If all the gays who working the fashion and beauty industries suddenly disappeared, the world might not come to an end, but things would certainly be more drab. Imagine for a moment the Southern Baptist Convention crowd or folks from Family Research Council designing the new spring or fall fashion line ups. It's scary - just like the Christofascists in these foul organizations. As the Washington Post reports, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City is putting on an exhibit called “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk” which will run through the end of the year holidays. Here are some article highlights:
The stereotype of the gay designer is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it is often assumed to be a fact. Whether industry insider or casual observer, people often presume that a male designer is gay until he announces himself otherwise. And while there are a host of successful, brand-name women in the industry, lesser-known ones have gone on record about feeling disadvantaged because of decision makers’ subconscious belief that gay men make better designers.
There are no statistics about the numbers of gay men in the fashion industry. And, as fashion historian Valerie Steele once noted, “there is no gay gene for creativity.” But the fashion industry has been undeniably more welcoming of openly gay men than other fields have been.
Yet no one in the mainstream has ever tried to examine the impact of homosexuality on fashion, says Steele, who is director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York.
From an academic, historical and cultural point of view: “It’s like an open secret,” Steele says. “Gays and lesbians had been hidden from [fashion] history. “We’re putting them back in.”
Steele and co-curator Fred Dennis spent two years researching the extent to which gay men and lesbians worked in the fashion industry and the ways in which their participation shaped aesthetics. By far, however, gay men received the bulk of the exhibition’s attention.
The exhibition begins in the 18th century, when both men and women dressed to reflect their place in society. Men styled themselves to display power and wealth. Their ability to bed anyone they pleased, whether male or female, was an extension of that omnipotence, Steele says. To be a peacock — with the flourish of a patterned handkerchief, a colorful bow tie or a jeweled brooch — was to be an influential aristocrat.
But soon, cross-dressing “mollies” and effeminate “macaronis” from meager circumstances began to gather in secret societies, private clubs and dark corners — causing a stir by blurring gender lines. Dandified style started to become egalitarian — far too democratic for the power brokers’ taste. Capitalism’s rising industrialists rejected color and frippery, leaving it associated with homosexuality.
The 21st century brought gay men who were crafting traditional styles yet assembling them with more glamour and greater sex appeal. And, wearing them with more confidence.
The sensibility was not part of some secret, coded language among outsiders; it was the accepted language of fashion — definitive and admired.
The FIT exhibition seeds a conversation about the way in which designers — whether gay or identifying somewhere closer to the middle of the sexual spectrum — have used fashion as their own form of self-definition and have wrestled with notions of femininity vs. masculinity in their collections. Ultimately, it asks how those machinations have altered the culture at large. Today more than ever, people are comfortable addressing sexuality.
The exhibition is a reminder that it’s just as important to look at what is being said, as it is to listen. “Fashion is communication in a way other than speaking,” Steele says. And when people are silenced, whether in New York in the 1950s or Russia today, fashion can be the only way for them to tell their story.