When and how did gay fashion trends become popular? Read on for a brief review of the history of fashion.
What is gay fashion? Where did it all begin, and where is it headed? It's something frivolous to contemplate.
In my fashion bible, 20,000 Years of Fashion, some of the first images of fashion began in the Neolithic Period, somewhere around 10,000 years ago. Cave drawings were found showing three female figures looking chic in fur A-line skirts. Whose idea were these fur skirts and who were the pioneering designers?
I have to imagine there were frumpy stone age women who nonchalantly wrapped themselves in skins and furs, and got it totally all wrong. Ten percent of the male population, the ones who wore their furs and loin cloths in a much more tailored fashion, judged them and decided it was time for a makeover- and Boom!- the fashion industry was born. Hair, makeup, and accessories soon followed. The alliance between gay men and fashion conscious females has been a constant since the dawn of fashion.
In the ancient world fashion wasn't just reserved for women as straight men got in on the action too. Figurative wall relief carvings from Mesopotamia show men turned out in flashy long skirts, jewelry, elaborately coiffed beards and eyeliner. In the seventeenth century, men totally glammed out in high heels, towering wigs, brocade, lace, feathers and jewels. I think of them as the pre-Prince generation. Dressing flamboyantly wasn't a sign of queerness, but of wealth and status. I can only imaging the queens of the time must have really pushed the envelope!
Dandyism was born at the end of the eighteenth century, a term given to the well-dressed metrosexuals and homosexuals of the time. Beau Brummel and Lord Byron led the way bringing a new attitude along with fastidiousness and romance.
The blurred lines between men and women's high fashion remained until the mid-nineteenth century when men started to wear simple, somber tailored clothes as Victorian conservatism began to suck the life out of the party. Women were suppressed into oxygen depleting corsets and wedding cake like dresses trussed up with scaffolding. It was just one of the ways men kept their women in cages-although at times gilded.
When men's fashion dumbed-down, and homosexual persecution rose, dressing flamboyantly became a sign of queerness and rebellion. Dressing in such a way could get you thrown in jail. Gay men had to wear things that would signal their availability to other men- a green carnation worn on one's lapel, suede shoes, etc.
The great wars brought about the hyper masculine man in uniform. Military style was all the rage. We all still get a little weak in the knees when we see a man in uniform! Everybody wants to bang them.
Gay fashion went pretty much underground until the Clone was born in the 1970's. Looking like a sissy was shunned, and dressing like rugged, masculine men became all the rage. The Village People were the poster children of the movement - cop, leather daddy, cowboy, soldier, construction worker, Indian - I was never sure where the Indian fit in, but I guess it gave Felipe an excuse to wear a feather bonnet. I never ran into men dressed as Native Americans at the Eagle.
The 1980's and 1990's started a new wave of men's fashion. Jean Paul Gaultier set the men's fashion scene on fire with trouser skirts, belts with dangling crucifixes' to the floor, and all kinds of fabulous exciting ways of crossing gender lines. Issey Miyake introduced Japanese origami looks while Commes des Garcon produced a whole understated church of cool. Prada raised nerdy ugliness to new heights. The list of inventive designers from these two decades goes on and on.
The evolution of men's fashion pretty much came to an end at the turn of the 21st century and has not changed much since. We saw the emergence of hip hop looks, and while I am probably showing my age, I don't consider gym clothes high fashion.
We have seen a recent revival of the Dandy, but in the form of the hipster. These looks evoke the dust bowl depression or the nineteenth century European immigrant, prized beards coiffed to perfection, old fashioned haircuts, and high water trousers. Some of today's gays have adopted a sissified version of this look.
Gay men have divided themselves into camps or cults- leather queens, daddies, twinks, muscle boys, bears, otters, and drag queens. It seems as though new categories are introduced every day with each donning a unique look.
The bottom line is this: you can usually pick a gay man out in the crowd as his fashion sense puts him in a league of his own. He uses his innate talent and pulls it all together in an effortless way shining above all others.
So, queen- let your light shine! Spread those peacock feathers and strut your stuff. It has been a long road.
I could go on and on, but we have designing of our own to do at Hello Sailor TMH. Stay tuned for new designs beginning early January and others to be rolled out in the coming few months! Be an informed crew member by joining our mailing list.
Don Bostick, Creative Director