The ladies of The L Word spent most of Season One in loose-fitting hip-grazing jeans, undersized t-shirts, ribbed tank tops with cord choker/necklaces, and button-up shirts with collars more expansive than an eagle’s wings. Bette paired the final item with power lesbian blazers. Let the record show I wore those exact same three outfits myself. Also, fun fact: L Word stylist Cynthia Summers got Bette’s shirts from European menswear retailers and cut them down to fit Jennifer Beals, because stateside collars just weren’t quite big enough.
This style was refined over the years as each character evolved into specifically styled archetypes. Max initially did a midwestern butch look, then dressed like a skateboarding baby dyke who likes the beach in snapbacks and graphic tees and THEN did a lumberjackish thing with a generous beard. Shane was the edgy androgynous rocker, mixing skinny ties with ripped-up designer jeans. Alice was a roving reporter — sweats in the sheets, modern retro femme in the streets. Everybody got their look.
But we’re not here today to talk about “fashion.” We’re here today to talk about ART, Bette Porter’s favorite topic. Art comes in many forms. Sometimes, it comes on the bodies of MORTAL HUMANS. Some of these looks are actually cute, but most of them are bad.
As Bette Porter once wanted to tell Franklin, “Great art is a response to small-minded corporate fascists trying to impose their ignorance on the sheep-like masses.”
“this is not a shirt marina”
— Kayla Kumari, half-shirt expert
30. Lactose Intolerant
Episode 606 of The L Word was stunning on every level, if every level was a floor you passed on an elevator ride to the innermost circle of hell, after strangling yourself with Shane’s pom-pom necklace.
29. Put a Bird On It
This is foreshadowing for this:
Carmen: Oh, listen to this. Monogamy is common among birds.
Shane: That’s great ‘cause I love birds.
Carmen: It is the practice of having a single mate during a period of time. Does that… mean anything to you?
Shane: I’m willing to try. Is that not enough? I’m willing to try something that doesn’t come naturally to me, and that I don’t understand but am willing to try.
Carmen: Mmhmm. Right. Birds, Shane, I’m talking about a god-damn-fucking bird. Asking you to be as civilized as a god-damn-fucking bird.
28. “From a wardrobe point of view, she was overdressed” – L Word Stylist Cynthia Summers, Re: Papi
If there is one common idea uniting everything this character said, did and wore on “The L Word,” it is “ill-advised.” Cartoonish Latin Lothario “Papi,” played with admirable investment by Indian actress Janina Gavankar, brings to mind the similarly ill-advised 1994 film “Don Juan DeMarco,” starring a then-strapping and decidedly Caucasian Johnny Depp as a Mexican ladykiller in a Zorro mask convinced he is Don Juan De Marco, the greatest lover in the world. He must be rescued from this delusion by a bloated Marlon Brando, who ultimately finds himself as charmed by Don Juan as the ladies Don Juan seduces under candlelight and on sandy beaches. Papi donned the lesbian version of a white pirate shirt — a vest with nothing underneath — in order to get heterosexually heartbroken alcoholic Kit Porter totally wasted in hopes of inspiring misandry and subsequently seducing her. The world did not need Don Juan De Marco, it did not need this scene, and it did not need this vest or this chain wallet or these low-slung Dickies. But lo, we got it just the same.
27. The Blanket Shirt Period
A good way to hide your pregnancy from your ex is to make a dramatic shift in personal style, like from wearing shirts and pants to just throwing on a blanket and going to work.
26. The Father, The Son and The Holy Most
This is literally three twelve-year-old dykes who don’t know they’re gay yet, after being told to “dress nice” by their parents. But as grown-ups! This show is a gift.
25. Shake It, Don’t Bake It
Here, the green represents springtime, a chance for renewal, or finding new growth in old places. Contrast it with the giant lavender flowers, aggressively bursting from Bette’s chest like something Angelica made in pre-school and gave to her mother, who now must wear it because that’s what motherhood is.
24. Who Wears Short Shorts
“perhaps these were only iconic to me, personally, but jessica capshaw’s short shorts were my god so short.”
