Fashion can mean something to different people. Some people use it for public decency while others use it as a way to express themselves.
Fashion has always been considered a mean of expression and freedom and no one can deny that. Each person has his own fashion preference and what kind of clothes he likes to wear or what aesthetic he feels the most comfortable in. For so many in the queer community, fashion is a powerful tool to express themselves without revealing their identity. Fashion is revolutionary. Fashion is a personal image. Fashion is also a language.
Some people feel the most comfortable wearing baggy clothes while others, their comfort is wearing something chic and daring and most importantly, expressive.
We cannot deny that fashion is queer. It’s the unspoken truth that nobody talks about.
But, Before going any further, what does Queer mean?
The term “queer” literally means “odd, peculiar” which was used negatively to describe the LGBTQ+ community but nowadays, it is used as an umbrella for sexual and gender minorities. In a simpler way, gays, lesbians, transgender, bisexual, and cisgender are the people who are considered to be a part of the queer umbrella. They either have different sexual preferences or are the ones who have fought through to create an identity as another gender.
Associating the LGBTQ+ Community to fashion is not something new. Queerness has always been rooted in fashion for ages. From Christian Dior to Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent and Jil Sander and many of the world’s greatest designers have been identified as LGBTQ.
For the queer community, in a time where being gay was illegal (and still is in many countries) and considered a mental illness , they tried to find a way to detect each other without being distinguished by a homophobic society which is, communicating through items that could be used to signal sexual orientation. These symbols of identity often took the form of a specific type or color of accessory. The signifier at the time of the Oscar Wilde trials in the 1890s was the green carnation. Indeed, the color green had been associated with the effeminate and mollies.
Through an interview by Daze Digital with the editor of the book "A queer Fashion History: From the closet to the catwalk" Valerie Steele, tried to explain the complex notion of the relation between Queer and Fashion.
In order to explain the relationship between the LGBTQ community and fashion, she said:
“It’s complicated because it goes way back further than we’d thought. It involves the whole history of oppression and secrecy surrounding gay sexuality, which was illegal for many years and regarded as a mental illness. So I think gays and lesbians had to be hyper-aware of how to read and analyze clothes so as to dress in a way that would allow them to communicate with other people but not to be recognized by a homophobic society."
She then added that the time frame was:” Certainly as early as the 1920s but probably sooner than that. Gays were already interested in fashion in the 18th and 19th centuries, though we don’t have the names of explicit couturiers. It was all about the desire to express oneself in a way other than verbally and the desire to create an alternative world of beauty.
To give a more correct example of how the queer community influenced fashion, let’s give the example of “trousers”.
After the end of World War 2, there was a rise in the number of women adopting more masculine clothes, trousers instead skirts. Although there were women at that time who wore pants like when engaged in physical exercise, it was usually worn out of the public eye. Most women usually wore long skirts that felt heavy, looked bulky, and limited their range of motion. Some women wanted to wear pants for purely practical reasons, such as for comfort and ease of movement. For others, the freedom to wear pants was tied to the women’s rights movement. Although in some countries wearing trousers was not considered a crime, women were ridiculed and shamed by society. “For example, newspapers reported that women wearing the infamous Bloomer costume of the 1850s were arrested in New York City,” Sara Idacavage, fashion historian and instructor at Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute, told HuffPost.
To finish off, we’re going to share with you our favorite Queer Fashion Icons of all times:
Billy Porter : The Pose star has been blowing the red carpet for a while with his incredible style and daring gender fluid looks from wearing beautiful gowns and chic colors to wearing custom designer red carpet clothes.
Freddie Mercury : Freddie has been considered as one of the most influencing cultural and fashion icons. Being the lead singer of Queen, he stood out not only with his voice but also through wearing some wild looks and incredible unique suits. His success allowed him to wear some of the most memorable looks in music and in fashion history.
Marlene Dietrich : Marlene Dietrich was one of Hollywood’s first queer fashion icons. She loved fashion and was a huge fan of Dior but that didn’t stop her from having her unique fashion style at that time. She almost always wore a hat no matter what was the ensemble while mixing between menswear and her luxe outfits making her style androgynous.
Photography: Zayene Bechir