A New Meaning for Lesbian Chic

The satirical film Another
Gay Movie
(2006) is largely about making fun of gay male stereotypes, but
lesbian character Muffler has a significant role to play. As a typical gay
female, she dresses sloppily and sports a mullet that isn’t meant to be ironic.
She’s loud, obnoxious and unattractive by any standard — she’s the perfect
representation of the unfashionable lesbian.

As Another Gay Movie shows,
the stereotype that lesbians have no sense of style continues to endure, but
these days it is being challenged on all fronts. From out lesbian stylist
Patricia Field (Sex and the City) to The L Word to Beth Ditto and Ellen
DeGeneres, fashionable lesbians are increasingly the norm in pop culture. And now
that fashion has become such a huge part of mainstream society — Project Runway and The Devil Wears Prada are just two examples — it’s important that
queer women are recognized, included and
respected as red carpet-worthy.

Much of the stereotype of lesbians having poor fashion sense
is rooted in cultural prejudices about the "mannish woman" as
unnatural and ugly. Though lesbian style was never exclusively about masculine
attire, the idea that lesbians tend to dress like men has persisted. When
Showtime’s The L Word debuted in 2004, many lesbian viewers complained that the characters were all
too "femmey" and that the fashion — which emulated the esoteric
aesthetics of Sex and the City — was
too unrealistic.

Cynthia Summers, costume designer for the Showtime series,
told AfterEllen.com: "Ilene [Chaiken] always wanted it to be a show that
spoke about fashion, right from the get go. They’re a group of talented — some
of them affluent, some artists — you know, our characters ­— living in L.A. A
lot of what they wear and what their look entails has to speak to that as well,
[and] of where they’re actually at."

Summers has been given a lot of freedom in her position, and
she said she has "great bodies to dress." After Season 1 (which she
described as "a little tame"), she was able to maintain the same look
for each character.

The L Word’s Bette (left) and Shane

For Bette, Summers gave her a tailored menswear look with
dresses and skirts only when it seemed appropriate. For Shane, the inspiration
has been "early ’70s Mick Jagger." "It’s sort of very tight
pants and shirts, and crazy hair which she came in with herself," Summers
said. "It’s been versatile over the seasons but we keep the rock thing for
her, and it truly works."

She continued: "I think it really transferred into real
life. I think … people want to watch a movie or show to be inspired. Whether
you’re inspired to have something in your life or it just opens your eyes to
other people doing that, that’s what it’s really all about. Our characters
influence people, and people are not afraid to emulate them."

It’s sort of a chicken-or-the-egg situation with The L Word: Do the characters dress that way because real lesbians do, or do
lesbians now dress that way because of the characters? Summers said it goes
back to the location: They are Los Angeles lesbians, and in L.A., lesbians have
Balenciaga bags just like their straight fashionista counterparts.

On the other side of the coin, it is the most butch character
of The L Word who is often the most
emulated, according to Summers.

"People ask me how do I feel about Shane look-alikes
walking around, because you pretty much see them everywhere," Summers
said. "You know, all I can say to that is, you know, good! If it’s not
coming from an inspired sort of perspective — fashion comes from within, I’m a
firm believer in that." But considering that Shane’s look consists of
shaggy hair, vintage T-shirts and fitted blue jeans (when she’s wearing clothes
at all), it begs the question of whether she is really the most
"inspiring" or simply the most representative of the way many
lesbians dress today.

Shane’s style is actually quite tame compared to the style
that some queer artists flaunt. Perhaps it’s the influence of Paris, where she
has lived on and off since 2003, but Bianca Casady
of the musical duo
CoCoRosie presents another take on a modern-day lesbian with a unique sense of
style.

Bianca Casady (left) of CocoRosie

She often sports a thin mustache (akin to fellow queer
fashion model/musician J.D. Samson) and was recently profiled by the New York Times Magazine,
which described her physical appearance as such:

 

That day, she had on a pair of
supersize purple-and-gold Adidas sweat pants in velour, with matching sneakers,
a black XXL T-shirt bearing the logo Black Pit Bull and a riding coat
constructed from two quilted nylon dressing gowns, one of them red tartan, the
other pink-and-green-flowery, with large Japanese Manga-esque appliqués sewn on
them. Her headdress consisted of waist-length artificial black dreadlocks,
surmounted by a crushed velvet mobcap with gold studs. Her face was adorned in
white pancake makeup and turquoise eyeliner — and one fake pink eyelash.

 

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