Inside Out – Style Consultant DeX Santillan Mixes AFAB Matches
“They’re uncomfortable,” DeX Santillan laments, describing a group of people who somehow feel both invisible and inhibited, who sometimes even seem like strangers in their own skins. “They’re worried that they’re going to get slapped down.” They, of course, are a certain subset of put-upon clothes puter-on-ers slogging through attire and accessories retailers as they search for raiment to express themselves.
DeX Santillan is a professional style consultant which means what you think it means: Santillan turns rags into reflection, uses cotton, denim, silk, felt, and velvet as syllables in fashion statements both loud and soft…but DeX Santillan is a style consultant with a specialty, and he’s got thoughts when the subject of clothes stores rears its head. “They’re terrible,” the maestro insists. “Mass produced clothing is not designed for anyone.”
But things are especially nuanced for the clients or the prospective clients of DeX Santillan. “Most of my clients are AFAB,” Santillan observes, describing people Assigned Female At Birth, but who, like Santillan himself, identify in a more masculine way. “I am a gender queer trans person.”
That’s where his specialty comes in: Santillan shapes attire into a proud expression of gender for the Ab Fab AFABs, along with anyone else, “matching outside appearances with internal gender identity,” according to an online bio. He elaborates, “I think it’s really important that folks own who they are, and how they dress is one way to do that.”
Style consultation is more than a career to Santillan—it’s a calling. “Clothing is a very powerful thing,” he observes. “I take it very seriously.” It’s no exaggeration to say that Santillan has been training for this vocation his entire life, starting “when I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” he reports. How that grasshopper was attired, alas, has been lost to sartorial history.
This precocious genesis has since translated into professional haberdashery that begins with building rapport between stylist and stylee. “My initial client meeting usually happens on Zoom,” Santillan relates. “It’s a time to relax and be in the moment. It’s a time to just have a conversation.” Santillan sanguinely gathers fabric-focused intelligence, determining, as he puts it, “where you’re at with the gender stuff, where to push and where to back off.”
Soon afterward, the stylist meets personally with the stylee who gets to indulge in such practices as reflexive gut-in-sucking and unconscious bicep-flexing while measuring tape tells its tale. Specific styles might well be the topic of discussion. Three favorite groupings of Santillan’s include classic (“clean, crisp, solid colors, with a little splash”), dapper (“seasonal layers, bright colors”), and flamboyant (“all the stuff, all at once”).
Each of these can be unified by an easily-overlooked concept: fun. “There are little things you can do to bring your personality into the look,” Santillan enthuses. “You can give little hints of who you are.”
Consultant and client soon become collaborators. “We’re looking for a feeling,” Santillan relays. “We’re presenting a character. We’re building a look.” But Santillan also builds something deeper. Says he, “I’m all about empowerment.” Santillan refers to this approach as “next level coaching.”
Santillan is, to some degree, trying to make himself obsolete. “The process is the journey,” he observes. “I want [my clients] to experience next-level light bulbs. At the end of the journey, I want them to say, ‘I learned a thing or two.’ I want them to gain confidence, to be able to do it for themselves, to come out the other end with next-level confidence.”
This doesn’t necessarily mark finis to the working relationship…or, if it does, the ending allows for the possibility of an epilogue. “Sometimes my clients will check back in for a holiday or special event,” Santillan notes.
Santillan hopes to leave his clients not just educated, but fundamentally changed, fulfilled, and empowered. Asserts the stylist, “I’m just trying to get them to the point where they can say, ‘I feel like myself.’”
DeX Santillan can be reached at [email protected].