Dr. Valerie Steele at the Queer History of Fashion Symposium


[Music playing] I want to say that it was my colleague
Fred Dennis who came up with the idea for this show. He and I were crossing
Seventh Avenue going out to lunch talking as we often do about possible
ideas for future shows and he said wouldn’t it be fabulous to do a show
about gays and fashion and I immediately thought this is brilliant. I don’t think
anyone’s ever done anything on this and it’s such an important topic. In fact of
course gays and lesbians have long been hidden from history including the
history of fashion. Yet fashion and style have been immensely important for the
LGBTQ community for many years. Long before Oscar Wilde became an icon of
queer sexuality, it turns out that there was a fraternity of pretty gentlemen
quote unquote united by quote mutual love end quote who were influencing
fashion. Back in the 18th century the press described in particular three
categories of men. First were the so called molly’s effeminate cross-dressing
sodomites who met in clubs coffee houses and bars which were known as molly
houses where they socialized cross dressed in public and interestingly had
ceremonies including mock marriages. Then the second category was the macaronis.
Stylish men whose foppishness called into question ideas of masculinity and
then the third category were the so-called man milliner’s. Men in the
fashion trades who made or sold women’s clothes and they were described in the
press as a club of young bachelors who invent fashions for ladies. By the mid
1880s, Wilde had repositioned himself as a dandy who celebrated what he called in
another context the dangerous and delightful distinction of being
different. Now you might wonder what was different about dandyism since many
heterosexual men were dandies but the idea was if you paid a great deal of
attention to every detail of masculine dress it violated norms that insisted
that men were not really supposed to be interested in dress. Fashion was radically
transformed by a style known as la garcon which was named after a
controversial novel about a modern liberated young woman who slept not only
with a variety of men before marriage but also with another woman and this
style was extremely controversial because it seemed to contemporaries to
abolish the distinction between men and women. The post-war period was
characterized by a real ?? a very strong right-wing reaction against
gays and lesbians much stronger than had been the case in the 20s and 30s. So it’s
not just that fashion and society became gradually more welcoming. There’s always
been these back and forth movements where greater tolerance was followed by
greater repression. The Stonewall Riots of course took place on June 28, 1969 when
police raided a Greenwich village bar triggering resistance particularly among
drag queens and after that there were distinct differences in the way LGBTQ
people lived their lives and also the way they dressed. Pre Stonewall the most
visible gay male style had been elegance, camp, or drag, and post Stonewall the
clone emerged to symbolize modern macho gay style. Lesbian style also evolved as
traditional butch femme dress codes were increasingly replaced by androgynous
anti fashion style and then with time LGBTQ styles also diversified under the
influence of subcultures such as punk and disco. Now towards the end of the
20th century gay sensibility became more overt in fashion and advertising and
this was an expression both of Gay Pride and I think of straight consumers
fascination with images of distinction and nonconformity. Sexuality exerted
various increasingly strong influence on style during the 1990s. Another openly
gay designer Gianni Versace drew on gay styles for many of his looks both for
men and women. Over the past century many of the most influential designers have
been gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and when Fred and I worked on this show
for two years in conjunction with an advisory council of professors at FIT
and advisors from around the world we felt that it was about time that the
contributions of LGBTQ people were acknowledged. [Music playing]

Comments 2

  • where is the full video?!? I cant find it anywhere!…. this is so intresting

  • Atlest if i could get the  full transcript of this video…. Dr. Valerie Steele??… Please!!!!… I am from India .. & there is no way i could come all the way over to FIT…

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