Style Thief: How to Dress Like Bette Porter

Welcome to the eighth installment of Style Thief, where I steal the clothes off queer style icons’ backs. Metaphorically, that is. I’ll try figure out just exactly what makes queer style icons tick by breaking down their look into itty bitty bite size pieces. I get a lot of questions about how to look like different celebrities/characters, so I’m finally tackling the question “How the hell do I dress like that?”

Header by Rory Midhani

Bette Porter was my very first lesbian style icon. Ever. Now, you may being thinking, don’t you mean Jennifer Beals? No, I don’t. As a budding high school queer I saw The L Word for the first time by downloading each individual episode on Limewire after seeing an ad in Newsweek in a doctors office waiting room. I like to assume that’s how everyone saw The L Word for the first time. I was, of course, immediately attracted to Shane, but more importantly, I immediately identified with Bette. bette-porter-with-teaI had seen lesbians like Ellen and Rosie, and I was pretty heavily into Bikini Kill, but I very secretly felt that I didn’t really identify with those women. I had a hard time then, and yes sometimes even now, reconciling what it meant to be a conventionally attractive lesbian who likes jewelry and makeup but who is also strong, smart and driven towards a very specific type of business and academic oriented success. I had never encountered a Power Dyke. So while I think that Jennifer Beals is a lovely, wonderful actress, I don’t really care about what she wears to go shopping or her latest red carpet gown. I just really want to dress like Bette.
The most important and basic part of Bette’s wardrobe is the power suit. Particularly in Season One, Bette barely wore anything besides a black, tan or grey pants suit. Honestly, thank G-d, because someone had to show me how to wear a suit without feeling like a flight attendant. When I was buying my nice suit I honestly shopped around until I found a suit that made me feel like Bette. What Bette taught me about suits is that you want something so classic that if someone takes a picture (or films you in a long running TV show) your suit will still look good almost ten years later.
mardi gras
While the best way to embody that power dyke spirit is to find a suit you’re most comfortable in, there are a few standard Bette-suit properties to keep in mind. Your suit pants should go as high as your natural waist and be a straight-wide leg. I know slim cropped pants are all the rage right now, and that’s totally fine as part of a pants and blazer work look, but if you want your suit to stand the test of time you gotta go for a more classic silhouette. No flares, no taper, not so wide that you’re wearing a skirt. Basically, you pants should fit you at the waist and hips but then go straight down from the widest part of your hips. Remember to avoid pants with belt loops, as Bette rarely wears a belt at her hips. As for a Bette Porter suit jacket, it should be fitted in cut, but still able to button. You want the bottom of the jacket to hug your hips but not cover your crotch. Finally, the sleeves should be short enough that you can see the cuffs of your sleeve.

A key component to Bette’s power suit is not in the suit at all! It’s those crisp white button-ups. Bette always seems to have hers buttoned down such that the top button is at the fullest part of her bust. I’m not sure there exists a work environment where this is appropriate, but it certainly is appealing. While it looks slightly disco 70’s, one important feature is that Bette always wears her collar out of her jacket. Combined with the unbuttoned shirt, this creates a V-neckline, which is quite flattering on most people. It also prevents the rigidness of the suit jacket from making you look too uptight. Bette generally tucked these shirts in, but occasionally she’d wear one that was short enough that you could see a little belly. In my opinion this is not a great look for anyone.
When Bette skips the suit jacket, she often pairs her suit pants and white button-up with a vest. I’m not sure if this should be attributed to Bette or to the mid-2000s, but Bette generally wears a cropped vest that is buttoned just below the bust. Cropped suit vests are a little hard to find right now, but don’t worry, they’ll come back around. This look, black pants, white collared shit and a black cropped vest, has become for many young queers the uniform for hot to look hot when going out. One of the last girls I went out with wore this exact outfit to go dancing. It’s a thing.

One of my favorite aspects of Bette’s wardrobe is that it’s extremely versitile. You can just swap the button up for a blouse and wear it with or without the jacket. For blouses, Bette usually wears something loose, billowy, silk and either ruffled or ruched. While she would never be caught rolling up her blazer sleeves, her blouses are often short sleeved or elbow length. This allows her shirts to be loose without looking like she accidentally wore something too big.
Similarly, you can swap the suit pants out for a fitted pencil skirt. While Bette is generally a pants wearing kind of lady, she always seems to know the perfect time to bust out a skirt that hits her hips just right. Her billowy blouses show a little skin and soften the harsh lines of a pencil skirt, but are never vulgar in professional settings. It’s exactly enough sex appeal to make you ask yourself, “Is that super professional or super hot?” But in a good way.
The same sort of concept applies to the dresses Bette wears. They are fitted and professional, but there’s just a hint of confident and sexy.
Remember what I said about versatility? That applies here too. Bette can take the same simple accessories and change her dress to completely change her look. She can go from a business casual day dress to a formal dress for a gallery opening or cocktail party without having to overhaul everything she owns.

