When Lance Bass came out of the closet in 2006, four years after NSYNC broke up, popular culture was in a very different headspace. The amount of out and proud pop stars was low, and the career risks that went along with claiming your sexuality were far higher.
During the heyday of NSYNC, Bass feared coming out would get the boy band dropped by their record label and provoke backlash from fangirls crushing on him. This anxiety, fueled by a culture that used “gay” as a punchline, caused him to shy away from using fashion as a tool of self-expression.
Luckily, his fanbase only deepened when Bass came out and published his tell-all memoir Out Of Sync. Now, Bass has built a career that travels far outside the ’90s boy band universe and enters realms of space travel advocacy, writing, LGBTQ activism, and life coaching.
One of his latest projects includes a partnership with TJ Maxx called The Maxx You Project, an initiative dedicated to helping women embrace the ways personal style evolves during different emotional (and physical) seasons. The initiative includes a Changing Room Experience (touring eight different cities), where women can receive a personal styling and life coach session.
During a recent trip to New York, I was lucky enough to chat with Bass about how coming out helped him embrace fashion, the loneliness he felt during NSYNC, and the benefits of married life.
HelloGiggles (HG): Do you have a process when you wake up and get dressed in the morning?
Lance Bass (LB): With getting dressed, not really. It takes awhile for my brain to get going in the morning, so my process is doing a little stretching. I drink a big glass of water, I don’t need any coffee if I do that, and then I’ll write in a journal—I try to remember my dreams but rarely can. I keep a notebook next to my bed, and if I don’t remember my dreams, I always write down something I’m grateful for. Then I make my bed so it feels like I accomplished one thing and I can cross it off my to-do list. Style wise, I never think ahead too much, it’s always really last minute. I love shopping, but I hate trying on clothes; I’m like, “Yeah that looks like it fits.” I’ll just return it, but I like pops of color.
HG: Do you have a memory of the first time as a kid that you got really excited about clothes? Your first favorite jacket?
LB: You know, I never cared about clothes until I was able to be myself and tell everyone, “I’m gay.” I was always afraid, because if you showed an interest in cooking or clothes, there was this feeling that people were going to judge you and think you’re gay. That was such a taboo thing, so I really never embraced that side of me until I moved to New York and came out. I love fashion now, I think it’s fun, it’s this identity that you get to put on your body. When you look at someone you can say, “Okay, I got a slice of your personality right now.”
HG: When you published Out Of Sync what part of the book made you feel the most vulnerable?
LB: It was definitely the whole relationship side of my life; at that point, I was really new to relationships—I was only in my third relationship with a guy. I was so ignorant to a lot of things, and so young, because you fall so hard in love at that age! There’s a learning curve when you come out so late in life. I was 25 years old, but I was acting like a 15-year-old because I’d never really been in love before. For a lot of the stories that I shared in the book, I was very vulnerable.
I wanted to show that even gay guys go through these Elizabeth Taylor moments; you’re trying to find out who you are, and who you like, and what kind of relationships you deserve to be in. I was in some pretty bad ones, where there was a lot of fighting and I thought that’s what love [was]. I was like,“Passion, great.” Then I met someone I love and it’s zero fights. Now I’m like, “This is nice, we don’t have to show our love by yelling at each other.” I’m really private about a lot of things, so to expose the good bad and ugly of my dating life felt intense. But I felt like some gay guys needed to read that to feel less alone.
HG: When you come out of the closet in the public eye, there’s this pressure that you have to be role model when you’re just learning how to be romantic yourself?
LB: One hundred percent. When I came out, I didn’t know much about our community at all, there was so much I had to miss out on growing up because I put my whole entire life into my work. It’s all worth it though, because I get to be my true self now.
HG: When you see memes or NSYNC clips online, does it feel like a different lifetime?
LB: It’s bizarre. I loved what I did with NSYNC and it was the most incredible time, but then there’s this other part of me that looks back and remembers being sad and lonely. I didn’t realize how lonely I was until I look back at those moments, and I go, “Oh my gosh, everyone else went home for the holidays with their girlfriend and I sat home crying because I couldn’t date who I wanted to date or tell people who I was in love with.” I look at interviews and I can’t believe that was me. The way I speak, the way I act, what I was wearing, you could tell I wanted to disappear.
HG: I imagine it felt even stranger since you were being objectified for young girls.
LB: Yes, society wants to push you onto this heterosexual narrative, and 90% of your market is women, you’re singing songs about falling in love with girls and how attracted you are to them. This was not me, and I felt like I was acting all the time. It was all just entertainment. There was a big part of me missing for half my life and I’m just now catching up.
HG: And now you’re helping other people for this campaign, which is exciting.
LB: Yeah! We’re celebrating the individuality of every woman… Styles change, you evolve in life, and it’s fun to find out who you are now and who you want to become. Being able to dress that way gives you that confidence.
HG: When you style someone else, are you trying to figure out what they want to say?
LB: Definitely, I wanna hear what you like because you know your style the best. If you told me you hated wearing orange, I would try to find something orange that fits so great you start to love orange. You gotta challenge yourself and always have something in your closet you wouldn’t normally wear.
HG: Do you have a current album you like to listen to when you’re getting ready?
LB: I have a getting ready playlist, it’s a lot of my Shazam tracks. I didn’t know that on your Apple music when you Shazam things, it automatically goes into a Shazam album. I’m like “this is amazing,” so I pretty much listen to that when I’m on flights, when I’m getting ready, and it’s just an eclectic mix of everything. A lot of the songs I find through TV or commercials. For some reason the Xanadu album came up on my playlist and I’m obsessed with it, Olivia Newton-John is amazing.
HG: Do you ever style your husband Michael (Turchin)?
LB: Ha, he is more likely to style me! He has really great taste, and we definitely have a little different style. We were fighting over this shirt I’m wearing, actually. My taste has gotten broader from dating him; he was always the one who really got me into crazy pops of color because he’s an artist. His art is what inspired me to wear really bright colors.
You can visit The Maxx You Project website for more information about Bass’ partnership with TJ Maxx.