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Conspicuous Waist: Queer Dress in the "Long Eighteenth Century"
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Media Studies, Fashion Studies.
2013 (English)In: A Queer History of Fashion: from the closet to the catwalk / [ed] Valerie Steele, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013, 71-107 p.Chapter in book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Why do many young gay men wish to appear thin, rich and pretty? What are the precursors for this way of being in the world? Why does society blame gay male designers for extreme female fashion trends? How do persecuted minorities manage their identity via clothing and fashionable looks? These are big questions indeed. They can be tested in part through an historical overview and a series of case studies.

This chapter will examine the tantalising but difficult hypothesis that ‘gay style actually sets trends. It’s what straight people take fashion from’. Richard Martin proposed this in his short article ‘The Gay Factor in Fashion’ in Esquire Gentlemen, 1993, when he argued that gay male influence in the refining and defining of masculine style ‘by dint of their attraction to their own gender’ had never been more pronounced than in the street style of that period: ‘Straight suburban males in recent years have absorbed gay style signatures, including earrings and bandannas, and are now often indistinguishable from the gay clones of the 1970s... Christopher Street is our sartorial Ellis Island’.

But ‘gay fashion’ before that point was often far from butch. This overview begins with the development of sodomitical subcultures in early-eighteenth century western Europe. Much is known of their fashionable taste including extreme colours, clashing colours and patterns, and sometimes cross-dressing. The chapter goes on to examine the function and tenacity of the aristocratic dress codes of the fin-de-siècle dandy which were adopted by numerous queer men until the 1960s.We still see this being played out in the generational conflict in the film The Boys in the Band (1970).  These Wildean strategies survive, what Alan Sinfield in his The Wilde century : effeminacy, Oscar Wilde, and the queer moment (1994) called the constellation of ‘effeminacy, leisure, idleness, immorality, luxury, insouciance, decadence and aestheticism’. As well as suggesting difference and excess, aristocratic dress codes might also have been adopted as the suggestion of wealthy assurance could excuse eccentric behaviour considered ‘other’. The corollary is the inter-war mannish lesbian such as the artist Gluck, whose eccentric but purposeful adoption of male dress in public was a privilege of her great wealth.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. 71-107 p.
Keyword [en]
eighteenth-century fashion, queer fashion, macaroni men, appearance industries
National Category
Art History
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-99989ISBN: 9780300196702OAI: diva2:690253
EU, European Research Council, 09-HERA-JRP-CI-FP-030
Available from: 2014-01-23 Created: 2014-01-23 Last updated: 2015-03-15Bibliographically approved

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