Fashion + Sexuality

LGBTQ+ Fashion: Appreciation or Appropriation?

It’s LGBTQIA History Month. Expect to see brands jumping on the bandwagon, claiming to drive forward LGBTQ+ Fashion and what they might call “inclusive” collections. They’ll be slapping the rainbow colours all over their social medias, store windows and staff.

Once, maybe twice a year, the fashion industry appropriates the LGBTQ+ community (if they’re feeling generous), plastering images and symbols pretending they are in full support of the LGBTQ+ community. But where are the models on the runways or in the advertising?

Is the LGBTQ+ community represented in fashion?

We all know the fashion industry is far from perfect. With scandal after scandal about which designer did what, which model wasn’t featured on this year’s runway… the usual unthoughtful things that frequently appear on our phone screens or in the newspapers.

But let’s take a moment to think. Amongst all this chatter, all the negativity surrounding the fashion industry and all the anger of the public towards it… just think.

How often does ‘underrepresentation for the LGBTQ+ community’ appear as headline news?

A Snapshot of LGBTQ+ Fashion

For many people in the LGBTQ+ community, fashion and beauty are their outlet. They represent a freedom of expression that was, and continues to be, fought so hard for. We can easily name more gay designers than heterosexual ones, yet there is still appropriation of the LGBTQ+ community in the fashion industry.

As early as the 18th century, LGBTQ+ people used fashion to be their voices, to make change and be a safe space. Through to today, queer aesthetics have been shaped in the fashion industry. Designers such as Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, all express their queer roots in their fashion. But why isn’t this talked about much? 

 Of course, across the years, fashion trends have been associated specifically with the LGBTQ+ community. Take dandyism, androgyny and drag as some examples. If anything, today, 21st century designers are showing LGBTQ+ fashion the most with the increase in unisex fashion.

Take for example Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt, designers of the brand Art School. They focus on redefining the limitations of ready-to-wear gendered fashion and aims to celebrate idiosyncratic individuality of queer style. For the past 3 years, Art School have shown true queer fashion in the most popular, well-known publication of fashion ‘London Fashion Week’.

They use trans, gay and lesbian models on their runways, showing that there is no need for exclusion in the fashion industry. Every body is beautiful, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation is. 

Ru Paul: The Drag Race is On

One of the biggest pioneers of queer fashion is the one and only Ru Paul. Men dressed as women from as early as Shakespeare’s plays in the 16th and 17th century, however, it wasn’t until the early 20th century in American Culture where female impersonation as a performance was introduced via the genre known as ‘Vaudeville’.

Ru Paul’s fame began in the 90s and since then he has been an icon for many people in the LGBTQ+ community and even people outside of the community seem to love him, with over 6.5 million Brits watching the UK version of ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race’ this year.

Through his programme, Ru Paul has shown the LGBTQ+ community in all its beauty and he’s shown that fashion and beauty is a beautiful way of expressing yourself, whether you are gay, trans or even straight. 

As Ru Paul once said: “Identity is a joke”. No one needs to stick to a certain fashion just because they might be seen as a girl or a boy. Fashion can represent any part of you. So, there’s a big F U from all of us to the stereotypes of who can and can’t wear what when it comes to fashion.

What can we do to move LGBTQ+ up the Fashion Agenda?

For every person in the LGBTQ+ community, their experience of underrepresentation or misrepresentation in the fashion industry is different. Everyone has their opinion on whether LGBTQ+ colours used by fashion brands during pride or history month is appropriation or appreciation.

Regardless of how far we’ve come, there’s still a long way to go. So what can we do to keep moving forward? We can use our voices.

Consumers are making big changes to the fashion industry simply by speaking up. Sustainability is rising quickly up the agenda, the use of fur is in decline and there’s the slightest bit more inclusivity on the runways – no more Victoria secret fashion show.

We can make change happen. So let’s continue to show our awareness and support of the LGBTQ+ community in fashion. The drag race is on!

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