Allie Byers

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Public relations seniors Gabby and Allie Byers take the “identical” part of their status as identical twins seriously. The sisters share a Facebook profile and the same class schedule, and sometimes, they even dream in sync.

The twins’ unconventional relationship serves as the subject for MFA graduate student Shelby Hadden’s new documentary, “Her & Me.”

Last year, while perusing the Internet in search of a subject for her documentary, Hadden came across a Daily Texan article about the Byers twinsThe identical twins choose to dress alike, share the same friends and schedule their entire lives together, including mealtimes and work shifts. Their story instantly intrigued Hadden, whose grandfather was also an identical twin.

“Everybody is fascinated by twins,” Hadden said. “People who aren’t twins want to know what it’s like. Everybody has a million questions.”

Hadden began filming her 15-minute documentary last September in hopes of providing some answers. She sought out interviews with sets of identical twins all over Austin. Hadden said she used interviews with the other twins in between scenes of the Byers to further explore issues of human connection, independence and family.

Although the Byers sisters said they occasionally face backlash for choosing to dress identically, they said they simply feel more comfortable living in sync. In the first two years of high school, the twins tried to lead separate lives, with different wardrobes and schedules, but they said it didn’t feel right.

“It may look kind of funny from the outside,” Allie said. “But once you start talking to us, we are super normal and sane.”

In an attempt to understand how and why the Byers sisters choose to live such closely paralleled lives, Hadden spent hours filming and researching. She filmed “little moments” — the twins playing mini golf with friends — and “big moments,” such as Thanksgiving with the Byers family. In order to capture the sisters’ more subtle moments of teamwork, Hadden filmed them picking their daily outfits and straightening the hard-to-reach parts of each other’s hair.

“It’s really amazing to be able to enter someone’s life and share their story,” Hadden said.

Hadden said she has been a documentary filmmaker since the fourth grade when she made her first film, “A Cat’s Life,” a comparison of the life of an indoor cat to an outdoor cat. She’s moved on to human subjects, but documentary work remains her passion because she said there is no predicting what will happen next.

”It’s a really fun process when you can’t anticipate the magic that you are going to find,” Hadden said. “You’re constantly learning.”

“Her & Me” was Hadden’s first experience working with a film crew. She said her director of photography and producer, MFA graduate student Tom Rosenberg and radio-television-film senior Avalon Gordon, respectively, helped ease this transition.

The crew began shooting in September and finished in December. “Her & Me,” fully funded from a successful Kickstarter campaign that wrapped up March 31, will premiere May 17 at the radio-television-film end-of-semester screening. Hadden said she plans to submit it to film festivals in the future.

After seeing the rough cut, the twins, who worried they weren’t interesting enough or that the film would portray them incorrectly, said “Her & Me” stays true to who they are.

“So far, people are reading it differently,” Hadden said. “It makes people look at their own relationships and ask themselves why they are so quick to judge [the twins].”

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Many students who spend time around the Moody College of Communication or West Campus are familiar with Allie and Gabby Byers, although they probably don’t know their names.

The Byers are identical twins who don’t leave home without wearing the same outfit, down to the buttons on their backpacks. What they leave home for is also identical — they take every class together and work the same internship. Both public relations students, the Byers schedule all of their classes together. 

“We like what we do,” Allie Byers said. “It’s our identity, together, and we enjoy it.”

The twins have spent all their time together since birth, and are identical except for a birth mark below Allie’s right eye. They complete each other’s sentences and have dressed identically for as long as they can remember, though their parents made it clear it wasn’t required by the time they were old enough to dress themselves. 

“They’ve sat us down and told us that we don’t have to dress alike or take the same classes,” the Byers said. “And we’ve always said, ‘No, we’re functional doing that.’”

After trying once before to have different schedules and dress independently in high school, they agreed that living in sync was the easiest option.

“It just turned into a lot more fighting over who gets to wear what,” the Byers said. “We just decided that it was a lot easier if we just wear the same thing.”

Every article of clothing the Byers own has a duplicate, neither of which are owned specifically by one sister or the other. One twin decides what to wear each morning, and the other matches the outfit.

This policy of sharing isn’t limited to their wardrobe.

“We split all of our meals,” the Byers said. “Even coffee. We just share, which helps a lot with funds.”

Questions such as “What is your favorite band?” are answered in unison, making the twins feel like one person. But, the more time spent with them, the more opportunity their idiosyncrasies have to surface.

“We eat our Oreos differently,” Gabby Byers said. “Allie likes to do the twist-and-lick, and I just go straight for the kill.”

Rachel Childress, longtime friend of the Byers, sees differences in the twins beyond their method of cookie consumption.

“When I first met them, it was hard to meet them as two separate people because they are so alike,” Childress said. “When I got to know them, though, I realized they are really different people. Gabby is more up-front about what she’s saying, and Allie is a little less in-your-face.”

Gabby also hates to drive, and Allie has a much stronger affinity for peanut butter. Allie takes great pride in being one minute older than her sister, though Gabby doesn’t let her forget that she stands a half inch taller at 4-feet-11-inches.

These subtle differences are not easily seen by passerby, leaving only their visually striking similarities to stir up attention on campus. This attention sometimes turns into criticism toward the sisters’ decision to live their lives conjunctively.

“People say ‘you need to grow up, you’re not in kindergarten anymore,’ and just hearing a lot on campus, ‘you’re in college, you need to grow up and be your own person,’” Allie Byers said. “Sometimes that hurts us because they just don’t understand.”

One student went as far as to take a photo of the twins and post it on Facebook with the caption “dressing alike in college, cool or not?” By the time a friend informed the Byers of the post, it had acquired over 50 likes and almost 40 comments.

“What we don’t understand is why people get so worked up about it and have to call us out,” Gabby Byers said. “I don’t understand how it’s hurting anyone. We definitely see it as, 'This is our identity and we’re just living it up.’”

Along with their efforts to dress alike, the functionality of their dating life is also a prevailing subject when peers scrutinize the Byers’ lifestyle.

“I think, because we have each other, we’re not looking for a companion right now,” the Byers said. “Also, we never really have much time to date, with work, school, and an internship.”

Many of these criticisms come to the Byers’ attention through street-side comments. Friends walking with the twins witness the negative attention.

“It happens a lot when people don’t really know that I’m with them, like if I’m walking behind them, and people start making fun of them,” Childress said. “[Allie and Gabby] are people, and sometimes people don’t realize that when they want to make fun or assume there’s something wrong with them to be so attached.”

As far as the sisters are concerned, the positive effects of their decisions outweigh the negatives, and they have been able to shrug off the criticism through the strength they gain from their bond.

“We have been together since before we were born, and we didn’t know any different,” the Byers said. “When we tried individualization, we didn’t feel like we were being ourselves. When we are together, when we dress alike and we take the same classes, we just enjoy the closeness. We’re actually more productive that way. We’re kind of one brain.”

Set to graduate in May 2015, Allie and Gabby have plans beyond college to start a public relations firm called Byers Partners. They plan to use their bond to their advantage until life manages to pull them apart.

“We definitely know it’s coming, and it’s always kind of a funny and scary thought for us because we wonder what will happen when one of us gets married or someone decides to move away,” Allie Byers said. “We’ll just deal with it when we get there.”