plain but have some sort of meaning for me. And I think the embroidery helps to personalize things. My favorite pairs of jeans all have embroidery on them. Even if it’s tiny, it’s a fun little — I don’t know why it took me so long to discover embroidery. It’s a fun little process.

TSL: What are your favorite pieces?

EA: Every single one of my friends makes fun of me for this and I am currently mourning because it is lost, but my black zip up hoodie is truly my favorite article of clothing. And no one understands it, and I don’t even understand it. But I think maybe it’s because if I’m wearing a tight little shirt and pants that my belly is showing and I’m feeling really hot or whatever, then I put on this hoodie and I feel more comfortable.

It’s a loose thing that makes me feel more secure. I don’t know, I just love it so much and need to buy a new one because mine is gone. Other than that, I found this really sick white and gray and yellow tee shirt that I wear pretty often. And then my white jeans that say “change your narrative” on the back are probably one of my favorite things to wear.

And just plain Everlane tee shirts with a pocket on them. And my favorite hat is probably the denim hand one. I got inspiration from Babeland, which is a really sick sex shop in New York. It’s the “G-spot hand” is what they call it. I just like that sex shop. Pretty good stuff.