Courtesy Tuesday Bassen
Notable items on illustrator-cum-fashion-designer Tuesday Bassen’s website include a satin bomber jacket that reads “Hail Satin” on the back, a pin with the catchphrase “Ugly Girl Gang” scrawled in gold, and a cropped sweater emblazoned with a pair of sneering red lips. It’s the kind of stuff I imagine the Pink Ladies would wear if they attended the Women’s March on Washington but had plans to go hang out at a dive bar after. Bassen’s vibe is cool, cheeky, and unabashedly feminist. Her clothes come in sizes XS – XXXL, and the models that rock them on Instagram are of a genuine variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
“We primarily use our friends as models,” Bassen says simply. “We love to showcase different kinds of people wearing all of the sizes we offer.” The fashion industry could learn a lesson or two from Bassen’s unquestioningly inclusive attitude, a fact she seems well aware of.
“Social pressure has improved the state of the fashion world. I don’t think that larger companies would have come around on their own,” she says of the sudden surge of mainstream brands clumsily trying to embrace body diversity.
Bassen, who is based in Los Angeles, has published drawings everywhere from Playboy to the New Yorker. She grew up in Nebraska and attended a public high school for the arts before matriculating at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. After college, she dutifully moved to New York, before realizing that the quality of life was far superior in California. It was there that she began to shift her focus to product design after receiving her first commission from Urban Outfitters. In 2015, she co-launched Friend Mart, an online and brick-and-mortar shop filled with treasures by fellow indie designers and artists.
“[Designing clothes and accessories] seemed like a good transition in a society where there aren’t that many clothes that make women feel powerful that aren’t business related,” Bassen says. “There’s a learning curve coming in as an outside, but our outsider perspective is what we think makes us special.”
Bassen’s wares are indeed special, striking an unusual balance between riot grrrl edge (a patch of an expertly manicured hand wielding a dagger, for example) and Pop-inspired playfulness (a heart-shaped lollipop rendered in pin form). This marriage of cuteness and consciousness feels more relevant than ever in the era of Pussyhats and “We Should All Be Feminists” tees. Except Bassen’s brand of feminism isn’t reactionary. It’s always been there. And it’s presented in such an epigrammatic manner that it’s easy to feel like you, too, have always been just as savvy.
“You can definitely be interested in things that are very cute and be pro women’s rights,” Bassen notes.
Perhaps the best example of this philosophy is Bassen’s “Ugly Girl Gang” patches and pins (the phrase is also the title of her zine). It sheds light on the reality that, despite all the strides we’ve made as women, the word “ugly” is still considered one of the meanest insults you can hurl in another girl’s direction. The idea of rocking a pretty pink pin that proudly proclaims that you’re not only “ugly,” but part of an entire gang of women who are too, is one of just a few efforts made thus far to reclaim the word.
“I read a piece by Arabelle Sicardi recently that beautifully reinforced my sentiments around making the Ugly Girl Gang patch,” Bassen explains. It reads: “From Ovid in 6 BC until now, men have approved of and sought beauty only if it could be impossibly, paradoxically perfect: invisible, natural, pure, painful, effortless, divine and humanizing. Because beauty, for men, is about assimilation — not individualism. This is how beauty breaks down.”
“[I am] not here to be possessed or repressed, not here to manicure my body into nothingness,” Bassen says. “[I am] here to kick ass and take names. Ugly is powerful.”
Of course, it’s not necessarily about being physically ugly in the traditional sense. It’s about the freedom to feel ugly or pretty or ugly sometimes and pretty others, and have none of it matter because you’re living a life that is free of the male gaze and all the judgments associated with it. And Bassen’s ability to communicate this complex, heady notion in three small words on a cute little $10 patch or pin is truly a gift to us all.