Monday Roundtable: The Style Icons Who Inspired Our Gay Style

Having some role models to look up to is key when developing a personal style — but of course it’s harder when you’re queer. Part of what we’re exploring in this issue is how what a unique process developing and exploring queer style is; as Riese explained, gay people are at the root of so much of what matters in fashion, yet so often totally erased by the time it reaches us, which makes connecting with it confusing. We need a lighthouse to move towards or at least make sense of ourselves in relation to; here are ours.


Carrie Wade, Contributor

Style Icon: A.E. Osworth 

This gesture will mortify them beyond all recognition but y’know what, we all deserve a little public applause on the internet in dark times, so I am here to declare that my style icon is our very own Austen. Keeping it in the family at Autostraddle dot com!

I’ve admired Austen’s aesthetic since I first met them — well before we were colleagues, let alone friends — and my regard has only grown with knowing them better. But the thing that first caught my eye and remains an inspiration to this day is how great they make simple outfits look. I never thought a t-shirt and jeans, for example, was “enough” until I saw how they carry off that very thing. You just have to pick the right pieces that speak to who you are. Don’t get me wrong, Austen has an excellent collection of fancy looks I have also cribbed from, but their casual dress has always been my favorite. I love how much of them comes through in every single outfit. They were the first person I’d met in real life who looked handsome in a way I not only wanted to emulate, but felt like I could. For that I will always be grateful.

Love you, buddy. Thanks for being so dashing.

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Erin Sullivan, Contributor

Style Icon: Fran Lebowitz 

Fran Lebowitz

Fran Lebowitz has been wearing the same outfit every day for the past forty years and I love her for that. She’s managed to make the same blazer, white button up, jeans and cowboy boots look interesting because she knows the secret to being fashionable isn’t what you wear but how you wear it. And even though she attributes her decision to standardize her wardrobe to it being able focus more on things that “matter,” Fran Lebowitz is still that bitch in terms showing out, like when someone prompted her to estimate how much her trademark tortoise shell glasses cost by asking her to compare them to an item of similar value and she just responded with “a car.”

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Heather Hogan, Managing Editor

Style Icon: Marty McFly

My style icon is and always has been Marty McFly. I’d had a crush on Michael J. Fox since Family Ties and I’m bananas for sci-fi so the The Back to the Future movies were some of my all-time favorites when I was a kid. What I didn’t understand at the time was that MJF and Marty especially were serving some serious soft butch vibes. When I was in high school and college I absolutely just dressed in ’50s and ’80s sportswear, jeans, button-downs, and puffy vests. Now I have added a lot more plaid into my wardrobe, but the basics are still the same.

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A.E. Osworth, Contributor

Style Icon: Carrie Wade

My style icon is Carrie Wade, and full disclosure, I got warned that she wrote about me ahead of time. But to be perfectly honest, I’d have written about her regardless, and specifically for the way she effortlessly wears a bold print. I have wanted a patterned suit since she wore this one, and I have not yet attained my dreams, but Carrie makes me feel like I could! Like I too could rock floral brocade head-to-toe! Carrie’s patterns are always full of joy and life, the perfect mix of happy-go-lucky and in-your-face, the sort of peacock masculinity that’s my favorite to play in and put on. Since I first met Carrie’s writing, she’s been an icon to me in a lot of ways, but certainly style-wise since I first met her at A-Camp way-back-when. That sentiment has grown over the years with every bold pattern she chooses. Whenever I lay my hands on a print and I think I cannot or should not, I simply breathe deeply and think to myself, “what would Carrie Wade do?”

I love you, friend. Very pleased to be part of this recursive fashion iconography, an ouroboros of suiting.

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A. Andrews, Cartoonist

Style Icon: Laura Jane Grace

CREDIT: Ben Trivett/People.com

I tend to feel like I’m not very fashionable or interested in fashion, but I’m incredibly particular about my clothes, my hair, my everything, so I know that’s probably a big ol’ lie. I’m forever into the relaxed-but-well-fitted comfortable health goth / skater / punk look, and 99.9% of the time it’s gottaaaa be black. If I had to choose a style icon, nobody pulls it all off quite like Laura Jane Grace! Everything from her hair and tattoos, to the way her jeans fit is a resounding YES for me.

