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The hypermasculine image has continued to be important even after the supposed death of the clone in the late 1980s, when the image became associated with an older generation of pre-AIDS gay men. Gay men have interpreted and demonstrated their masculine looks through the celebration of muscular "gym" bodies and clothing that shows off those bodies, as well as the emergence of other masculine subcultural styles such as the gay skinhead.

The Fashion World

The myth of homosexual influence in fashion has a grounding in reality. In his book Hard to Imagine, Thomas Waugh argues that before the advent of gay liberation there was a "highly interconnected trans-Atlantic web of gay intelligentsia and denizens of high Bohemia," which included men such as Noël Coward, Cecil Beaton, George Hoyningen Huene, Jean Cocteau, and Horst, and which operated to define the image of glamor in the London and New York worlds of fashion, design, and show business.

Historians of the modern gay experience have documented the large proportion of gay men who have worked in creative fields (such as fashion and the theater) and service industries (such as restaurants and catering). Ross Higgins, in his study of gay men's involvement in fashion in Montreal, has shown that gay men were involved at all levels of the fashion industry there. The same is undoubtedly true throughout North America and Western Europe.

Throughout the twentieth century many of the top couture fashion designers were gay, even though social pressure called for them to keep their sexuality quiet if not secret. Indeed, many of the greatest names in twentieth-century fashion were gay or bisexual, including such figures as Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Norman Hartnell, Halston, Rudi Gernreich (who was one of the founding members of the first American homophile organization, the Mattachine society), Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, and Gianni Versace.

As designers took over from traditional tailors and gentleman's outfitters in men's fashion, there was a new gay influence. Because gay men were often more willing to experiment with new ideas, styles, and fabrics in clothing, designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier began to look at what was happening at street level and in gay clubs for ideas for their men's collections. Moreover, gay men bought clothes that were influenced by and styled towards a gay aesthetic, so their taste influenced fashion in both obvious and subtle ways.

The advent of the "new man" (as a media icon) in the 1980s was a result of men's reaction to major social changes brought about by a second wave of feminism, notably in the workplace. As a consequence it became acceptable for straight men to be interested in their appearance, clothes, and grooming products.

Increasingly men began to be portrayed as sexual objects in advertising. Calvin Klein's huge billboard advertisement for underwear is only the most famous example of this trend. New magazines aimed at a wider, heterosexual male consumer were published, but even here a gay influence could be perceived. It was not just that gay designers were creating the looks, but gay stylists, hairdressers, and photographers all exerted a fashion influence.

For example, stylist Ray Petri (featured in the Face I-D and Arena magazines) drew on looks that he saw in gay clubs to create a whole new style known as Buffalo.

The early 1990s saw the advent of "lesbian chic" in the fashion world. This manifested itself most visibly in a series of photographs in Vanity Fair in 1993, including a cover that featured lesbian singer k.d. lang cavorting with supermodel Cindy Crawford.

Today it is perfectly acceptable for straight men to be interested in fashion and to be obvious consumers of clothes, grooming products, and fashion or "lifestyle" magazines. Popular figures, such as footballer (and husband of former "Posh" Spice Girl, Victoria) David Beckham, are avid consumers of clothes and even acknowledge their debt to gay men's influence on fashion.


In an age where homosexuality is tolerated and to a great extent accepted in major urban centers, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish gay and straight men (and gay and straight women) on the basis of their dress. Acknowledging this, Elizabeth Wilson poses the following question: "Throughout the queer century we have disguised and revealed our deviant desires in dress, masquerade, disguise. Now that everyone's caught on in a postmodern world, what do we have to do to invent new [gay and] dyke style?"

Shaun Cole

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arts >> Overview:  Advertising and Consumerism

In the last decades of the twentieth century, purveyors of products and services have worked to identify and court a glbtq market with both positive and negative effects.

arts >> Amies, Sir Hardy

Official dressmaker to the Queen of England for 48 years, Sir Hardy Amies was known for his restrained, conservative, but beautifully tailored suits and dresses.

arts >> Armani, Giorgio

Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani made his name synonymous with sophisticated and elegant fashion, but even as he achieved spectacular success in business, he suffered the grievous loss of his partner from complications of AIDS.

arts >> Balenciaga, Cristóbal

The best known Spanish fashion designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga is regarded as the master of twentieth-century fashion.

arts >> Beaton, Sir Cecil

The celebrated British photographer Cecil Beaton described himself as a "terrible, terrible homosexualist," but may be best known for his relationship with Greta Garbo.

arts >> Clark, Ossie

Ossie Clark helped define the fashion mood of 1960s London.

literature >> Cocteau, Jean

An outspoken homosexual, Jean Cocteau was a prolific poet, novelist, critic, essayist, artist, and filmmaker.

literature >> Coward, Sir Noël

Although Coward's plays are about heterosexual couples, they are written in the language and spirit of camp and reject traditional domestic values.

arts >> Coward, Sir Noël

Accomplished playwright, actor, composer, and lyricist, Sir Noël Coward was also a singer and cabaret performer; he dominated the British stage between the world wars, then reoriented his career in the direction of America.

literature >> DeCaro, Frank

Funnyman Frank DeCaro has found success both in serious journalism as a fashion writer and editor and in comedy as a writer, performer, and radio talk show host.

arts >> Dior, Christian

French designer Christian Dior revitalized haute couture after World War II, creating luxurious designs characterized by a feminine classic elegance.

social sciences >> Ellis, Havelock

Henry Havelock Ellis--British psychologist and writer--was one of the first modern thinkers to challenge Victorian taboos against the frank and objective discussion of sex.

