Queer Fashion Beyond Cliches: The Resurgence of Femininity by Neha Avadhani
Queer fashion has transformed dramatically over time. In the 1930s and 1940s, the ideals of femininity were driven in womens’ fashion by closeted gay designers such as Christian Dior. Dior embraced a dramatized version of the ‘ideal’ female body in his designs by designing pieces with exaggerated tiny waists. In the 1950s and 1960s, androgynous looks began appearing in lesbian subculture. Trousers made a comeback during this time, acting as part of the counterculture to the past decade’s ideals.
In the ‘70s, however, there was a movement away from mainstream fashion; many made a political statement during these times by declaring fashion as irrelevant. With the 1980s and 1990s came a more campy, queer style, such as Jean-Paul Gaultier’s cone bustier dress and Gianni Versace’s sadomasochism-inspired collections.
The 2000s were unique and strove to surpass the gender binary. The Y2K style’s legacy has lasted for a long time. Queer fashion has since then been associated with hard lines and a sort of defiant, edgy factor. You could argue that Y2K queer fashion was necessary - it was a rebuke to traditional gender roles and oppressive heteronormativity. Elements of it began to be seen in parts of the lesbian subculture; these trends promoted the idea that being “too feminine” was giving in to traditional gender norms. But, interestingly enough, with the rise of acceptance for nonbinary or androgynous fashion in the 2010s came a resurgence of feminine styles in the lesbian subculture.
Today, in true contrast to previous generations, we are seeing young queer women embrace femininity. Ellie Medhurst, a content creator and activist, only wears the color pink; she embraces the “stereotypically feminine,” which includes fashion trends such as dresses, bows, flowers, and of course, the color pink. As an activist, Medhurst wears these feminine items as a way to transcend the misogynistic cliches associated with them. Because Western cultures have largely seen femininity as weak and submissive, her purposeful exaggeration of it through her fashion choices proves a threat to that ideology, as her personality is strong and
confident - the opposite of the stereotype. Medhurst attempts to reclaim femininity, arguing that it isn’t femininity itself, but rather the gender binary that is oppressive.
Hannah Glover, a queer blogger, supports Medhurst’s ideas. In an interview, Glover spoke about a time where she felt her gayness defined her style and forced her to be more masculine. After realizing that conforming to the stereotype of lesbians in society no longer served her, she describes returning and re-accepting femininity with
the acceptance that it doesn’t invalidate her queerness.
Recent designers have been embracing femininity too. Sophie Hardeman, a denim designer, has put out risque plays on bodysuits and bustiers; Nay Cambell is another designer that is now embracing femininity, as he is known for his extravagant silk-taffeta regalia and vibrant gabardine pieces. Designer Claire Fleury prides herself on her cascading, revisionist interpretations of traditional peignoir styles as challenges to classic femininity; designer Gogo Graham creates raw, filmy confections of lace and shimmer for trans women.
To me, this embodies exactly what years of feminist and LGBT+ activism have been fighting for. Really, the queer counterculture isn’t about opposing the mainstream, as much as it is about choice. Striving to be seen isn’t about alienation - it’s about inclusion and self-expression; it’s about the ability to say femininity is just as queer, and to move beyond the gendered stereotypes of how it has historically been seen, just as we have done with androgyny and sexuality. Queer fashion has always been aspirational, as it is seeking freedom and power. Ironically, there is now a real edge to be found in the feminine - which is a corrective quality to years of feeling as if one is defined on others’ terms. Femininity has been reclaimed.