Fashion + Sexuality

A short history of queer fashion

It’s LGBTQIA history month so there could be no better time to discuss the modern history of queer fashion.

In this article we’ll take a look at a revolution that has pushed existing style boundaries. One that epitomises gender nonconformity and concludes there are no fashionable limits. Queer fashion allows individuals to express their beliefs through clothes in an entirely unique and fun way. And it’s something that ought to be celebrated.

The history of queer fashion from the 1970s to the new millennium

The initial emergence of minor homosexual subcultures was entirely secretive as during the 1700s homosexuality was illegal in Europe. Because of the negative connotations attached to homosexuality, secret dress codes enabled gay men and women to classify each other in the public eye. In this era, and those following, clothing represented a secret language where individuals could speak and connect with each other during times of societal oppression.

During the 1920s, with homosexuality still frowned upon, women began to adopt menswear traditions in an attempt to question the long existing patriarchy. Drag balls, originating in New York, were an underground LGBT subculture. They offered a “safe space” where individuals could wear the opposite gender’s clothes without shame or ridicule.

Gay couturiers such as Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain and Cristóbal Balenciaga, used their fashion outlets to not only represent their closeted sexual orientation, but to experiment with cross-boundary, transgressive styles.

During the 1950s-60s we saw more women beginning to wear trousers. Men were also becoming just as interested in fashion, leading to the rise in androgyny.

Queer fashion from the nineties to the noughties

Queer fashion began to make more frequent catwalk appearances in the 1990s. French designer Jean Paul Gaultier created the famous conical bra corset dress and made skirts for men. British designer Kim Jones – current head of menswear at Louis Vuitton – was a regular at London gay clubs. His experiences of the scene have been reflected in his collections. Jones helped pave the way from London’s 90s gay club culture to the height of modern men’s fashion.

The millennium saw an emergence in the continuing push against pre-existing gender boundaries. With the entirely justified need for the rise of diversity and inclusivity, along with the redefining LGBTQIA principles, more and more incumbent and contemporary designers were incorporating queerness into their brand ethos.

During the 2000s, designers like Rick Owens, JW Anderson and Charles Jeffrey were all promoting gender fluidity. They played with gender – creating frilly, feminine boob tubes and thigh high boots for men.

This was an important time for queer fashion. It wasn’t just fashion designers coming out – which once was seen as forbidden. Their collections were now representing their sexuality. They were a positive influence on the world, presenting their customers with an opportunity to understand this new fashion direction.

In agreeance with this is, Valerie Steele – Fashion Institute of Technology museum director and chief curator – who believes “LGBTQ people have had a big impact on fashion for a long time, and it’s not by chance’.

Androgyny in fashion

Previously, androgynous fashion has been shamefully painted for its correlation with feminist and LGBTQIA groups. However, nowadays, more and more fashion designers and brands are marketing themselves as genderless, which depicts the main idea of androgynous fashion. It’s a style that is avoiding typical gender stereotypes.

One designer who has paved the way in this movement is Yohji Yamamoto, a Japanese avant-garde fashion designer who creates unisex, genderless pieces. During an interview with the Business of Fashion, Yamamoto told how he found his niche as a designer.

When he was working with his mother at her tailoring shop, he described the customers as tall, gorgeous and feminine – which he did not like. During the fittings all he could think was “I want to make some kind of a mannish outfit for women”. 

Looking ahead to queer fashion’s future

Fashion’s past decade has depicted more inclusivity but queer fashion still has a long way to go. The masses of collections, whether it be in store, online, at fashion shows or in the fashion press, tends to cater for heterosexual style.

Apart from the aforementioned designers, there still remains a significant gap in the market for more designers to produce non-binary clothing.

This market offers exponential growth. The lack of designers understanding the need for queer fashion, allows existing already doing it, to profit off the concept of blurring gender boundaries.

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