One thing to keep in mind while trying to steal Bette’s look, is that you don’t need to look like uptight all the time. In fact, Bette has been known to spend many a day with her shoulders bare. Why not? She lives in LA after all. Plus she has basically the nicest arms ever. s2b3A staple of Bette’s wardrobe is the classic black scoopneck tank, but she mixes in a wide variety of silk or synthetic blend sleeveless blouses. This further enables her to create a wide range of styles simply by changing her top. Still, even when Bette exercises her right to bare arms, she maintains a certain level of sophistication. Primarily, she skips teeny tiny spaghetti straps and instead wears wider strapped but lower cut or cowlneck tanks. While skinny strap tanks often lose their appeal after high school, an extremely deep neckline can look very sexy on small busted women of all ages. The L Word - Season 6Even if you are bustier than Bette, a higher cut cowlneck can be a fun way to take a break from the same old necklines you wear every day (read: V-neck and scoopneck, i.e. a busty girl’s best friends). Plus, a more unique neckline can make you feel like you’re showing more skin than you necessarily are.

The key to Bette’s look is the power suit, but it’s also that she has a complete and cohesive wardrobe. That’s the benefit of being a fictional character dressed by a costume department. Her outfit pieces are chosen for their ability to mix and match. But indeed this can work for you too! Following Bette’s lead by choosing classic but fun pieces appropriate for work and play and even you can master power dyke style.
s2b4 So cut her out, dress her up and figure out all the different Bette combinations! Don’t forget to visit Rose Middleton’s website to see more of our favorite paper doll artist’s amazing artwork.
bette porter paper dolls

If there’s a queer style icon you’d like to see stripped down in Style Thief, send me an ASS messageask on my formspring, or tweet me @Ohheyitslizz

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 261 articles for us.


  1. Oh, the L Word. It’s one of the most ridiculous shows ever somedays but it completely shaped my coming out experience.

    I remember watching the first episode with my high school girlfriend. We had only been together a few months and I know I was ecstatic to see myself (queer women) on screen during those formative years of my baby dykedom. The show finally ended while I was in college and I remember going to a wrap party for the final season.

    Bette is hot and I appreciate that you did this! I don’t think she is quite my style but I will definitely look this up when I am wildly successful and need to start dressing like a proper Power Dyke.

  2. I gotta say, her collar/vest look is the least timeless thing I’ve ever seen. I constantly feel like (and especially with her striped button-ups) that she is absolutely doing the 70’s look, and not in a good way. But!! I still dug her suit fits and I agree on the pants for sure. And all of her dresses/skirts and really I want to cut off her arms, cut off my arms, and trade them…but I won’t. Because that’s weird.

  3. I’ve been waiting for this article for the past five years. I just want to *be* Bette Porter, but I guess dressing like her will have to be good enough.

  4. The L Word is sort of like small scale lesbian curriculum where I’m from.In mixed company we call it “Seasons”. In any all girl ensemble I think it has always been comforting to me to have some representation of women of color,so I can say to myself, “that is what I am supposed to be, that is what it looks like.” If I ever grow up I want Bette Porter’s style and her scowl and while I wasn’t pleased with all of her character’s behavior, I did get a pretty solid handbook on how to be a badass and what to do(and not to do)if I ever land my dream job and dream girl.

  5. yesss this is perfect! Whenever I’m feeling timid or uncertain, I try to channel Bette and all of her fierceness. When I’m a professional person with a real job, you can bet (pun intended) that I’ll be dressing like this.

  6. Growing up, I stated the following goal: being Shane up until 25, Bette onwards and Peggy Peabody on my golden years. Lord, what fool this mortal was. Is. Whatever.

  7. Yes forever!!! Except for when she was looking like a pirate for awhile.

    One of the hottest things about Bette was that she did look so uptight all the time. It’s a quality that very few people/characters can make sexy.

  8. I was adrift in a sea of poorly-fitting pants and weird vests until this. Now I will be going shopping ASAP for some awesome power dyke duds once I can get myself to civilization.

  9. Bette best worked that age-old, timeless accessory- hot chick on your side.

    Also Lizz? Killing it. Killing. It.

  10. Bette Porter is a goddess. She’s everything I wanted to be as a baby dyke. Fierce, foxy and fabulous! If I wasn’t such a klutz, I’d rock the shit out of her style. But I’m afraid to buy anything too cute because I know I will just spill something on it.

  11. Is there an alternative shoe style? I cannot walk on high heels nor platform shoes for my life. I want to try Bette’s style, but it has to be confirmed with on the go style. You know, sometimes you may need to walk faster or even run to you next meeting, but still look good, you know?

  12. UGHHHH YESSSSSSSSS I LOVE BETTE’S STYLE SO MUCH. When I got my first professional/real-person/post grad job, these were the style rules I followed (and always follow). Versatile pieces, classic pieces with something a little funky, and crisp ass button downs. Fuck yeah.

  13. Sudden realisation describing “classy gay grrrls” is so much easier when you have Bette as a point of reference

  14. Oh my gosh, the comment about necklines weird me out a little bit. Anyone can wear a lowcut top if they want to, regardless of age or bust size!

Comments are closed.