Holden Bothun ’17 is a boundary pusher, plain and simple. Energetic, honest and quick to laugh, Bothun has the charisma of an artist. Both a visual artist and musician, he uses personal style as an elaborate social experiment, exploring both interpersonal perceptions and identity creation. Bohun approaches personal style as a way to see what he’s “allowed to do” as opposed to what is most aesthetically pleasing.
While creating a visually appealing style is not his priority, he concedes that he will change an outfit if it’s “displeasurable to my eyes.” This unconventional approach to a medium associated with attempting to look one’s best is typical of Bothun’s drive to change the status quo.
Bothan, a Minnesota native, hasn’t always been one to try to break the mold. In high school, he “wanted to wear similar things to what other people were wearing,” and he described a phase in which he “went for [the] prim and proper lawyer look for a while,” but soon realized that “it took too much work to maintain an aura of clean cut.”
On the other hand, he maintains that his hometown’s love of lumberjack-inspired modes of dress still influences his style today, and he claims that he “wore and still wears a lot of lumberjack flannel shirts.”
However, it is safe to say that Bohun has clearly moved away from attempting to please others and fit in through his clothing choices. After high school, he “started caring more about aesthetics in a different way … like personal aesthetics and unique clothing choices.”
These new choices include wearing conventionally feminine clothing, as well as using his clothes as a personal canvas by drawing all over his pants whenever possible.
Bothun’s style decisions are often fueled by curiosity, and he explained, “I started drawing on my pants, drawing on my clothing. I wanted to see how dirty I could let my clothes look, [and to] see how people respond to that, like wearing dresses especially. [I want to see] what I can do, and what is possible to do in this sphere, more so than how it actually looks.” This process involves wiping “my paints on my pants when I’m drying my things … or drawing on my pants or whatever.”
He also enjoys the phenomenon that accompanies washing his clothes after he covers them in drawings. When he washes his art-filled pants, “some things will disappear and something will stay. It’s totally random.” When I asked to take close-up photographs of the drawing on his pants, he acknowledged that “they’re a little racy,” and he added, “I should draw my appropriate thing on my pants, I suppose.”
For Bothun, the clothes he wears, and the way he interacts with them, is a manifestation of his artistry. He said, “I’m a musician, I guess. I love art. Art in general is what I enjoy doing, so I like clothing that demonstrates some type of artistic involvement.” In his case, this artistic involvement involves making statements that push boundaries, and are outside of social conventions. In relation to Bothun’s fascination with pushing social norms, he is interested in how his appreciation of female clothing is tied to others’ perceptions of him and the ways in which they interact with him or rush to judgements regarding his gender and sexual identity.
Instead of being discouraged by the inevitability of judgement and misunderstanding, these realities push him to continue to break societal rules. For example, he explained, “my identity is defined by the people around me, [my identity] has the most influence over the way people treat me. [Style] is a fairly big part of how people view me, and give me my own identity … so I have to think about it.” He went on to describe how he wonders “what people think about what I’m doing, and if they just think I’m being cheeky” when he wears women’s clothing. Since Bothun is disillusioned with fixed binary gender identities, he’s interested how people who buy into the fixed gender binary view his clothing choices.
According to Bothum, “People would assume that I identify as a male, so I wonder how that changes when I wear female clothing. But when I wear female clothing, I don’t think that it changes anything, and that they’re like ‘maybe he’s a girl.’ They’re like ‘he’s a guy wearing female clothing.’” Since Bothun doesn’t think much about his own gender, his stylistic decisions are not linked to his gender expression, but instead to his mantra that “It’s all about versatility: all the different looks you can have. A more androgynous look avails far more characters to play.”
Bothun’s no-holds-barred approach to personal expression is inspiring in a society that always seems to want to precisely label identities, and he credits his Macalester friends for encouraging “more liberty with how we look and what we can look like.”
When I asked him for advice for those people looking to take a similar approach to unrestrained stylistic expression, he offered the following approach: “The key for all expression, in general, or for expressing yourself through a certain medium, is looking at the ways in which people express themselves in that medium. Look at their characters. Think about who they are, think about what they’re saying [and] how you interpret it. Build a repertoire, an understanding of what it is you’re looking at, and then try stuff and have fun. That’s the key.”
Bothun strides the lines between caring about his own unique expression, and his awareness of the way his choices sometimes affect the people he cares about. He described how “There was one time that I went out to brunch with my parents, and I had worn a dress or a skirt or something. It made my entire family and everyone in the restaurant super uncomfortable, and those kinds of things I have to be conscious about because you can’t just do whatever you want and not face repercussions.”
Bothun is aware that he sometimes makes people uncomfortable with his outside-the-box approach to fashion, but he’s often too busy being himself to care about any negative push-back.
A perfect example of his approach is this story from Winter Ball last year: “I went to Winter Ball last year and I wore normal red pants and a tie-dye tank top. I totally didn’t think about it. I just got on the bus, and went, and had made no plans. I just kind of stumbled into Winter Ball, and everyone was really dressed up and I was very normal-looking.”