– Kayla Kumari, Short Shorts Expert
23. Key Club
Once, on a visit to the Showtime offices, I had the chance to hold this Velour Piano-Themed Off-Shoulder Jumpsuit in my own two hands. It gave me powers, like lotion.
22. Put That Romper On Your Clipboard
This romper represents freedom and homosexuality, two concepts that make me feel incredible pride.
21. Alice’s No Good Very Bad Hat-and-Vest Situation
Lesbians invented leather jackets. But that doesn’t mean we get to deconstruct them.
20. It Was Ms Peabody With The Choker In The Ballroom
Helena purchases Tina a $5,000 evening gown for the Peabody dinner and all Bette has is a dress that doubles as a murder weapon.
19. Let Me Be Your Tablecloth, I’m In Love With You
This is what happens in children’s books when you go to the attic and find your grandmother’s old doll wrapped up in 56 plastic bags and then, using magic, you bring that doll to life. This is what the doll is wearing.
18. You Get Half a Suit and You Get Half a Suit
To think that two human women could make the same fashion mistake at the same dinner party! This is the way, it’s the way that we live.
17. Helena’s Finger Fuck You
“The massive stone ring Helena’s wearing when she wipes her mouth after going down on pregnant Tina is iconic.”
— Kayla Kumari, Mommi Expert
16. Late-Stage Capitalism
Jenny’s orange shirt functions as commentary on the retrograde position of women in the “gig economy,” while also communicating her name: Jenny.
15. Impressions in Spring
I’m being serious now: this trio of outfits is picture-perfect. Pinks, blues, greens. A masc dyke throwing a 65-year-old white man’s golfing vest over a whisper-thin cotton tee. Tonya’s eyewear is bizarre, but also forgivable: it matches her headband. (Her headband!) Alice’s scarf: is it covering a hickey? I don’t remember. Regardless, she’s wearing a smart skirt, and there is a tiny bow on each sleeve. Handcuff me to your bed already, all of you except Tonya.
14. Impressions in Winter
Steeped in Nordic/Whistler motifs and strategies, this beautiful illustration illustrates a family come together for a winter wedding, shedding ambient homophobia in favor of matching red jackets, rosy smiles, and a stalwart belief that love is love. Hark, what lurks ahead! What dangers to the heart are so close, and yet so impossible to imagine.
13. Buttons, Baby
This look is commentary on the position of traditional folk arts in modern lesbian culture and a direct rebuttal to Hobby Lobby’s refusal to provide its female employees with birth control coverage.
12. My Kid Could Paint That Shirt
There’s no hierarchy of the elements here. This shirt was a choice.
11. Jodi Jumpsuit
“I do love how they managed to make it very seamless and sexy when she and bette started having sex in the sculpture studio,” L Word Season Four expert and passionate Jodi fan Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya told me, “and the jumpsuit had to be partially taken off when we all know that IRL that would have been very awkward and not smooth because, while functional for sculpture-making and lite construction, UTILITY JUMPSUITS ARE NOT PRACTICAL FOR SEX. And yet The L word makes it seem very practical for sex. More lies The L Word taught me.”
10. Carpenter a la Overalls
“Who wears overalls when conducting an affair? Lesbians.”
— Kayla Kumari, reluctant expert on other people’s Lesbian Affairs
9. Classy Broads
I think about this look a lot. Classic, streamlined, elegant. A beautiful dress to ruin your life in.
8. Savage x Marina
If your ex is gonna show up as part of a surprise live presentation from a clueless male director for a musical adaptation of the insufferable script you wrote about your relationship with your ex, the least she can do is show up in this outfit, surrounded by extras wearing technicolor latex lingerie and volcanic levels of eyeshadow.
7. Twinning: A Journey
Note, firstly, that twinning never occurs within a healthy, successful relationship. Rather, the identical exteriors stand in sharp contrast to conflicted interiors.
First we have Bette and the carpenter, arrested for sticking it to the man, having a torrid affair while Bette’s partner mourns her miscarriage, about to have very intense phone sex, but in person. They’re wearing a (very sexy!) prison uniform here. Being in uniform is low-level twinning because it is involuntary, but visually the effect is the same.
