The gay community has not always been present in our history books. It is for this reason that very little has been said about the forms of expression of sexuality through clothing over the decades, when it was still taboo.
Let's explore, then, the relationship between clothing and gay culture.
Cross-dressing and gay culture
Towards the 18th century, gay culture became more visible in many European cities. These groups were mainly concentrated in bars and taverns. The most important gay community of this time was the one formed in London.
Men practiced transvestism and cross-dressing as a means of identifying themselves as homosexuals in front of others and attracting partners, even though this act was considered sodomy at the time.
This practice consisted of wearing female clothing, such as dresses, petticoats, silk shoes, capes and even masks and make-up, and it became widespread in the 19th century.
In the early decades of the 20th century, around 1920, drag parties in Harlem, USA, offered a safe space for gay men and women who practiced cross-dressing. So did the Arts Balls in London in the 1950s.
In the United States, cross-dressing was forbidden unless it was for a costume party and only 3 items of clothing related to the opposite gender were allowed.
Adopting femininity-related traits also began to be a practice among gay men as well as wearing feminine clothing on a daily basis. This even though it was a reason for police persecution. It was a way to enter gay society.
Lesbianism as social protest
In the late 19th century, the wearing of men's clothing by women was a form of protest against the roles that patriarchal society imposed on women.
Lesbianism during the interwar period gained visibility and allowed lesbian women to be accepted and considered as men, not only sexually but also professionally.
The classic dress of the lesbian woman of this era was characterized by the use of the monocle, bow tie and vest. This masculinized image of lesbianism continued until 1970, when women even began to wear pants.
Until gay liberation in the late 1960s, the dress code of the gay community in general was to blend in with heterosexual society. However, there are certain symbols that identified members of the community, such as the color green, suede shoes and red ties for gay men and the color purple, cufflinks and the use of short hair for lesbia
Sexual revolution... and clothing revolution
After the men's clothing revolution of the 1960s, the association between fashion and homosexuality diminished as it became socially acceptable for men to care about and invest in their personal appearance.
However, the homosexual community began to demand equality and recognition in the early 1970s. Thus, the image of the "clones" spread, who personified the typical male images of that time: the worker, the cowboy and the lumberjack.
These "clones" celebrated the male figure by wearing boots, tight pants, plaid shirts and even a mustache and beard.
Meanwhile, clothing in the homosexual community also experimented with sadomasochism, creating the image of the "leather man," which also expressed sexual interest.
The wearing of pants, which became common from the 1950s, meant that lesbians could no longer be "distinguished" from heterosexual women, raising questions about the stereotype of lesbian dress.
In this questioning, androgyny played an important role in fashion, which could be expressed in feminine features in men or in a masculinized image in women.
For lesbians, the 80's and 90's meant a break with the rough and masculine image that characterized them until then to give way to the so-called "lesbian lipstick". This allowed lesbians to wear feminine clothing and makeup.
In the fashion industry, the influence of the gay community is undeniable.
Many of the best-known fashion designers are openly gay. This fact caused the image of men in fashion to change from being traditional to more open and experimental, as designers began to be inspired by the aesthetics of homosexuals who visited bars and clubs for the production of their designs and even the choice of their materials.
We live in an era in which homosexuality is socially accepted, but only after a long evolution and struggle (and although with many demands still pending). Thus, in recent centuries fashion and dress in the gay community has played an ambiguous role within a repressive society, both as a form of expression and camouflage.