In a Lesbian Fashion

This week there was much ado when it was revealed that J. Crew’s Creative Director Jenna Lyons, fashion’s “it girl” and a fan of feminizing menswear, was leaving her husband for jeweler Courtney Crangi. As if we needed any more evidence — this year, with the presentation of the Spring collections in New York, London, Milan and Paris, let us rejoice, for lesbian is IN.

Designers are broadcasting their love for the inherent beauty of girl-on-girl, plastering homoerotic fashion spreads and ads in places where the word “lesbian” was never printed, showcasing that timeless androgynous silhouette designers love so much.

It’s leather, studs, punk and beautifully aggressive. It’s the darkened change in appearance of those attending the shows. It’s the boundaries designers, buyers and editors are pushing. It’s the silent decision to change the idea of what’s sexy, and what’s sellable, and to put a new idea on the table…something with a little more edge.

On and off the runway, the concept of girl-on-girl has always permeated the inspiration boards of some of the industry’s major players and this year there’s been much more of that — cleanly shaven heads and lipstick in the front row, the marriage of Doc Martens and sequined skirts in the back row, and when it comes to identifying trends, androgyny is the word on everybody’s lips.

Back in 2003, The New York Times declared a sea change in the fashion world with respect to its relationship with lesbians, who’d heretofore been passed over by designers as lumberjacks or golfers, citing The L Word as the turning point for making it clear that “lesbians are a powerful presence in fashion, in both predictable and unexpected ways.”

The story goes on to credit lesbians with introducing the following ideas and items into the fashion world: innate confidence in sexuality, the “choppy boyish shag” haircut, trucker hats, wallet chains, cowboy boots, straw Stetsons, “a sexually flexible style you could characterize as L.A Tomboy,” playing with gender roles, heightened outsider awareness, everything on Sex and the City (Patricia Field, their designer, is a lesbian), innate confidence in sexuality, the subtle incorporation of butch and femme dualities, androgynous slacker cool and newsboy caps.

Eight years later and fashion has never loved the lesbian as much as they do today — all over the world.

Perhaps it’s that women are no longer victims to men when deciding what to wear. Maybe her independent success allows her the freedom to dress like a man, adopt a shocking hairstyle, and emulate those of whom she admires the most…other women. But not just any women, those of free spirit, of sexual abundance, those who chose to flaunt their appetite for the same sex without restraint.

It’s the models too. Females are eschewing their rippled counterparts for a more streamlined version of themselves. Six-foot something clothes-horses are departing the shows as couples, manicured hands intertwined, and glossed lips locked, walking in heeled (and booted) unison.

In 2005 Danish (and openly gay) model Freja Beha opened the show for Miu Miu’s Fall collection, today she is Karl Lagerfeld’s muse and with Lagerfeld’s sponsorship she has become the poster child for the new gay— the luxury lesbian. Her masculine style, boyish figure and softly tattooed skin, summarise a unique type of sex appeal that is being used to lure in even the most unrelenting of straight women, to sell everything from magazines to tweed boucle jackets.

The idea of a woman, whose sexuality that adds an element of danger (and this can be controversial) delivers a commercial point of difference and potential money in the bank. Like Eve and the apple, the want of something you are told is forbidden makes it all the more desirable, similar to the price tag on a Chanel dress. And who better to promote the allure of the untouchable than one of the worlds most requested models, who is gay, and who successfully uses her sexual preference to promote the brands that hire her.

Then there’s the bloggers. Probably the best known is The Sartorialist. New York photographer Scott Schuman has a knack for capturing trends, and with one swift click he conveys visual messages, both commercial and cultural, to a varied yet very clued-in audience. Lately, a majority of his posts see female couples embracing on the streets of Brooklyn, and androgynous, punkish and gothic looking girls smoking in groups outside the shows. There’s a shift to a more obvious sexual orientation to his subjects, and it’s not intentional. It’s happening on it’s own. It’s an appreciation of beauty. So much so, that the impact of these types of women left him wanting to share what he was seeing.