Next: Dana and Tonya’s engagement party directly after Tonya murdered Mr. Piddles. Dana has been bulldozed into this relationship by Tonya, who I realize in retrospect was predatory and emotionally abusive. Sorry to get dark in this light room, but ladies: it’s true.
Next: Alice, considering an affair following her current girlfriend, Tasha, pointing out some deficiencies in Alice’s approach to life. Considering an affair with the girl who killed her mother with a sock full of rocks, no less.
Finally: Bette and Jodi. All day twinning. This is the breakup that never ends, it just goes on and on my friends. Some people started breaking up not knowing how it ends, and they’ll keep on breaking up forever ’cause they’re lesbians.
6. Jenny’s Swimming Dress
Jenny wearing a cupcake dress and black tights and a velvet wrap and an ambiguous head-wrap to hang out with a bunch of dykes in board shorts and bikinis they bought in the ’90s (because they hate shopping for swimsuits) and then jumping into the pool with the dress still on: iconic.
5. Golden Devil
“You know me as Dawn Denbo,” says Dawn Denbo to a crowd of boiling lesbians. “But tonight, I’m only known as Miami Vice.” She continues: “Over here, we have my Lover Cindi. But tonight, you’ll call her “The Viper.”” Mere moments later, she breaks her own rules and asks who wants to fight “her Cindi.” Typical Miami Vice.
4. Full Body Scan
Leisha Hailey (Alice): Oh, you were in the worst mood that day because of those pants.
Erin Daniels (Dana): I hated those pants.
Leisha: Those pants were so bad!
Erin: Those pants were so ugly.
Kate Moennig (Shane): It’s something my grandmother would wear.
Oddly, I believe pants of this nature are in style now.
3. Jenny’s Wedding Dress
Jenny wore this outfit for … a week? First she wore it at home, for a little afternoon delight with Marina:
She threw coach’s jacket on for a little elopement journey to Las Vegas:
After Tim left her alone in the hotel room, she wore it while hitchhiking, writing terrible poems, and eating weed brownies with strangers in the backseat of their car:
She was still wearing it when she eventually came home. Please keep in mind that wearing the same pair of tights and underwear for this many days in a row is going to make your situation a little… shall we say… spicy? At this point, Tim had received the letter she sent post-trip and post-drug-trip, so some time has passed:
Somehow, walking from Tim’s house to The Planet was the moment Jenny really started to look tore up:
2. Jenny’s Garbage Bag Dress
1. Shane’s Legendary Leather Lothario Vest
“Time has been unkind to both Alice’s armband tattoo and everything Shane wore,” declares an article on The L Word published on yahoo.com, “especially a leather waistcoat — which were never really ‘in’ to begin with.” True enough. But it will last forever “in” our hearts.
I’ve been saying that Jenny’s pink sweater, jean shirt, black tights should be in a Smithsonian for years and I feel so affirmed
Shane’s leather waistcoat
A bit lower than my heart.
oh gosh this is perfection.
I am sitting in my office at my brand new job just CACKLING with my new officemate (also gay).
I was just about to say that the only saving grace of me not knowing I was gay during this era is that I avoided a closetful of vests-with-nothing-under-them outfits – and then remembered that my grade 11 yearbook photo was just that, with a choker.
Pics or it didn’t happen
I will try to track it down just for you :P
OH MY GODDDD
Thank you for this
Chandra, you win all the style competitions. Who do I ask to write a Style Thief: Chandra
You looked awesome! Very late 90s early 00s!
I have a primary school pic with me wearing denim overalls and two braids in my hair. Also very smalltown 90s….
This comment has been removed as it is in violation of Autostraddle’s Comment Policy. Repeat or egregious offenders will be banned.
Last time I checked Chandra (and everyone else for that matter) can identify as whatever she pleases whenever she does and owes about minus zero fucks to anyone about it.
*crosses arms over chest*
Mind taking your cyber bullying to a male dominated corner of the interwebs?
P.S.:If your intention was not to cyber bully, please strongly rethink your wording and intent in your commentary henceforth.
