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Queer Fashion


Is there a dress code for the gay community? How is queer fashion different than fashion in general? Is there a difference at all? Is queer fashion about the clothes, or about the person wearing them? Is there a queer way to dress? or a recognizable queer aesthetic? Do queer designers make inherently queer clothes? Is rainbow the new black?


What is meant by queer fashion? In the media and at various public events, we are exposed to edgy clothing styles by such celebrities as RuPaul, Billy Porter, Lady Gaga, Troye Sivan, Todrick Hall, Janelle Monae, and others. Are these outfits exclusively queer?


Fashion, by definition, simply denotes the clothing styles and trends accepted by the majority of a culture at any given time. That said, style acceptation and expression can be different among smaller niche groups, whether it’s based on geographical location, age groups or other demographic segments. From a purely marketing perspective, queer fashion simply denotes fashion styles accepted and worn by the LGBTQ community at large. And certainly, within that community are smaller “fashion tribes” that subscribe to certain looks, or approaches to dress.

In terms of queer fashion, certain styles have emerged that have meaning beyond their functionality, or trends in general. Perhaps the most infamous is the pink triangle. Originally used by Nazis to identify queer people for the death camps, the pink triangle has now been adopted by queer people to represent queer identity. Additionally, the color pink has continued to be associated with gay culture, as well as lavender. After all, the color purple is the merging of blue and pink (typically associated with male and female), to suggest a more fluid gender and sexual identity. Other historical examples include suede shoes, shoelaces (rather than buckles), red neck ties and bleached hair. More recently, the idea of a queer haircut has emerged, especially for queer women.


Because queer people are typically forced to “come out” in a heteronormative society, part of this “coming out” process involves externalizing identity and eschewing clothing styles that previously felt constrictive. In a sense, queer people are subverting and/or rejecting the meaning of clothes given by a culture or community and investing clothes with new meaning. Subversion typically operates within accepted gender binaries. Examples might include a cis-female wearing a man’s suit, or a cis-male wearing makeup. Rejection predictably operates outside accepted gender binaries. Examples might include cis-males who keep a beard and wear makeup, or cis-females who wear a men’s suit and pair it with stiletto heels. These subversions and rejections can be evaluated in terms of societal norms on a whole, but can also be considered within the queer community itself. Certain styles of clothing, including butch or femme, denote the “tribe” a person considers themselves to be a part of, providing symbolic queer meaning that doesn’t exist in the greater fashion community.

Clearly, queer fashion operates as a subset of the larger fashion system. While queer style overlays with fashion trends in general, the queer community has historically adapted these trends to their own needs. While not as obvious, queer clothing can also be utilitarian, providing solutions to problems experienced primarily by queer people. And finally, clothes are given meaning by society in general, often with an intrinsic moral code built in. Queer people often must subvert or reject these meanings and find their own, often allowing for greater visibility, within subsets of the queer community.

[Source: Joshua Williams, Queer Cut, Nov 2018]


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Genderqueer Fashion

Genderqueer fashion is fashion among genderqueer people that goes beyond common style conventions that usually associate certain colors and shapes with one of the two binary genders. Genderqueer fashion aims to be perceived by consumers as a fashion style that focuses on experimenting garments based on people's different body shapes instead of following the restrictions given by gendered clothing categorization. Genderqueer style is characterized by the choice to not conform to gender norms assigned at birth. Its purpose is to redefine what is considered feminine and masculine.


This differentiation between gender norms through clothing became preponderant during the nineteenth century and it mainly involved different fabrics, trims and constructions for different genders. Those distinctions were meant to mirror gender roles in society as masculine clothing aimed to be practical while female fashion was perceived as purely aesthetic.

Therefore, there is a historical dimension to the association between fashion and gender identity. Nonetheless, gender expression today is recognized by the LGBTQ community as a very personal and subjective behavior. Genderqueer style is therefore intrinsically tied to identity, and as such, it includes a vast range of aesthetics.


According to contemporary criticism, gender becomes through fashion a form of body style which is a fundamental part of self-realization and presentation as it creates a bridge between individual identity and society. The genderqueer fashion style tries to recode this relation, although encountering several restrictions in the mass production of commonly binary goods.

There is an additional layer of risk for humans assigned male at birth who want to present feminine by wearing dresses and makeup, since the act itself is likely to attract unwanted attention. There's a material consequence to a male presenting feminine, and there's not a material consequence to a female presenting masculine. When a male wears lipstick, or puts on earrings, or wears a skirt, his entire reality shifts.


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Queer Fashion Changing Society


Queer style is systemically rooted in gender nonconformity and intrinsically tied to our identities. It dismantles limiting style rules that have been methodically employed as a means of symbolically and literally perpetuating restrictive binaries and oppressing freedom of expression. Queer style is a fashion revolution, one of the most stylish forms of protest of our generation. Fashion has historically been political, particularly for marginalized groups. From the flapper dress to the Zoot suit to Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner gracing the covers of mainstream glossies, how communities and individuals express themselves through clothing can be a form of visual activism, even when that may not have been the original intent.


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The LGBTQ community is at the forefront of revolutionizing the way in which we look at garments in relation to our gender performance and expression. Queer style exemplifies the basic principle that style is a personal, curated, artistic reflection of who we are on the inside, and by fearlessly breaking norms, we have created a social movement that enables every member of our society to benefit from less restrictive, less oppressive ways of expressing ourselves.


Of course, the fashion industry is always looking for new markets and trends from which to generate profits, so queer style is "in" right now from an economic perspective. Fashion designers and media are feverishly trying to capitalize on the “gender neutral” and “gender ambiguous” trend. As noted in many fashion articles, “gender lines are blurring.”