Then there’s the glossies. British magazine i-D recently ran a feature titled ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it’. It profiles six London girls. All cropped haired, tattooed and pierced, and the imagery is nails-to-skin raw. Each girl speaks of her own understanding of what it is to be gay, of her career and life goals, and ultimately, her relationship experiences. Emily, 23 describes love as “hell”, whilst Erin, 29, says love is “when you’re ‘in a relationship’ on facebook”. My favourite line was from Erin when asked, ‘where do you see yourself in five years’. Her response…”Rolling around a four poster bed throwing $100 bills into the air with Beyonce and possibly Kelly Rowland”.

Next time you’re at the newsagency flick straight to page 222.

Anyway, my point is, both the stereotypical and realistic images of what a ‘lesbian’ looks like, is influencing mainstream fashion trends and the people that dictate them. Print publications are devoting pages of advertising real estate to the exploration of reality within the gay community, and fashion bloggers are enamoured with the visual stimulation of a woman who openly advertises her gender orientation through her personal style. Oh, and lets not forget the designers. They’re the ones responsible for posting ten feet tall advertisements of a gay woman clad head-to-toe in couture in the middle of Paris, Hollywood Boulevard and in the windows of their every store around the world. Basically, they’re using the semiotics of two women fucking to sell their clothing, shoes and accessories. Which is pretty great.

I know there’s always the argument, ‘but why should a gay woman be viewed any differently from a straight woman’. But all I want to do is draw attention to what’s happening right now. Yes, we’ve been there before — in the shadows, though, not front & center or “out of the closet,” so to speak. I don’t think the fashion scene has so openly embraced the idea of lesbian women, to the point where the associated imagery is being used to sell a luxury product and lifestyle ever before, and in my opinion, that’s cause for celebration.

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Lia-Belle King

Lia-Belle has written 1 article for us.


  1. I didn’t know Freja was out. I always just thought it was an unspoken fact. But yes I keep up with the fashion world & I have noticed this trend.

  2. I love that this is happening, but… I’m also concerned. My gaydar was already almost non-existent, guys! I can already visualise the lines of dykily-dressed straight girls that I’m gonna be hitting on :(

    Better get practicing on my conversion strategies, I guess.

    • There’s the “yes, I am into same sex sexy time” look. Then of course you could also just look for a rainbow bracelet or something along those lines. Or just go to the area of your town where you plain just know there’s gonna be queers. There have been masculine dressed straight women for a LONG time, Katherine Hepburn, ect. Now it’s just happening more. Just enjoy the fact that now the way you dress is considered cool & that you may not ever have to go looking for queer ladies, they’ll come looking for you.

  3. Blah I’m sorry because I know I’m being a deb with this comment and I hate being so negative. But I don’t really see this as evidence that fashion loves ‘the lesbian’. It seems like fashion loves a certain aesthetic associated with lesbianism, and loves using homoerotic imagery to titillate audiences. But that isn’t the same as loving lesbians.

    All this means for me is that more people are going to associate queer womanhood with androgynous white girls. Which kind of leaves a lot of us out in the cold, and probably means I will continue to be on the receiving end of ‘but you LOOK so straight’ comments. It’s just that now it’ll be because I don’t have an asymmetrical fringe instead of it being because I don’t wear flannel.

    Don’t get me wrong I really like the aesthetic you are describing (and am attracted to it, ha). But I don’t see this trend as any real celebration of queer womanity in all its diverse glory. Or lesbian relationships and sexuality for that matter. It just seems like more of a fashion trend to me.

    • IAWTC. I also find it difficult to understand an idea of the fashion industry promoting an aesthetic that is somehow more free, makes women less “victims to men” in their choices, or is accepting of difference *at all*. While a little broadening of the acceptable aesthetic is to be celebrated (e.g. it’s good that women are “permitted” to wear pants now), at the end of the day fashion advocating for short choppy haircuts, skinny jeans and suspenders isn’t less fascist and dictatorial about the ways women should look than a fashion for long hair, poodle skirts and high heels. Variety and choice should be celebrated but you don’t get that in fashion.

      • Yes I agree with this. It’s just another idea of beauty that is attainable to some women and not others (like I am petite but also quite curvy, so I’ll never be some tall skinny andro type. Others will be excluded just on race).

        I also question the idea that this aethestic frees women of the male gaze more than any other fashion trend… last time I checked majority of high end fashion designers were men. Deciding what is stylish for women this season and what is not.