My identity is none of your business. For someone who likes to accuse me of “stalking” and “attacking” you sure do seem to make a habit of it yourself
Welp, now you’re just outright lying. FTR I’m not bisexual (you made that incorrect assumption) and never used “bad words against lesbians”.
@alarae This person is harassing me
This is the content I come to the internet for!
This is a thing of beauty, Riese
Very young, very closeted Queer Girl was very confused when Ilene Chaiken showed us Shane in that leather vest and essentially told us that’s what a butch lesbian was
Well I cackled
This article is perfect. Thank you Riese!
“— Kayla Kumari, reluctant expert on other people’s Lesbian Affairs”
this whole thing turned out perfectly ily!!!!!
i’m here if you need a second opinion
I LOVE U THANK U FOR YR UNDYING EXPERTISE
the Shane leather vest from the first episode was like meth: we’d never get that high again but we chased it for so long.
not even once.
Oh, that look! 50% turned on and 50% “that girl needs to eat something!” Very confusing.
No love for the Alice/Dana Love Boat role playing costumes in 2.10 “Land Ahoy”? Really? Speaking of that episode, I know this was about clothes, not hair, but Amy Ziff’s white girl dreads-ette look was so scarring that it made me stop watching the show for 13 years. I just caught up last year while following Autostraddle’s advice about season 6. As I’m very delicate, I can’t thank you enough for warning me of the season’s landmines.
Also, I haven’t heard anything lately about the reboot. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
i do love the Alice/Dana Love Boat cosplay but it honestly, it sells itself. It doesn’t need me to sell it, you know?
Also this —> “Amy Ziff’s white girl dreads-ette look was so scarring that it made me stop watching the show for 13 years” <— is SO REAL.
Fair enough, thanks for the affirmation, and SUPER THANKS for all you do here!
Please forgive me for being this person, by the pic on #17 is actually when Helena gets lipstick put on her by Katherine that weirdo rich lady. That’s not from when she’s eating Tina out. And yes, I have brain damage bc my BFF and I have run L word quizzo for the past few years. It’s a cross we both bear. Anyway, this article is amazing and I love you.
I hope they bring back all of these outfits for the reboot (are we still getting that?!)
The actress who played Papi is named Janina Gavankar, not Javana.
Like the show, this article is a gift.
This content will never not be relevant to my ongoing existence
This post got me through a long wait for a delayed R train that was stalled due to “switch trouble,” which seems like relatable lesbian content to me.
I giggled so much through this entire article so thank you! I kept waiting to see Tasha’s vest inside a vest from season 6 when she comes home shit faced and ready to argue. If I was a better lesbian I’d have a screen shot. Did we really love vest that much back then?
We were very invested
And now, divested. :)
are we certain this whole series wasn’t just a mass hallucination
The Early Aughts were such a terrible time for fashion, I genuinely feel dread about when it’ll make a come back. Like could the 60’s make a 3rd or 4th comeback instead, I’d accept the 80’s or leisure suits even just not 00’s redeux.
Oh yeah I came to say Shane’s vest is pretty much a Joan Jett stage costume.
I needed this. Thank you.
L Word content is the best content, js.
I always liked Alice’s off-shoulder pink shirt, and the pink shirt she wore when she was cleaning her apartment, wearing a Biore strip on her nose, and then Dana came over to rant about Tonya, and they both longing stared at each other, and then the bed.
Tina’s purple dress from Jodi’s dinner party.
Jenny’s outfit from Shane’s yacht party when she arrives with Marina and they start dancing.
Am I the only one whose immediate reaction on seeing #2 was “omg that’s Wallace Shawn! Inconceivable!” and imagined that in the moment after that shot he fell over sideways without otherwise moving a muscle?
I only watched L Word up til about Season, uh, two and a half I think? So I missed out on whatever this was. Now I have an L Word/Princess Bride mashup going in my head and it’s…a little weird.
I’m a little late to the party, but I thought it was important to point out that in picture 29 the birds on Dana’s shirt have the scientific name of Parus major. The common name for the bird is the great tit. So Dana is sporting a pair of great tits.
Just seeing this… thank you for the belly laughs!