Saturday, May 13, 2006

Fashion [II, 24]

Together with interior decoration and the ballet, the world of fashion is one that is stereotypically dominated by gay men. This is an aspect of gay CREATIVITY (which see).

Whether fashionable or not, most of us are obliged to wear clothing most of the time. In an age of increasing affluence it is unlikely to be just any clothing. Garments may serve either to conceal or to reveal—-the latter sometimes flamboyantly. Wearing the garments of the opposite sex has been variously termed eonism, transvestism and cross-dressing. The most likely derivation of the word dyke is from a nineteenth-century expression “all dyked out,” referring to the donning of special dress. Sometimes gay men are dismissively labeled as skirts. A recent British term is shirt lifter, seemingly designating a man who pulls another man’s shirt up to determine if his torso is muscular or hairy, according to taste.

Drag occurs when men adopt the dress of the other sex, to more or less convincing effect. Hence the expression drag queen. Drag king is a more recent term for the female counterpart, who often struts her/his stuff as an entertainer. The diesel dyke typically wears rough clothing associated with the male working class. By contrast the fem, also sometimes known as the lipstick lesbian, generally adheres to the standards of elegance espoused by her attractive straight counterpart.

Various accessories may be communicative. One is a handkerchief in the back pocket, ostensibly governed by the hanky code, never very rigorously adopted, in which specific colors were said to reflect particular preferences. Placing the handkerchief on the left ostensibly signifies a bottom; on the right, a top.

Several types of pins signify adherence to the gay-rights. The pink triangle is an emblem the Nazis forced gay inmates of the concentration camps to wear. The term stems from the German rosa Winkel. A more recent invention is the rainbow flag pin (see COLORS). Finally, there is the lambda pin, utilizing a symbol propagated by the Gay Activists Alliance in New York in the 1970s.

Excessive displays of jewelry—-necklaces with or without religious symbols, turquoise rings, fancy tie studs—-tend to be frowned upon, but some are unable to resist.

A fascination with footwear is not limited to gay men. However, some S/M adepts are involved in kissing, caressing, or worshipping boots; cf. the exprssion boot boy (UK). Others are given to more gentle fashions: hence the disparaging comment offered by straights, light in the loafers.

A ubiquitous, indeed obligatory feature among adepts are the garments of the leather subculture. Wearing of leather jackets (once associated with motorcyclists) is now general in our society, and does not imply any particular sexual taste. However, adopting a leather garb from cap to boots is another matter. Sometimes chains and other macho accoutrements accompany these garments. The leather subculture overlaps with the S/M subculture, though not completely. Those who mock this subculture refer to leather as simply another form of drag. The expression leather boy is pejorative.

More simply, leather is a clothing preference adopted by some gay men. A different fashion interest emerges in the uniform fetish (“I love a man in uniform”), typically accompanied by eroticization of the military as such. During the first half of the twentieth century the sailor’s garb with its bell-bottom trousers was widely regarded as particularly enticing. Now the uniforms of Marines and police officers attract a similar clientele.

From time to time particular waves of fashion appear. Thus in the 1980s the ephemeral gay-clone look fostered a preference for such working-class fashions as flannel, “lumberjack” shirts and the wearing of keys on a ring fastened outside the trousers.


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