We chatted with LA-based illustrator and fashion designer Tuesday Bassen about balancing her passions, defining her own success and the vital importance of size-inclusion.
Written by Linnea Bullion
Photos by Linnea Bullion
Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, Tuesday Bassen always had big plans. By the age of fifteen, she was already pursuing–of all things–a future in foreign policy. As a freshman in high school, she was an exchange student in Russia for a government goodwill program. While the leap from foreign dignitary to illustrator and clothing designer may seem like a big one, with Tuesday it feels like less of a gap. There is always something churning within her. New ideas, new concepts… Big plans.
After that trip to Russia, she decided that foreign policy wasn’t for her – too much conflict. It was then that she started attending a public arts school and fell in love with illustration. As a fellow midwesterner, I know a thing or two about the Midwestern pressure for a “successful” life, one which stereotypically doesn’t involve the arts. Practice law, medicine, education and you’ll have a shot. But art? Illustration? Tuesday, however, had the support of her parents and a slew of familial small-business owners to look up to. Her mother runs a paint-your-own-pottery business while her father owns a pet supply store. Pair this with a grandmother who refers to the hardware store as the “Big Girl Toy Store” and you’ve got the makings for an unconventional life, and a path to success that doesn’t revolve around stereotypes.
As an illustrator, Tuesday garnered a cult following on Instagram. Her drawings are mischievous and feminine; edgy enough to feel sharp while still playful enough to remain accessible. But unlike her sometimes aggressive characters, Tuesday has been plagued by the self-consciousness that so readily attaches itself to us all during this age of constant scrutiny. It took her a long time to feel comfortable with the moniker “clothing designer.” “In any freelance career you fight for a long time to be recognized or have your work seen as legitimate or even just make a living,” she told me. “I felt like I had finally gotten to that place where I felt like I was really being recognized for my artwork.” But then she made a jacket, based on one of her illustrations. She started making even more clothing pieces. Staples. Pieces that didn’t necessarily directly come from a drawing.
Then came the insecurity, because some people started knowing her as just a clothing designer, rather than the thing she’d been fighting her whole career to find recognition in. “It was a weird ego thing,” she mused. “I couldn’t let go of ‘I’m an illustrator and I happen to do clothes too.’ It’s taken me a long time to go, ‘I can be both. I am an illustrator. And designer. Period.’” Tuesday’s illustrations are often caricature-like in their toughness and femininity. Likewise, her first clothing designs showcased bold embroidery and printed illustrations. As she’s matured, you can see a transformation in her clothing. “I didn’t realize for a while that subtlety can be really beautiful,” she said. “My work is not the most subtle, but that is that era that I’m shifting into.” And it shows–while her apparel is still full of texture and bold prints, gone are the illustrations printed onto tees, or big labels on otherwise plain garments. It’s taken the ability to confidently proclaim herself as an illustrator and designer to accept that not every garment has to have an illustrated addition. Every garment already has a personal touch just by having been designed by Tuesday and her team.
Full disclosure: I have a personal stake in the goings on of Tuesday Bassen, as I have photographed the clothing for the past few years, but if anything that made me more curious about having a deeper discussion with Tuesday. After all, there isn’t much time for talk of the burdens and joys of social media while juggling five models and their various wardrobe changes. Which segues beautifully into another fascinating side of Tuesday’s business: her models. I hate that, in 2019, I even have to bring this up. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that one of my favorite things about the brand is that they use customers and friends as models. Customers and friends of all shapes and sizes. Even just a few years ago this would have been thought of as a dangerous move. Partially owing to the fact that there is a reason models are paid so much, not only just from a societal-standards-of-beauty point of view, but from the pure fact that to be comfortable in front of a camera is a talent in and of itself. But Tuesday’s models are always phenomenal. Not only are they comfortable in front of the camera, but they are confident, and the clothing looks incredible on all of them. By some Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants magic–-and a hell of a lot of fit testing-–Tuesday’s clothing items genuinely fit and look good on all body shapes from XXS all the way to 5XL. Many brands now using a “plus-sized” model can feel gimmicky, whereas for Tuesday it was always part of the plan. As a young girl in the 90s she’d accompany her mother to go apparel shopping at Target, where her mother’s only plus-sized clothing options were stretchy shorts, a big t-shirt, or a floral moo moo. Her mother was understandably flustered. Why should she be presented with such limited choices? Why is it that some twenty years later we’re still facing those limited options? Tuesday was struck by those early shopping experiences with her mother. When she started designing, she knew she wanted her clothing to fit everyone, so why shouldn’t she use everyone to show how it fits? Tuesday views size inclusion as a human right, not a “woke” business choice. “We love to deny people the basic things they need…Think about things like food stamps––regardless of how you think somebody should be living, people still need to eat. And denying them that is cruel. So thinking about clothes, regardless of how you think somebody should look people still need clothes. And to deny them that is cruel.”
