09/05/2014 03:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Queer Son Is My Own Personal 'Fashion Police'


(This blog post is dedicated to the late, great, ever-fashionable Joan Rivers.)

I checked myself in the mirror and liked what I saw. My petite frame was the same 102 lbs. it had been before Harry was born, and my butt still looked good in tight black jeans. Not bad for turning 50 today, I thought.

It was my first birthday since Harry's dad and I divorced, and I wanted to shine at dinner out with my gal pals. I zipped up short black boots and adjusted the neckline on my funky new low-cut top. It was splattered black-and-white tie-dye, bedazzled with some diamond rhinestones. Satisfied that my reflection projected lead singer in a rock band, I grabbed a black blazer and headed downstairs.

The babysitter saw me first. "Wow, Julie. You look great!"

I smiled and rounded the corner into the living room. "What do you think, Harry?"

My son's opinion mattered to me. He was only 11, but seemed to have been born with fashion sense. As a 3-year-old, he criticized my work wardrobe for not having any dresses. At four, he styled items in his dress-up box better than I ever had. When he discovered fabric glue at the age of six, he turned scraps from my tailor into Barbie fashions that rivaled those on the pages of Vogue. Only months earlier, Harry assisted a makeup artist friend of mine at a fashion show.

He turned from the TV and looked me up and down. "You look like an anorexic cow."

My face fell.

"Harry!" the babysitter said, "That wasn't very nice."

"I thought you were my fashion consultant," I said.

"I guess I'm more like your fashion IN-sultant," he joked.

Then they both burst into giggles. I couldn't help but join in with a nervous laugh. I wished I had time to change. After dinner that night, the anorexic cow top was put out to pasture and never seen again. That was in 2001.

The following year in junior high, Harry's eye for fashion turned to drag when he discovered the monthly showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That led to his break-all-the-rules style of dress in high school. But he could also put together a look sharp enough to land a part-time sales position at a fashionable women's boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.

I worked from home then, mostly in my workout clothes. So when I wanted something more stylish than a racer-back tee and leggings, I ventured over to see what Harry might recommend on his weekend shift.

I realized in that small boutique that my kid really did have a great eye for women's fashion. He knew which colors and silhouettes flattered me. And he was honest about what didn't look good, without being an "insultant." Soon I was buying all my clothes from him. Those pieces are the ones I brought with me when I moved to New York five years ago. They still hang in my closet and are among my favorites.

Harry taught me that "matchy-matchy" in fashion only worked for drag queens. I learned how to mix prints, wear scarves and that brown boots can be more chic than black ones. In fact, unlike the '90s when my nickname could've been The Widow Tarney, I rarely wear anything black anymore.

Harry graduated from college two years ago. He's a photographer, a fixture in the Brooklyn drag scene, and my personal stylist. At least that's how I see it. So he was a natural for advice on accessorizing the dress I bought for my first gay wedding next weekend in Chicago.

"What do you think?" I asked him, wearing the sleeveless, ombré teal dress with my four-inch dark violet pumps. "I wanted a pop of color, so I picked these shoes."

"I don't know, Mom. Those shoes might be better in winter with a jacket, like your black satin tuxedo jacket."

"Okay," I said, knowing he was right. "Then what about my green strappy stilettos? And the pop of color could be my blue snakeskin clutch."

"Good idea, Mom. Try that."

I changed shoes and grabbed the blue clutch.

"That's it," he said. "Those shoes extend the monochromatic line, so you look taller. And the blue clutch is perfect."

"Thanks, honey. Now what about polish color?"

"A purple shade would work, but not lavender." He pulled up an Essie color chart on his computer. "This one, or something like it."

"And lipstick?"

"A dark pink," he said.

So I'm set for Chicago. When I stand up to make a toast to mister and mister, I know I'll look my best. And I'm certain that my favorite comedian won't be administering any Fashion Police brutality from above about my outfit. About my hair, maybe, but not about my outfit.


This piece first appeared on Julie's personal blog, My Son Wears Heels. You can also find her on Facebook.