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Stef Schwartz, Vapid Fluff Editor

Style Icon: Emperor Palpatine

My style icon is a new one as of the last two years or so, and maybe it’s unconventional but I’m not afraid to tell you: I’m consistently aiming to dress like a sexy Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. Look, maybe he’s a withered, scheming, insidious living embodiment of pure evil, but my dude rocks a deep hood and a black cape like no one else. I feel like he connects deeply with my whole aesthetic while also bringing some dramatic flair to the equation with that sassy cape. It’s cold in space, but the hood also offers excellent protection from whatever sun(s) you happen to be near – and black goes with everything in my closet (all of my clothes… are also black). This fall I’ve been buying a lot of drapey black outergarments with deep hoods these days, and I hope I look even half as good as Palpatine in them.

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Alexis Smithers, Writer

Style Icon: Queen Latifah in Set It Off

Honestly Queen Latifah in Set It Off. Not even just her clothes but her whole attitude. I try to walk through the world hard as shit against everyone I don’t love, I mean it’s not exactly working but I’m trying.

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Archie Bongiovanni, Cartoonist

Style Icon: My Pal Dale

My pal Dale! They are, in the words of Clueless, “exploring the challenging world of bare mid-drifts”. Within the first month of getting to know them, they said to me, “I’m thinking of shaving off my eyebrows”. And you know what-THEY DID IT! They also have long pointed beautiful nails, a Twin Peaks tattoo on their head, make-up I could only dream of, and has always used fashion to explore identifying outside of the binary. Dale’s looks are bold and always feel new and refreshing to me! I think what I love most about Dale’s looks-and Dale as a person-is that they are uncompromising. Uncompromisingly queer, uncompromisingly femme, uncompromisingly unconventional.

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KaeLyn Rich, Writer

Style Icon: Margaret Cho 

Editorial credit: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

I think my hard femme style icon has always been Margaret Cho, at least since college and maybe before. She’s Korean like me. She’s got similar facial features and bone structure to me. She’s loud like me. Her style is one part black catsuit and one part 90’s-style boho and yet another part classic pin-up. I don’t think I’m any one of those things, but I definitely aspire to be all of them a little bit. I like that she wears what she wants, shows off her body at every size, and doesn’t follow fashion rules or let growing older stop her from having fun with her clothes and her body.

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Mika Albornoz, Contributor

Style Icon: Johnny Cash

I thought a lot about my answer for this question. I fixate on people when I love how they carry themselves in clothing as time passes, and I have a very vast collection of people I admire or look at for inspiration when it comes to fashion and fashion choices. However, style is so much more than clothes. It’s all in the energy, the small details, the history, and the way people embody their presentation. My style icon to this day is Johnny Cash. He was the first person I looked at and said, that’s it, that’s me. Johnny’s definitely not perfect, and I’m not either; his style expresses that. I don’t know if this is a universal POC experience but when I was little if I saw a person with black hair like mine, immediately in my head I was like “oh they’re brown for sure” lmao. This was my bad boy; I could see myself in his slick black hair, none of that James Dean blonde baby face shit. Johnny had a harsh face, dark eyes, dark hair. He wore his trousers higher than most men, just like my father and just how I wanted to wear them. He had a broader frame. His clothes weren’t what was edgy about him; it was the way he wore them. He rolled the sleeves of anything he wore. He loved a stacked-heel boot. He embodies what I, until this day try to accomplish: old school classy with an enigmatic, casual edge. Maybe it’s his Scorpio moon and my Scorpio venus or maybe I just fucking love Johnny Cash.

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Rachel Kincaid, Managing Editor

Style Icon: Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner / Photo Credit: Courtesy Lily Tomlin

I was coming here to say that my style icon was Lily Tomlin’s character Frankie from Grace and Frankie, and bracing myself for my extremely stylish best friend Mika to roll his eyes at my caftan-heavy choice — I do love all of Frankie’s outfits, and love how unconcerned she is about basically anything when she gets dressed except how comfortable she is, although I could do without the Older White Woman Going Through Something statement jewelry. Then as I was looking for pictures of Frankie I wondered whether maybe I was actually thinking of her character in Grandma; I would love to still be wearing battered black denim all my life. Eventually I managed to piece together that I’m just into Lily Tomlin herself, the actual person. I remember watching her one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe on my laptop alone in my dark bedroom at 22; no matter what she’s doing, Lily’s look and general demeanor manage to be both really intentional and totally uninterested in anyone else’s reaction. Her whole vibe is a perfect combination of not giving a fuck and being ready with a “fuck you.” The effect is that she seems completely arresting to me no matter what she’s doing. Also, her whole thing is very gay and her hair is fantastic, qualities I strive to embody. Look at that picture of her and her wife! She’s just wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but the matching, the tuck of the shirt, the wrist jewelry — can you take your eyes off her? I can’t.

