Natural Born Swagger: Coming Out of the (Stereotypical Lesbian Fashion) Closet

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When I signed up to be a lesbian in the pre-marriage equality years of the early 2000’s, I didn’t have much in the way of guidance. I must confess that sorely disappointed me. I mean, isn’t a kind, all-knowing older dyke supposed to hand you some kind of manual (and maybe a pride flag, or at the very least, a lovingly worn beanie)? I know I tend to have a flair for the dramatic, but I had imagined my coming out to be more of a rite of passage, where I would shout from a rooftop, “Hey guess what world, here I am finally! I love women!” And then immediately be given a welcome bag, which would obviously include a gift certificate to Home Depot, a free year’s worth of cat food, and the complete DVD collection of “The L Word.” You know, for reference. ‘Cause that’s how that works, right?

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Photo: Giphy

Well, surprise of all surprises — I received none of this. But since the cast of “The L Word” were actually the only lesbians I knew at the time, I had to make do. Lonely, clueless baby dyke that I was, the show was my first real point of reference for how city lesbians dressed, behaved, and interacted with the world. I watched like a starved creature, desperate for the information I needed to help me navigate this unknown Sapphic land I had been thrust into, and it was a very, very, scary time. When I had binged my way through all nine series, I was left with two pressing questions. One: Jenny Schecter obviously killed herself and why can’t everyone see that? and two: Oh my GOD. I don’t know what kind of lesbian I amso how in the hell am I supposed to know what to wear?? These ladies had it together (well, except for Shane’s leather vested cat suit in season one, and literally ALL that was Jenny) and I clearly did not. They knew what was what as far as labels go. They freely tossed around words like butch, femme, lipstick lesbian, chapstick lesbian, boi, sporty dyke…and they knew which ones they were and how to dress accordingly. I, however, was a hot mess in ill-fitting Doc Martens and messy (not in the hot way) hair, and I still didn’t even understand what those terms really meant. I felt overwhelmed.

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Photo: Giphy

Fortunately, we lesbians have come a long way since we had to choose between cargo pants and baby doll dresses. In fact, most of the old stereotypes have been turned on their heads, largely because millennials feel freer than generations before to express femininity and masculinity in a more fluid way. We finally have some positive role models in mainstream media and slowly, movies and television are shrugging off those tiresome tropes.

Still, if you are new to the LGBTQ community, whether you’re 15 or 50, it always helps to have a like-minded friend of the same sexual persuasion to remind you that no, you don’t have to cut your hair short, get a tattoo, wear flannel — or anything else you may have seen or heard on the internet — to be taken seriously. Nobody told me this when I came out, and so I entered into the lesbian dating world of NYC and proceeded to try out every single fashion stereotype known to lesbiankind.  Let us bow our heads and cringe.

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Photo: Giphy

Now, I’ve been on a lot of first dates. But I recall one in particular, where the girl abruptly turned to me and commented, “You know, your personality doesn’t really match what you look like. Why are you wearing a skirt?” And I thought, “Because I’m trying to be a lipstick lesbian, can’t you see that?!” This was immediately followed by my hyper masculine period, of course. Because labels.

I won’t mortify you with the details of my checkered past fashion fails, but I will tell you is this. No one is born confident. Sometimes it takes trial and error to figure out what makes you feel comfortable and genuinely you. And while fashion certainly isn’t everything, what we wear or don’t wear is just another way we present ourselves to the world. And let’s face it, people can assume a lot of silly things based on appearance. Recently, a relative asked me if I carry a “man’s” wallet because I secretly want to be a man, or might be trans. A total stranger once asked my date if she wears “straight” clothing because she might be bi. While the answers to both of those questions happen to be no, if they happened to be yes, would we be required to change outfits? Not if I have anything to say about it. I’m going to go right ahead and continue to wear my favorite  power blazer with shirts that yes, I shop for in the men’s department, and I will wear it with all the eyeliner and lip gloss I damn well please. Not because I want to be this or that (insert label) but because quite frankly, I can.

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Photo: Giphy

Lesbians are brave. We take risks. We live in a world that isn’t always very accepting, and sometimes is downright harsh. Let’s not complicate things by judging each other’s wardrobes too harshly (but let the record state that I do NOT in any way condone leaving the house in a pair of Uggs or a velour track suit). If you feel like rocking a bow tie, go for it! Are heels and long lashes more your thing? Put them on! (and can I have your number?) Maybe you’re more in between, maybe you don’t care, and just have natural born lesbian swagger. Please keep doing you, and share that with the rest of us.  Maybe your style changes every day. Of course it does. We are humans. We evolve. We go through many life experiences, and bad first dates, and good third dates, wearing whatever ensemble we felt most confident in that day.  I’m no fashionista and won’t play one on AfterEllen, so I won’t attempt to dispense too much advice.

But trust me on the velour.

 

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