An Interview with Judith Rizzio
How can we best describe Judith Rizzio of Portland, Oregon? A local fashionista with a unique and compelling sense of style? A feminist activist? An LGBTQIA+ and body positivity ally? The reality is that Judith is all of these things. We chatted with her about her fashion initiative, Out of Our Closet, and her work helping people find their own sense of personal style – and sense of self – as part of their own everyday activism.
Hi Judith! Thank you so much for your time today. How did you start Out of Our Closet?
According to Judith, Out of Our Closet could be described as “Designing your personal fashion style so you don’t disappear.” Now in her mid-60s, she’s found that she’s able to “live out more of my passions,” including helping people discover their own sense of style, expressing themselves and their values through clothing and fashion. She got started many years ago, in the women’s movement and making costumes for the political theater troupe she was a part of in the 70's, but feels a special calling now to get folks involved as she increasingly sees how so many people – especially older women and LGBTQIA+ folks – are “disappeared” by society. Judith loves being a creator and has been a creative soul since she was young: “Now that I have more time and am more confident in myself to be a creator, I’m finding that I haven’t been so fulfilled in such a long time, especially in times when we are being pressured to conform so we fit prescribed fashion norms.”
Judith’s fashion is bright and personal and engaging. She is often stopped by people in Portland who say things like “Oh you look so beautiful” and “Oh, I wish I could do that.” Her take on this? Everyone can use fashion to express themselves, to send a message, to not disappear. She’s an advocate for dressing the bodies we have, as they are, embracing all shapes and sizes and finding what fits them and helping them to shine.
Maybe some folks might think that a passion for style isn’t necessarily feminist, that the two values might be at odds. Judith disagrees: “I see myself as a strong feminist activist but I also think it’s also ok to love fashion. So I try to help people enjoy being in their body and enjoy working with clothes, in a way that people can embrace and afford. Giving support to women, especially older women, and also starting to work with the transgender community so that they feel good when they go out into the world [is so rewarding]. I call myself a ‘style activist.’”
How do you think fashion intersects with feminism and activism?
According to Judith, “I think, like almost anything under capitalism, fashion falls within commerce and commerce is people [often being defined as] the haves and the have nots. And the privileges of having and not having. The idea that only people who are thin enough, young enough, have enough money get to look good [is not acceptable]. If you don’t fall into those categories, it’s as if you don’t exist.” She continued, “The fact is we all walk in the world in clothes and some days we don’t give a shit but some days we decide to put on a fancier outfit or something fun and walk in the world and have people smile at you.” This, to Judith, is an act of everyday feminist activism, of changing the narrative from how the world defines you to you defining your own sense of self. As she explained, “Feeling good about how you look translates into strength, confidence, and pride. That’s activism.”
Feminists Act! is all about helping people determine how they can take action on issues that affect people who identify as women and girls in the United States. What are some of the ways you recommend folks take action on feminist issues?
“Dare to allow your clothes to say something and allow the conversation that it brings up,” she proclaimed. For example, in the 1970s, she attended Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and was active with their Women’s Center. As part of this local feminist movement, she and other women wore shirts that read “Sisters with Speculums” and traveled around campus talking to fellow women students about their reproductive health. Today, she still wears that shirt and finds that it sparks conversation and interest. “Show up in a way that feels solid [to you] and enjoy yourself. Dress with confidence,” she explained. For Judith, her activism is through these everyday actions, getting involved through things that she enjoys – fashion, advocacy, allyship. She recommends others find their own passion and define for themselves how they can take action, whether that’s participating in political actions happening every day around you or expressing their activism through something as accessible as fashion.
One thing we try to do well at Feminists Act! is amplify existing voices, organizations, and resources, especially folks from underrepresented or marginalized communities. Do you have any recommendations for people to follow on social media, articles to read, organizations to know, etc.?
"I was turned on to this idea many years ago by watching on my computer 'Advanced Style' created by Ari Seth Cohen. It blew me away to see older women dressing in so many creative and pushing the envelope styling. Since then I have been listening to podcasts such as 'Dressed: The History of Fashion', 'Fashion Decipher' and 'Fashion Revolution Podcast.'
"For any kind of fashion tips, how to style clothes and clothes thrifting tutorials, there are literally thousands of YouTube videos that cover every subject (many you can avoid because they have a media driven narrow understanding of fashion and who gets to wear what)."
"But I do urge you to dive in and take what works for you about ways you redefine and enjoy getting dressed every day."
Anything else you’d like to share with the Feminists Act! audience? Thank you so much again!
"Remember that this is a way to rediscover and give yourself permission to walk in this world that says - 'I am here, and I look good.'”
All views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the author.