We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."
"Your girl is well-rounded. You can't define me, baby!" actor, writer and standup comedian Sherry Cola says, excitedly, on a call.
She's talking about her eclectic and expressive personal style, but Cola could also be talking about her career path, going from radio DJ to viral YouTube star to standup comic to voicing a main character in the upcoming "The Tiger's Apprentice," alongside Sandra Oh and Henry Golding. She also just joined the cast of Adele Lim's upcoming comedy, and currently co-stars as series regular on three seasons (and counting) of "The Fosters" spin-off "Good Trouble."
In the Freeform show, Cola crosses over quite a bit with her character, Alice Kwan, manager of the downtown Los Angeles communal living space, The Coterie (which honestly looks like the most fun way to live in your 20s — minus the communal bathroom). Along with her loftmate-slash-besties, she navigates friendships, romance and professional tribulations, all while facing and challenging the socio-political issues of our times.
Like Cola, Alice is a queer Chinese-American becoming a standup comic and confronting (plus trying to subvert) the stereotypes faced by underrepresented talent. "Alice is my best friend. Alice and I have gone through a lot of shit," says Cola. "Sometimes, Alice's story aligns with Sherry's story, and I'm like, 'Yo, this is hitting home.'"
That's especially in the most recent episode, which sees Alice hosting a Lunar New Year celebration at The Coterie for her family and found-family of close friends: "I've been wanting a Lunar New year episode for so long, because we see TV shows set at Christmas, Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve. Just, why wouldn't we? Especially if we have this character who's juggling her identity in a lot of ways."
Along with Kara Wang, who plays Alice's on-again and off-again soul mate Sumi, Cola ensured authenticity, down to the food (a whole fish!), the pride in giving red envelopes and "tiny superstitions," which each family incorporates in their own way. (Trim your hair before Lunar New Year to cut away the bad luck to start fresh with good fortune! Ahem, Dennis.) "It's such a thing," she says. "Like my mom, I remember when it was the Year of the Snake — with the Chinese zodiac, when it's your year, you have to fight away the bad luck — so she literally made me wear red underwear for 365 days."
The multi-hyphenate also put her own words and thoughts into the speech Alice gives after the lion dance, having reached new levels of understanding in her relationship with her family. "It was so emotional because it was so real. I really spoke from the heart, because we started the Lunar New Year episode at the end of March, in the midst of the anti-Asian hate crimes," says Cola. "I'm very vocal about the fight for the community — and other communities — and being an ally. In real life, I'm very adamant on using my voice."
Ahead, Cola shares how she uses fashion to take up space and further amplify her voice, what impulse purchase became her signature — and most recognizable — accessory and why she doesn't ask her designer friends for the "hookup."
"I love balancing my feminine and masculine sides. Because I'm queer — I'm bisexual — people expect a certain style from you. It's very interesting, to be honest, but I love bold statements. Whenever there's a chance to wear an Asian American Girl Club T-shirt on the red carpet, I'll do it. Whenever there's any chance to show my culture and represent it in an unapologetic way, I'll do it. But I try to keep the funky with a colorful sneaker or a dope, eclectic blazer.
"Of course, I always have my damn hat. Eighty five percent of the time — no, 88% of the time, let's keep it Chinese and lucky — 88% of the time, I'm wearing the hat. I guess it's technically a fedora, but the fortune cookie-looking hat. Randomly, like two and a half years ago, I was getting ready for this event and I needed an outfit. I go to Urban Outfitters, literally on a whim, and saw this hat. Loved the hat, wore it that night and pretty much haven't taken it off since. Now it's become this signature Sherry thing: People will literally recognize me from that hat because there's so much love on the street nowadays, whether it be for 'Good Trouble' or when I do Asian YouTube stuff or posting the #StopAsianHate poem that essentially went viral. People literally recognize me from my hat and my voice, which is such a cool thing. As an immigrant, as someone who's always felt like a foreigner, as someone who society never rooted for to speak up and seek out, the fact that I'm actually getting recognized for my voice and for a distinct look, it's so cool.
"My style is just very much myself. I never do anything that I think people would like. I don't really do anything. I don't wear stuff that will make me fit in. It's all about being myself. I've gotten this far in my career by doing nothing but so. I love color. I love, love color. I love just weird stuff — like, unorthodox things. I always try to think outside the box. One of those outfits is the soju set by Wooji. It's like this button-up and shorts, and it has all these soju bottles all over it. It's one of my favorite things. It's Korean distilled liquor that's so delicious. I love K-Town. I'm always out in K-Town, and I love embracing every corner of the Asian community. Because something we need to work on is being inclusive within our AAPI community — recognize the South Asian experience, recognize the Pacific Islander experience. I'm East Asian, but it's like, 'Okay, we all have so much in common. We also have differences, but we're all family, period.' So I love wearing my soju set out because it's vibe. It's a vibe and it's so Asian. Representation matters.
"Just being unapologetic in your style is so key. Just represent that you're unique. I always say, 'Not everyone can write the same book.' Not everyone can wear the same outfit. So, yeah, showing who you are through your expression, whether it be your voice, your art or through your clothes.
"I'm literally so guilty of swiping up like at least 20 times a frickin' day. I see so many ads, and the ads know that that's my weakness. If I see a cute anime T-shirt that says something funny, I'll swipe up and buy that and I'll forget that I even bought it because it'll be like 3 a.m. I'm definitely a swiper-upper when it comes to online shopping. Like, they get me. They get me.
"I love a lot of bold statements. Another shirt that I wear often is that 'Stay Angry' T-shirt from Angry Asian Man. I also wear this other smiley tee from Chinatown Market. I definitely like to represent Asian things, always, and support small Asian businesses, like through [grassroots organization] Welcome to Chinatown. Of course, Wooji, plus Goodie, NLT and Asian American Girl Club — that's my homegirl Ally Maki, my sister. There are so many dope things that she has on the website. I have all of them, and I buy them, too. That's the thing: You got to support your friends, especially Asian friends who are trying to create brands and get their names out there. Like, don't ask for the hookup. Give your money to the people, you know? We give money to everyone else that we don't know. Why are we frickin' short-sighting the real ones in our life?"
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.