31 Iconic “L Word” Outfits, Ranked By Incandescence

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.”


31. Half-Shirt

I think 4-down is “opus”

“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

Yes *Daddy I Do

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

Wow, I’ve seen scissoring demonstrations before but this one is really next level

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

You PROMISE it isn’t poison?

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

Help me

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

Who wore tiny pieces of suits better: Papi, Jodi or Blake Lively in “A Simple Favor”

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 spinach is… where? Here?

“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

Please don’t order the Neverending Pasta Bowl please don’t order the Neverending Pasta Bowl

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

Hell no if you guys wanted 3-D glasses too you could’ve gotten them from the bin outside when I did

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

I can’t believe we spent all our money at Michael’s again

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

Actually, Bette, LOTS of artists wear adult diapers. Inspiration doesn’t can’t be paused for urination.

“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

Pussy power!!!

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

This is the absolute last time I am putting marijuana inside my vagina

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:

Wow this would be a great place to hold my funeral

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:

Does anybody have a stampppppppppp

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:

Um, I do not remember saying it was okay to move your little workout bench into the foyer

Somehow, walking from Tim’s house to The Planet was the moment Jenny really started to look tore up:

Oliver, Oliver, never before has a boy wanted more


2. Jenny’s Garbage Bag Dress

Wow, that bitch really can’t stand the rain can she


1. Shane’s Legendary Leather Lothario Vest

How’s it go? A bird in the hand is worth two in the….??

“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.

Riese is a Jewish lesbian and the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2618 articles for us.

43 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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