“I’m in a better mood when my outfit is on point.” Benni Stange aka Verna C Francis on drag, fashion, and why clothes are a confidence booster.

Photos and styling by Ana Culajay

As we gear up for this weekend’s Brown Elephant Best of, we talked with Brown Elephant staff person Benni Stange about their drag persona, Verna C Francis, what they look for in clothes, and how resale is a reliable resource for drag queens. Come through this weekend at our Brown Elephant store in Lakeview for our season’s best items, curated by our very own Ana Culajay!

Tell me about your role at the Brown Elephant. 

I’m in charge of the clothing department/donations at the Andersonville location. Basically I do the sorting of clothing and accessories and getting the product to the floor and priced. I’ve also now started assisting  in prepping The Brown Elephant  Best Of event.

How can fashion/aesthetic change the way someone feels about themselves?

Speaking personally I know I’m in a better mood when my outfit is on point. It can all really be a confidence booster. You can say a lot or very little with what you wear and I think that’s an amazing opportunity each day.

What do you look for in men’s clothes?

I really love prints, especially vintage prints. I usually look for oversized tops, it’s rare for me to like something fitted. I’m also a black skinny jean wearer for life.

What do you look for in women’s clothes / drag looks?

Verna is the quintessential 80’s babe. I look for the good later 80’s styles, not too over the top or costumey, and I’ll never turn down a jumpsuit. I love to play with Verna’s styles sometimes going more edgy/modern for certain nights.

Do you even divide up your wardrobe like that? If not like that, how?

Verna has a 5’x4′ closet all to her self and it’s always in a state of rearrangement! I have all of my boy things wadded up in little draws in my dresser that I also have to share with my fiance. I would love more room but this actually keeps me from hoarding too much!

What role do resale shops play in your drag life / drag culture in general?

They are essential! Myself included, most of the queens I know get a lot of their looks from thrifting. Most of us have day jobs to pay the rent so there’s not always a lot left for more outfits, you’re essentially buying for two people! It’s also fun to take thrift finds and alter them into new and exciting items.

Where / when can someone find you dressed up / performing?

You can find me at The Call Bar at Bryn Mawr and Clark in Andersonville every Saturday night. Every third Saturday you can see me there in Ashley Morgan Presents: A Drag Revue which is a great show for a different charity each month.

Tell me about your favorite piece of clothing – what is it, why do you love it, where did you get it, and how do you feel when you’re wearing it? 

I can’t live without my black wide brim hat. Verna and I both wear it constantly. I’ve gone though several of them thanks to Chicago winds but I’m currently wearing one from ASOS. I think over the years it’s become a bit of a trademark almost and that just makes me want to wear it even more.

On Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., the Brown Elephant’s flagship store in the Lakeview neighborhood will play host to the company’s “Brown Elephant Best of ” pop-up event.

WHAT: The Brown Elephant Best Of, a curate assortment of high-end vintage and designer clothing and accessories event by Howard Brown Health
WHERE:  The Brown Elephant Lakeview, 3020 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago IL 60657
WHEN: Open to the public on Saturday, May 6, 10 a.m. -7 and Sunday May 7, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.


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