Courtesy of Rachel Fleit

Film Director Rachel Fleit Doesn't Have To Prove Her Femininity To You Or Anyone

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When she turned 18, Rachel Fleit stopped wearing a wig. It was the first real step in embracing her baldness, caused by alopecia, that would become her stand-out, trademark look today. Fleit's distinctive personal style, full of vibrant prints and cute dresses (with pockets!), is a direct refutation of the childhood she spent under her wig, "hiding her true self."

The 37-year-old film director (producer and writer) currently lives in New York. Before directing, she co-founded and worked as director of creative development for the ready-to-wear brand, Honor.

What piece do you own that instantly makes you feel more confident?

Any jumpsuit. I'm a director, and I often feel like I need to look chic but also powerful. I just feel like a jumpsuit is the simple, easy, and flattering thing that I just sort of, like, for lack of a better word, jump into. There's usually pockets, which is really important when you're on a film set.

Courtesy of @azitaloves

How would you say that your style has played a role in your career? Has it opened or closed doors for you?

I remember specifically going into this commercial campaign that I was to direct, and they wanted to do conceptual films for their brand. I put on a vintage Diane von Furstenberg dress, some crazy boots, and YSL vintage sunglasses, red lips, and my bald head. I felt like I was wearing the costume of the person who was going to get that job, and I did.

When I was a kid, I wore a wig and the purpose of the wig, I think, ultimately, with my parents was to protect me from kids making fun of me, but really, it backfired in a way because I was hiding my true self.

I know you also were involved with ready-to-wear brand, Honor.

When I worked for Honor, the brand was very ladylike. So, I found myself in a lot of vintage — a lot of vintage dresses, a lot of Honor dresses, a lot of high heels, a lot of lipstick, and it was like that was what I did. I also did tons and tons of research in vintage stores so I started to almost wear exclusively secondhand clothing. Every day I try to recycle more, and every day I try to minimize my carbon footprint, but I think one of the main things that I do to save the earth, or whatever my part is, is I don't buy retail usually. I mean, I buy underwear, activewear, and swimwear, I buy that retail, but everything else is secondhand.

Courtesy of Rachel Fleit

Where are some places that you like to shop for secondhand clothing?

I don't shop for secondhand clothing ever really in New York City. It doesn't make sense because it's marked up way too high so I go on binges when I'm traveling. You can get really great stuff in L.A. and not spend a million dollars. I can't land in Los Angeles and not go to Squaresville. It's really well-priced. There's no way in my universe that I will pay $200 for a pair of Levi's.

I felt like I had to constantly, as a bald woman, prove my femininity in some sort of style choice, but I don't feel that way anymore. I can just have butch days, I can have femme days.

Let's talk a little bit about wigs because I know you wore a wig until you were about 18. Then, you moved forward without it. How did that decision come about?

When I was a kid, I wore a wig and the purpose of the wig, I think, ultimately, with my parents was to protect me from kids making fun of me, but really, it backfired in a way because I was hiding my true self.

So, by the time I was 16, I was like, well, I can't hide who I am anymore, but it was still such a struggle to take it off. I finally let go of my wig my sophomore year of college. I'll never forget it. It was such a big day for me. I was looking for inspiration to do it for so long, then one day, the strength just came, and I went to school in a lime green bandana, and these platform boots. I never looked back. No one ever told me I was beautiful when I wore a wig. Then, as soon as I stopped wearing the wig, I'm not exaggerating, someone tells me that I'm beautiful every day. It's just a little wink from the universe, saying, "Look what happened when you stopped hiding."

How has embracing your baldness impacted your style?

I feel like I've really actually settled into my femininity as a bald woman these past few years. I used to feel like, "Oh, well if I'm going to wear jeans and a T-shirt then I'm going to have to wear a red lip, a turban, and an earring to soften it up and not look so butch because I date men, and I don't know. There's just this thing where I felt like I had to constantly, as a bald woman, prove my femininity in some sort of style choice, but I don't feel that way anymore. I can just have butch days, I can have femme days. I can wear a big man's Oxford shirt, a baggy pair of jeans, and sneakers and still be as much of a lady as I am when I wear a pencil skirt, a high heel, and a red lip.

Courtesy of Rachel Fleit

How did you first get interested in fashion?

I have no idea except that I know it started super young. I'll never forget, my parents are scientists, and they were going on a trip to Oxford in the U.K., and I had learned about punk rock. I was 5 years old and I told my parents that they were not to return from England without bringing me a punk-rocker jean jacket. I wish with all of my heart that they still had this tiny stone-washed jacket that they brought back for me. It was so epic. I remember being really young and not wanting anyone to buy my clothes for me except for me. I think I really wanted to fit in because I was this bald kid in a wig.

I find out about new brands on Instagram. I'm just one of those people that gets the sponsored ad and then follows the link. I'm just like a pawn that digital marketing directors send.
Courtesy of Rachel Fleit

What fashion category or what item do you feel is lacking in the industry? What do you think people haven't really started making properly yet or haven't embraced, style-wise?

A non-stretch jean for a curvy, thick-thighed woman. I have a small waist, but I have bigger thighs. I think it's impossible for me to buy Levi's jeans, and all of those jeans for women who have curves have stretch in them. It's perpetuating this idea that the proper leg has six-inch gap between the thighs. That's just not realistic, that size, or a certain circumference. I just do not want to wear a pair of jeans with stretch. I'm sorry.

What inspires you style-wise, and how do you discover new brands?

I find out about new brands on Instagram. I'm just one of those people that gets the sponsored ad and then follows the link. I'm just like a pawn that digital marketing directors send. I'm an easy target. I'm like, "That's cool."

Fleit wearing a selection of vintage, new and heirloom jewelry. Courtesy of Rachel Fleit

For someone who is either recently bald or also suffers from alopecia, what advice would you want to give them?

Well, obviously, I would want to encourage anyone who has alopecia to not hide it. I also understand how hard of a process it is, so I would just say be gentle with yourself and understand that this is a multi-layered process of acceptance and it's going to take as long as it takes for you to accept it.

You may never accept it, but the only thing you can really do is accept it because the hair is not coming back if you have alopecia to the degree that I have it, and to embrace yourself. It's like, people who lose their hair ... they have, I don't know, I feel like there's a duty in my life to just be open to the world and be like, "Yeah, I look different than you, and it's OK."

So yeah, I'd just say hold on, it's a ride. I've learned so much about myself because I have a certain viewpoint of the world, of the bald person. It has been my greatest gift. Even though it's been so difficult at certain points, it's been really just wonderful.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.