arts >> Ellis, Perry

American fashion designer Perry Ellis achieved spectacular success, based on his clean-cut, casual, yet often whimsical designs; but his career was cut short by his early death, rumored to have been the result of complications from AIDS.

arts >> Gaultier, Jean-Paul

Designer Jean-Paul Gaultier incorporates elements of gay style into his clothes that typically fuse classic fashion with unconventional elements and challenge traditional notions of masculinity.

arts >> Gernreich, Rudi

Associated particularly with the 1960s fashion revolution, Rudi Gernreich was one of the great modernists of fashion design, making his clothes futuristic both technically and stylistically.

arts >> Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)

The first international fashion superstar, Halston dressed and befriended some of America's most glamorous women.

arts >> Hartnell, Sir Norman

As official dress maker to Queen Elizabeth II, the late Queen Mother, and occasionally, Queen Mary, Sir Norman Hartnell clothed three generations of Britain's aristocracy.

literature >> Holleran, Andrew

The pseudonymous Andrew Holleran has placed his homosexuality at the center of his commercially and critically successful novels.

arts >> Horst, Horst P.

German-born American photographer Horst P. Horst, known most widely as simply "Horst," created some of the most memorable images of the mid-twentieth century.

arts >> Overview:  Interior Design

The career of interior design has been stereotyped as gay; although this stereotype often invites ridicule, it stems from a cultural perception that gay men may have special skills in the area of artistic design and fashion trends.

arts >> Klein, Calvin

American designer Calvin Klein has created an extraordinarily successful fashion empire through his simple and elegant designs and his skilful employment of provocative advertising campaigns that are saturated with homoeroticism.

literature >> Kramer, Larry

Controversial playwright, novelist, and essayist Larry Kramer has been a pioneer in the gay political response to AIDS in America.

arts >> lang, k. d.

Long before she came out, lesbians had made singer k.d. lang their own.

arts >> Long, William Ivey

Among the most prolific and respected of contemporary costume designers in America, William Ivey Long has always been openly gay in his professional life.

arts >> McQueen, Alexander

Fashion innovator and provocateur Alexander McQueen was the youngest designer to receive the coveted award "British Designer of the Year."

arts >> Robinson, Jack

Photographer Jack Robinson came to prominence as a result of the stunning fashion and celebrity photographs he shot for magazines in the 1960s, but he also created significant images that document the gay subculture of New Orleans in the 1950s.

arts >> Saint Laurent, Yves

One of the seminal fashion designers of our era, Yves Saint Laurent not only created a venerable fashion empire, but has also inspired many other designers.

arts >> Versace, Gianni

Renowned not only for his lavish tailoring and tight body-hugging garments but also for his exuberant personal taste, Gianni Versace never hid his homosexuality.


Ainley, Rosa. What's She Like. London: Continuum International, 1995.

Altman, Dennis. The Homosexualization of America: The Americanization of the Homosexual. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.

Blackman, Inge, and Kathryn Perry. "Skirting the Issue: Lesbian Fashion for the 1990s." Feminist Review 34 (Spring 1990): 67-78.

Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

Chenoune, Farid. A History of Men's Fashion. Paris: Flammirion, 1993.

Cole, Shaun. "Corsair Slacks and Bondi Bathers: Vince Man's Shop and the beginnings of Carnaby Street Fashion." Fashion Theory 6 (Summer 1997): 26-39.

_____. Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: Gay Men's Dress in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Berg, 2000.

_____. "Invisible Men: Gay Men's Dress in Britain, 1950-70." Defining Dress: Dress as Object, Meaning and Identity. Amy de la Haye and Elizabeth Wilson, eds. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999. 143-154.

Cohn, Nik. Today There are No Gentlemen: The Changes in Englishmen's Clothes Since the War. London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1971.

Davis, Madeline D., and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. New York and London: Routledge, 1993.

De la Haye, Amy, and Cathy Dingwall. Surfers, Soulies, Skinheads and Skaters: Subcultural Style from the Forties to the Nineties. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996.

Dyer, Richard. "Fashioning Change: Gay Men's Style." Stonewall 25: The Making of the Lesbian and Gay Community in Britain. Emma Healey and Angela Mason, eds. London: Virago, 1994. 178-188.

Fischer, Hal, Gay Semiotics. San Francisco: NFS Press, 1977.

Higgins, Ross. "A la Mode: Fashioning Gay Community in Montreal." Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body. Anne Bryden and Sandra Nieman, eds. Oxford: Berg, 1998. 129-161.

Levine, Martin P. Gay Macho: The Life and Death of the Homosexual Clone. New York and London: New York University Press, 1998.

Lorenz, Mitzi. Ray Petri Buffalo. London: Westzone, 2000.

McNeil, Peter. "Macaroni Masculinities. "Things 4.4 (December 2000): 373-404.

McDowell, Colin. The Man of Fashion: Peacock Males and Perfect Gentlemen. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Schuyf, Judith, "'Trousers with Flies!': The Clothing and Subculture of Lesbians." Textile History 24.1 (1993): 61-73.

Waugh, Thomas. Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from Their Beginnings to Stonewall. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Wilson, Elizabeth. "Dyke Style or Lesbians Make an Appearance." Stonewall 25: The Making of the Lesbian and Gay Community in Britain. Emma Healey and Angela Mason, eds. London: Virago, 1994. 167-177.


    Citation Information
    Author: Cole, Shaun  
    Entry Title: Fashion  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 11, 2010  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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