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Why is it that fashion looks to queer icons for inspiration?

The question of gender expression through articles of clothing only scratches the surface of what can be defined as an exploration of identity through style. This is why queer fashion – notable icons in particular – is so crucial.

It’s about mold-breaking, looking beyond the conformist approach to fashion and seeing how far you can stretch the concept of aesthetics.

Throughout the long and tumultuous history of queer culture, it was predominantly associated with the edge, adventurous creative endeavors on the margin and those who were mired in aesthetics perfectly understood that this is where the ‘cooking pot’ of trends lie. This has been true for far longer than many would care to admit, and it holds today in particular when the cultural landscape has become so eclectic and thrilling.

Photo by Rochelle Brown from

Blurring the lines

The lines that divide genders have always been a point of great fascination to people around the world – for better or, sometimes, unfortunately, for worse. In the age of consumerism when cheap but fabulous rags are a dime a dozen, and turnover of trends has become dizzyingly fast, it is only natural that such fascinations have become especially inflected.

Unfortunately, a majority still considers that certain fashion markers are sex-coded; but why wouldn’t your average guy experiment with arguably feminine Moon Magic jewelry, or your average gal with decidedly masculine leather shoes if it compliments their overall style and need for self-expression?

It might sound like a trite and banal question, especially if you consider how far our culture has come in embracing queer fashion. The unanimous viewership clamor for new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, when compared to its modest beginnings, is proof enough. It has become, as Matthew Schneier rightly put it in his article, a true niche touchstone.

However, this is exactly why its visibility is so crucial. It is a testing ground that steers the zeitgeist, and its most lavishing, daring aspects ‘trickle-down’ slowly through the filters of culture until they manage to reach absolutely everyone.

However, the question of gender expression through articles of clothing only scratches the surface of what can be defined as an exploration of identity through style. This is why queer fashion – notable icons in particular – is so crucial.

The historical identity play

Marginalized identities usually have the bravery to rile against the status quo in every conceivable way, clothing included. Furthermore, the threat of encroaching bigotry creates inner friction that encourages daring creative expression.

You need to look no further than the history of notable marginalized individuals from queer culture, starting with Fanny and Stella – which were otherwise known under their birth names of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton. In 1870s London, the age of rising conservative sentiments and cruel devaluation of individuals through mass-industrialization, these two individuals flaunted their individuality by attending more than a few social events in women’s clothing.

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The duo, which was also a theatrical act, ended up prosecuted for ‘sodomy’ and salacious behavior. Still, their story persisted and reverberated through time, encouraging other individuals to express their identity and unique outlook through their clothes.

From Oscar Wilde to Derek Jarman, Chevalier d’Eon to Coccinelle, and further – queer and transgender individuals broke and redefined style across all facets of art and culture. Their unwavering ability to dispel stereotypical views kept people transfixed.

And yet, even in the day and age when a culturally astute population has largely embraced queer, non-binary and trans voices, in fashion and otherwise, there is still so much ground to cover and ceilings to breakthrough.

While mainstream design houses do keep a close eye at the queer community for inspiration, a more direct, unfiltered exposition would be of great benefit for queer individuals that aspire to become fashion icons (and no, it is not merely and exclusively about models, but about artists as well). 

In conclusion, your honor!

There is no culture without the margin, and queer fashion is all about pushing the boundaries and buttons in equal measure. As we all know, bigotry and stereotypes have a stubborn habit of suffocating true self-expression, and while we do have a long way to go, this is also an appropriate time to be optimistic.

The visibility of queer, androgynous, trans and non-binary individuals is increasing, and their impact on fashion culture is undeniable. You can’t turn a blind eye on the unadulterated, unapologetic explosion of self-expression.


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