Large size runs cost more. Plain and simple. But for Tuesday, a larger size run encompasses a larger goal as a business owner and, frankly, as a human being. Small businesses bear the brunt of these costs more than others, but to her it doesn’t make sense not to include plus (and XXS) sizing. “I get so bummed out [especially] when I see small businesses complaining about the financial aspects of making plus-sized clothing…I want people to start recognizing when they hear business owners talking about business if they’re talking about the power of making something or the power of making money… it will suddenly become obvious to you who is in it because they love it, and who is in it because it makes money. When you really listen to people, and you hear people complaining about the financial aspect of making for plus people, it’s because they don’t fucking want to. They don’t want to. They’re doing something because they feel like they have to.”
It may seem like a political move to call out small businesses (after all, it seems most small businesses are already fighting against larger corporate interests), but it highlights a practice that I know Tuesday herself follows: put your money where your mouth is. Spending money “is inherently political, whether or not we want it to be” she says. And she’s right. When we complain about brands not contributing to our interests, are we still spending our money with them? Maybe we think that it’s up to the ultra-rich to sway these interests, but the fact of the matter is that we have the power to change business models, large and small. With the rise of social media, this is true now more than ever.
Clothing is emotional. It carries its history––think about your favorite pair jeans you wore on an amazing first date, or the outfit you graduated in. Think about the sweater you wore when you were heartbroken, and cried all night, or the dress your grandmother made you as a child. We attach not only our personalities, but our memories to clothing. Tuesday understands this when designing. “I feel like there has to be a level of empathy when you’re clothing somebody. It’s funny how easy it is to divorce ourselves from how emotional clothes are. But there’s so much from the end product, with how somebody feels when they wear it, how somebody feels when they’re making it… There’s so much along the way.” Which brings me back to the political act of spending. Shouldn’t something as emotional as clothing be given extra care? Don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of supporting fast fashion from time to time. I am working on my own spending habits (I’m looking at you, Amazon), but we can all afford to be better shoppers. Every step forward, no matter how small, is still a step forward.
As with any artist, Tuesday’s roots continue to find their way into her work. You can still see an edginess in her illustrations: a certain dirt-under-your-nails, take-no-shit quality. But as her designs have matured, so has her persona. When asked about the maintaining a balance between femininity and anger, Tuesday said, “One thing I wasn’t allowing myself for a while was the softness. Allowing yourself to just be, and do things that are tender and nice. For so long, I felt like a fist as a person. Just so pent up all the time. So the aggressive vibe came naturally––that side of nature where you’re like, “Yeah! I’m fucking building shit! And I love power tools.” That’s always been there. But allowing myself to not be so big all the time. My emotions don’t have to be so big. My expression doesn’t have to be so big. It doesn’t have to be so feminine that I’ve got giant eyelashes and giant fingernails––there’s nothing wrong with that, but I also don’t have to swing the other direction so hard.”
It’s hard to maintain that balance, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with social media and concepts of how we should live, or what we should wear, or think, or say. When we were discussing social media, Tuesday, like many, spoke about the need to perform for the platform. “At first I was like, ‘Why am I not rising in followers? Why is someone unfollowing me?” That’s not really worth investigating. Because when you start policing your personality based on feedback from other people [you lose yourself]… If you’re just thinking, ‘Maybe if I have fake fingernails, this will be good for my social media presence…’” it takes a toll on you. It is hard to carve out a space for yourself when you have access to the thousands of other people who are trying to do the same as you. But maybe that’s the wrong attitude––maybe we shouldn’t be thinking about carving a space for ourselves; destroying along the way. Maybe we should be thinking about how we can fit alongside others. More like a puzzle-piece than a chisel. When you take a step back and prioritize your mental health over what others think of you, you have a greater capacity to help others, and to do good. Social media is powerful, we know this. Tuesday has built an entire business from her social media presence. She is still searching for the right balance between work and self-care. It is hard enough for an individual to do this on social media, much less a business tied an individual. But I am happy there are businesses like hers, allowing people to vote with their money and pushing larger companies towards inclusivity.
Tuesday, like all of us, is figuring things out. In the past year alone, Tuesday has moved three different times within Los Angeles. When I pressed her about this, she admitted that not addressing anxiety or depression or unhappiness has historically led her to seek out a new environment, because it’s a hell of a lot sexier than confronting those problems head-on. “I’m thankful for that compulsion when I was younger,” she told me. “It helped propel me forward in such a strong way… But now, I feel like I’m at a point where I feel like I’m happy to nest and stay. [Throughout the moves] I was very intentional about what was actually important to me… I’m a person who says, ‘I will make it work no matter what,’ and in the past year I’ve been thinking about what it would look like switching from ‘I will make it work no matter what’ to ‘This is what is right for me.’ I mean I hope at least. Check in with me in an extended period and we’ll see.”
Tuesday Bassen (both the person and brand) is not without burdens, which can be hard to remember when seen only through the glazed screen of your phone. As an independent creative, I am glad there are brands like hers cutting through the din, giving a voice to consumers in a world which often feels like our voices get lost in the chaos.