  4. This is going to really mess up my gaydar. But on the bright side, cute humans in menswear! Fuck yes!

    • Seriously, I think more about my ‘outfits’ now than I did when I was in the closet. There is something wrong with this picture.

  5. What I fear from this love affair is that what is fashionable always passes, but I will always be gay. What happens when the mainstream fashion world bores of the ‘lesbian androgynous’ look, and moves on?

    I live in Portland Oregon which is the ignored step child of Seattle when it comes to the mainstream. When grunge was big, it was HUGE here. We were just as proud of the grunge movement as anyone from Seattle. We wore all the flannel, the ripped jeans, the artfully used duct tape, and the Docs. Now, when people bust out their flannel or their docs because they are practical here in the land of rain, people just shake their head.

    That is my fear for the ‘lesbian androgynous’ look. When someone walks by in five to ten years wearing ‘lesbian’ clothes, are they just going to shake their heads?

    Also, I don’t see the use of a luxurious lesbian lifestyle to sell goods as something to celebrate. Gay men have been shamelessly catered to in media because advertisers found out that they have a lot of disposable cash. Those same people have figured out that queer women have a lot of disposable cash and can afford their luxury goods. It is all about money.

    • See, I don’t think that fashion passes. I think that when you pay attention, fashion changes, but it always references itself. I think that the fashion industry is more than a machine for making money. I think its kind of wonderful that there are talented, thoughtful people out there whose job it is to visualize identity again and again. I think its much more than lesbians are trendy or that the mainstream is ready to sell clothes to us. I think the fact that lesbians are being featured in a way that is selling our lifestyle is a really incredible phenomenon. Its more than being accepted or tolerated or used, its being desired.

      And its just a moment in fashion that will be challenged by another image or idea in a few months. Its never good or bad, its never over and I think that’s kind of wonderful too. At the end of the day its up to the individual to shape their own visual identity. I think that most of the really fashionable people get laughed at, just like anyone willing to take risks does.

      I don’t know. I have fashion feelings.

  6. That first picture of the girl in loose fitting jeans and a shirt. I really need that in my closet. Like, I really need it.

  7. hoooooooooooooooooomygod. now everyone will be hot.

    not that im complainin’.

    and now i wont feel so “hoarder”-y about buying tons of stuff since i felt my style was going to eventually gtfo mainstream stores.

  8. Soooo….. now I’m not just unintentionally hipster, but I’m actually unintentionally haute couture..?! LOVE IT!!!

    • that actually makes you even more of a hipster, because you were haute couture before it became haute.

  9. I just love this style, period. I know it’s androgynous but I didn’t know there was such a thing as lesbian fashion or something considered lesbian fashion broadcasting into mainstream ideology.

    Women who can wear masculine clothes and look fantastic are awesome!

    They just seem instantly attractive to both sexes. Even if you aren’t gay, I feel this balance of feminine and masculine yields a degree of attention that draws a person to it.

    Hell, Coco Chanel broke ground being one of the first to don riding pants as fashion but the love of her life was a man. So I don’t think I could call this lesbian fashion.

    No doubt, as lesbian presence grows in the media there is a lot of fashion inspired by it and influenced to share and re-create it. Fashion is a visual art and lesbians are enjoying more visibility these days :)

    This trendy style for woman (whatever you wanna call it; andro, masculine, tomboy, lesbian) is the visual image of how we should think about sexuality. It instantly plays with our ideas of man and woman.

    The only reason why I wouldn want this trend to die off is so I won’t grow tired of it. So far, not even a little bit of my interest is depleted as of yet. Yay for me!

    • Coco Chanel was bisexual, though.She had affairs with Misia Sert, Vera Bate Lombardi, Jacqueline Susann and Nico. (I’ll check her bios -there may be more)

  10. What you’re drawing attention to is that two hot women kissing sells clothes. Nothing new. An attractive lady who has sex with other attractive ladies is being photographed in a way that makes her a sexual object for the male gaze that still dominates the fashion world.

    And what you’re not drawing attention to, the word that really represents the ‘sexual abundance’ and ‘appreciation of outsider beauty’ that you’re not using, and the real source of our recent freedom to subvert gendered aesthetic norms, is FEMINIST.

  11. I love that the picture of two “women” kissing that is the picture next to the title before you click on the article is actually of a woman and Andrej Pejic.

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