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Riese Bernard, CEO

Style Icon: So many but also Cameron Howe from “Halt and Catch Fire”

Ten years ago I would’ve said Shane, Tank Girl and Margot Tennenbaum. (Fifteen years ago I would’ve said Paris Hilton, sorry.) Now… I guess I have a lot of style icons. Most of my style ideas come from strangers I see out in the world or on Instagram or on the asos website, honestly. Like if I’ve ever seen you in real life and you have good style, it’s possible that you were my style icon for a minute. If we’re friends or we dated or lived together, I probably snatched at least one good idea for you. I bought a lot of Madewell v-necks like Laneia once, but they all shrunk in the wash after one wear. Sometimes I see Gabrielle Korn (the editor-in-chief of Nylon Magazine, who used to work here!) in a coat on instagram and think WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING IN MY LIFE WITHOUT THAT COAT. I never actually get the coat, so I guess I’m still asking myself questions about my life.

Lately if I had to pick just one icon, I’m really into just about everything worn by Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) in Halt and Catch Fire. She’s my height (5’10) and build and very tomboy femme. Now that she’s going to be the next Terminator we no longer have the same build, hers is vastly superior, but once upon a time we had that in common. I love Hayley Kiyoko‘s devotion to sportswear as public-wear, I love her jackets and sneakers and bras-as-shirts. I’m into Taylor Swift sometimes when I’m trying to look more mainstream — again, similar build/height and a strange phenomenon of strangers comparing me to her physically when I’m wearing certain things, which is flattering, obviously. Like Erin, I find Fran Lebowitz’s style to be timeless, important, and also peak lesbian. Lastly, I remain inspired by hungover celebrities.

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Carmen, Associate Editor

Style Icon: Jasika Nicole

Jasika Nicole will always hold a special place in my femme-loving heart. Yes, she’s a talented actress. And yes, she can sew entire dresses (and cobble shoes!) from scratch!!  But that’s not why I hold her dear. Way back when I was teeny baby gay, I had a lot of anxiety about being able to be “read as queer.” My love of cozy sweaters and pastel colors (not to mention my brown skin and soft, kinky hair) was not reflected back in any queer icon I had previously seen. I am not a thin, white girl! I’m never going to shave my hair. I have tattoos, but no where you can easily see them. Those things were never going to be me, and I was terrified that somehow made me less than my peers.

Then one day Former Autostraddle Fashion & Beauty Editor Dr. Lizz Rubin did a “Style Thief” article on the actress Jasika Nicole. I don’t even think I knew who Jasika was before that moment! What I remember most was that I kept catching (and re-catching!) my breath as I read it. Everything stopped. Here was an out lesbian, and she looked almost identically like me! My sweaters! My favorite vintage cut dresses! My round cheeks and broad smile! Soft piles of curls that reminded me of my own hair! NEVER, and I mean never, had I seen that before. It’s must be true that representation matters because after reading that post, I wouldn’t allow myself to feel like I didn’t belong again. It was the first time I felt that I didn’t have to change my aesthetic to somehow be a part of our queer community, and for that I will always be thankful to her.

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Laneia, Executive Editor

Style Icon: The Madwell weekly email model

This question made me realize that I don’t have a style icon, but I do have an iconic type of woman I want to look like, for the most part, and she’s whomever they decide to put in the Madewell email I receive once a week. Mostly I want a closetful of neutrals that help me kind of blend in but still look put-together enough that I feel perfectly fine reaching down to the very bottom shelf when choosing my wine. Which is new for me, because I used to be very willing to wear kind of weird shit and my entire wardrobe was from Goodwill (which is to say, it was not a polished look because I had no real control over or knowledge of what would be available to me when I arrived). But now I’m panicked that I should have a style icon, the same way I’m panicked that I should have a signature fragrance by now, or a real leather bag instead of the one made from polyurethane that I bought at H&M last year. This will plague me for several days.

Wait!! Wait, my style icon is Nancy Meyers’ interpretation of a middle-aged white woman after she’s decided to pull herself together sometime in the second act. Wow that is… I feel very called out by own self. Thank you and goodnight.

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