This fashion trend features designers with gender-free labels capitalizing on fashion’s gender blur, the narrowing of the sexual divide bent on eroding the once rigid demarcation between conventionally feminine and masculine clothes. Some fashion experts attribute this phenomenon to a revival of ’60s and ’70s unisex trends, and give some credit to the growing visibility and success, both socio-politically and economically, of queer style.


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Though androgyny is a hot trend in mainstream fashion, and though the majority of start-up “queer style” brands are focusing on producing masculine attire, it must be noted that androgyny and masculinity do not fully represent queer style. Feminine queer fashion is radical and deserves space in the queer style narrative too, because it challenges the gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, age, and size beauty norms set forth by the fashion industry. Feminine queer style is all about reclaiming and redefining femininity. In some contexts, feminine queer style is being unapologetically feminine in response to pressures from queer-normativity and heteronormativity to present more masculine. In other contexts, it is about dressing how you feel inside and walking with pride in spite of potentially experiencing street harassment or violence.


Irrespective of whether the fashion industry recognizes queer style as profitable, legitimate, or trendy, queer style will remain political and will continue to flourish as a social movement.


[Source: Anita Dolce Vita / Advocate]


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Queer Fashion: More Than Just a Trend

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Dressing Beyond the Binary



Femme One Day, Stud the Next Day


The more queer women recover from the femme/stud dichotomy, we are discovering a love for more fluid presentations in fashion.


A lot of lesbians and bi women have been categorized as “lipstick lesbians,” “femmes,” “studs,” or “stems” based largely on their fashion choices. Some people take pride in their labels, while others believe labels should be left for clothes. Either way, style isn’t necessarily always about dressing girly or butch. You can be girly or butch if you want to, but you don’t have to be. Some people find comfort in switching back and forth between traditionally masculine and feminine clothing. It can be a freeing and fun way to experiment with your wardrobe.


A dash of dapper.  Buttoned shirt and tapered pants/shorts. This is a classic tomboy outfit that’s perfect for any time of year, especially in the summer with short sleeved cotton shirts. If you’re feeling a bit bolder, definitely go for vibrant prints in your buttoned shirts. Buttoning the shirt up all the way up (top-button swag) can also help elevate your look. White chucks or any other sneakers pair perfectly with this outfit too.



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Colorful/patterned suits. Fitted suits are already a popular dapper trend, but reaching for a brighter color like red can definitely make you stand out. Different patterns like tartan or plaid can help you change up your style too. Bralettes and suits both match really well and are a different way to dress up. Three-piece suits are another classic.


A Touch of Femme. Midi-dresses and oversized shirts are comfortable in length and have a certain street style look when worn with sneakers. These outfits are simple, because the dress or shirt is the whole look. There’s also a large variety in the kinds of prints, patterns, and colors you can choose. If you have white sneakers especially, any dress can easily match with them.


Comfy rompers or jumpsuits. A summertime favorite for a reason, rompers and jumpsuits are also cohesive outfits that don’t require a lot of effort. If you stick to cotton or linen fabrics, you’ll be both stylish and comfortable. Feel free to play around with textures and patterns like chambray or stripes to fit your specific look too. These outfits can be paired with sneakers or sandals.



Keeping it Casual. Ripped Jeans and T-shirt. When it comes to casual outfits, ripped jeans and a T-shirt are a staple. Not only are they comfortable, but they’re also edgy in a subtle way. They’re super versatile too. You can dress them up with a formal top or formal shoes like oxfords, or you can keep it more casual with a baseball tee or simple colors. Any kind of shoes work with this outfit, but if you’re looking for a style upgrade, go for boat shoes or patterned slip-ons


Athleisure. When all else fails and you’re staring at your closet like you have nothing to wear, athleisure is the perfect go-to. Not only is it a popular trend, but you can wear this kind of clothing in any way you want. You can make it your own by choosing bright or neutral color schemes. Aside from color, you can mix patterns and go for a baggier or looser fit too. It’s a really stylish way to be comfortable.


[Source: Qwear / DNA Co.]


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Queer Fashion: More Than Just a Trend

Androgynous looks are being embraced by the mainstream fashion world, from male-inspired clothing for women to gender-bending models on the runway. But queer fashion isn’t just for looks. It’s a much larger social movement.

Anita Dolce Vita (DapperQ’s editor-in-chief) said that, while queer fashion is undefinable because it is specific to the individual, it is “systemically rooted in gender non-conformity.  It is all about breaking gender binaries and redefining femininity, masculinity and everything in between and outside of."


Leon Wu (founder and CEO of Sharpe Suiting) also joined the conversation and said queer fashion is not a niche market. “In being queer designers, we have a specific look or a specific way we want our clothes to fit,” Wu said. “But I’m hearing also from cisgender folks as well as heteronormative folks that they like our clothes and they want to be able to embody masculinity and femininity on their own terms as well.”

Vita also pinpointed a subcategory of queer fashion for femme-identifying women who are “reclaiming and redefining femininity” in an attempt to challenge society’s constricting praise of masculinity.  “Femme fashion to me is just unapologetically femme [in its response to] pressures from queer-normativity and heteronormativity to present more masculine and more androgynous,” Vita said.

While androgynous styles have been embraced by mainstream culture in the past, Vita hopes this time around it’s also reflecting people’s changing attitudes about gender identity and expression. “Queer fashion is not just a trend, but it is a lasting social movement and it’s a social movement that benefits everyone,” she said.

[Source: Kira Brekke, Huffington Post, Feb 2016]



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