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Queerly Canadian #13: The Lesbian Fashion Crisis

cate simpson

Does this suit make me look queer?

Does this suit make me look queer?

We’re less than a month away from Pride Week in Toronto, which kicks off with the Dyke March — also known as the Saturday when thousands of half-naked queer women take to the streets between Church and Yonge.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if this mass shedding of clothes isn’t really about celebrating our sexuality and glorying in the freedom of Pride, so much as a rebellion against the minefield that is lesbian fashion.

Contrary to popular belief, there is really no lesbian fashion aesthetic. There’s a “look,” but it’s hard to quantify and even harder to emulate if you’re a newcomer to the scene. It’s one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it things. And it only applies to the shorthaired stereotype-adhering among us; if you’re high-femme, you’re on your own.

Queer women who come out in their 20s instead of in their teens seem to be hit hardest by the lesbian fashion crisis. I have more than one bisexual friend who — accustomed to dressing up to get the attention of men on a Friday night — is entirely at a loss when it comes to dressing for other women. And while it is widely accepted and known that there are gay and bi girly-girls, lesbians are notoriously suspicious of them. Go to a Church Street bar in makeup and a short skirt and if anybody talks to you at all, it’ll be to ask if you got lost on your way to the entertainment district.

Perfect gaydar, no matter what Stanford from Sex & The City would have us believe, is a myth. It depends on being attuned to the most subtle of clues queer people send each other, and even though most of us aren’t dangling colour-coded handkerchiefs from our back pockets anymore, clothes are a big part of those. People who just don’t identify with the latest in queer fashion markers struggle to identify themselves as queer without throwing out their entire wardrobes.

Things are not always so cut and dried even for the more obviously queer-looking among us. Where I come from, lesbians dress fairly uniformly in jeans and t-shirts and sneakers. We signal to one another through lack of effort. In Toronto, where everybody is better dressed — queers included — I spent a lot of time feeling scruffy and inappropriate before finally deciding not to care very much.

Part of the problem is that it’s tough just to find clothes that fit you when you’re boyish looking but shaped like a girl. Men’s clothes are tentlike on us, but women’s clothes are invariably too, well, woman-y. And those perfect-fitting men’s-suits-cut-for-women Shane wears on The L Word? Those don’t really exist.

All of this has me wondering about the stickers that are available all through Pride Week with every conceivable sexual orientation written on them. It’s as if, having shed our clothes and our coded messages about who we might sleep with, we are finally free to wear our identities on our sleeves.

csimpson1Cate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

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