The world of fashion and queer identity have always been intertwined, held together by the will to express and creatively charged sartorial choices. Fashion in general is an important place to perform one’s identity.
Have you wondered what the recent surge of fashion statements like gender-neutral garments, ballroom, leather and drag all have in common?
They all find their roots in queer fashion borne from subcultures that are associated with certain aesthetics, clothing, and mediums of expression. Historically, queer communities have been the moving force behind challenging gendered ideas of playing dress-up and have epitomized gender-neutral fashion; shedding a previously hetero-normative outlook towards clothing.
The struggle to break the binary has been ongoing for a long time. With gay vernacular styles being adopted into the mainstream and being touted as trends, we would like to shift the spotlight towards a deeper conversation and address the role of queer identities in fashion.
The History of Queer Fashion
What is today a proudly celebrated tenet of diverse fashion takes, was a rather risqué style of dressing in the 19 century.
Tracing the emergence of queer subculture as a highly secretive aspect of European society back in the 1700s, clothing was almost a secret language channelled by individuals to speak and connect with each other during times of stigma and societal oppression.
With negative stereotypes attached to homosexuality, secret dress codes stepped in to allow gay men and women to identify with each other in public.
Fast forward to 1920’s, people began challenging the codes of binary as women began to incorporate menswear traditions into their closets as a means to question the patriarchy.
We saw a rise in underground clubs, drag balls and gay bars originating in New York, that helped cement a strong LGBTQAI+ subculture. For many queer people, these so-called ‘safe spaces’ were a sliver of hope and liberation as they could freely express themselves, be taken care of, and connect with others in the community.
Queer fashion had gained popularity on the runway by the 1990s as people from the community championed a sartorial revolution. Gaultier created skirts for men, Kim Jones — a regular at London gay clubs, took his experiences from queer club culture to the pinnacle of fashion. Pushing the envelope of diversity and inclusion in the realm of fashion has been one of the most influential ways of incorporating queer identity into mainstream society.
From Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, we all grew up getting our sartorial inspiration from designers from the community. Somewhere between watching Drag Race to feeling more at home in the men’s section, my clothes are definitely an expression of my sexuality and often change rapidly and fully from day-to-day.
From the closet to the catwalk, fashion has always proved to be a safe space for queer folks. It’s time to put a spotlight on queer creatives challenging fashion stereotypes and creating a defining moment in the history of ‘a-la-mode’.
Sachit is an experimental, evolving, and rebellious fashion creative who’s carved a niche in the industry on and off the runway.
The space of fashion has always been a gender-affirming visual presentation or expression of identity for the queer community. How has the art of expression via voguing shaped your living experiences as a member of the community?
I first learned about voguing through a friend of mine who suggested I watch Pose. Obviously as a queer person myself, I thought it was one of many ways to express yourself. When I saw for the first time how people in the community lived their life, I saw the possibility to exist in society without doubting yourself. So that was one thing I found super fascinating when I first learned about voguing, Studio 54, and queer culture. I’d definitely say it has shaped my living experiences as a member of the community one way or another.
Today, in a world where the LGBT+ community is slowly becoming accepted by mainstream society, the subcultures and fashion cues are slowly gaining traction. How would you define your experience of being a queer creative in India?
Identifying as a queer person hailing from a minority community in India has been quite an unnerving experience. From struggling with a lack of representation in media and fashion to being limited to merely fulfilling diversity gaps, the reality of being a queer creative is quite complex. Though society seems a lot more comforting than what was 5-10 years ago, we still have a long way to go.
What piece of advice would you give to fellow LGBTQIA+ members in terms of getting their voice out there and being ‘free’?
My advice to people would be to own your identity and as cliche, as it may sound, “Do what you gotta do” — regardless of the hurdles life throws your way. Always remember to trust your instincts and run with them.
Vee is an emerging creative whose sartorial spirit and active portrayal of the queer experience is an affirming presence for queer kids all over. From experimenting with various styles and aesthetics to raising awareness about tough conversations revolving around identity as a trans individual, we bring you an insight into his take on fashion.
The space of fashion has always been a gender-affirming visual presentation or expression of identity for the queer community. How has the art of expression via Voguing shaped your living experiences as a member of the community?
Growing up as a biological female in this society, I found fashion to be very obstructing. It almost felt like a cage but at the same time, it was the sole medium that allowed me to express myself freely. Fashion has always helped me get one step closer to expressing my gender identity the way I wanted. From wearing clothes that were deemed ‘masculine’ by society to affirming my identity as a trans man celebrating his masculinity, I now have the confidence to experiment and explore my sense of fashion. Feminine silhouettes that once felt like a cage now help me get out of another, built by the social constructs of what clothing is deemed masculine or feminine.
We’re seeing an increasing commodification of the ‘queer aesthetic’. Cuffed jeans and pride merch may have been considered significantly ‘queer’ but those cues are being monetized and used for brand marketing tactics. Is limiting queer expression to tokenistic values an emerging problem that affects you?
V: We all have noticed how every pride month these so-called inclusive brands come out with their pride merchandise in order to support the LGBTQIA+ community. There’s a sudden demand for queer influencers to promote to fulfil diversity criterias as well. Come pride month, there’s a surge of marketing gimmicks and strategies to capitalise on queer culture. The only question is where are these brands the other 11 months of the year? I personally have experienced an ethical dilemma when it comes to navigating spaces without succumbing to performative PR and standing up for true representation through my work.
Elina Banerjee is the sneak-her sister you wish you had! From runway critiques to unorthodox styling tips, she is deemed to be the face of an emerging rebellious face of fashion; one that isn’t afraid to walk the talk, approach the unknown and give back to the culture.
A lot of current and modern queer fashion or aesthetics become recognizable in online spaces, rather than in person. Is the age of social media bridging the lack of in-person community and companionship? Your thoughts?
I agree that social media has been a very strong force that has impacted in starting a prominent dialogue centered on queer fashion and I am glad that I play a small part in that crusade. Social media has helped us regain control and freedom of our own narrative without any sense of threat and makes us feel validated by individuals who affirm to our story. That in itself creates a safe space which is enriching and I am thankful that I as a bisexual individual, had access and privilege to the awareness and expression through varied forms of social media. I am glad to have met people who are brilliant and have views that I believe wouldn’t have been easy for me to otherwise garner in my real life.
HG: What piece of advice would you give to fellow LGBTQAI+ members in terms of getting their voice out there and being ‘free’?
The only piece of advice I would give would be to be vocal about who you are and that could be through any medium. We have been suppressed for far too long and it is time to be loud and proud about yourself. Ask for your rights and for you to be seen because the world will still find ways not to. Also to not forget that the LGBTQIA+ community is called a community and not a society for the reason that you will find people like us to reach out to and be kind to you, so do so without hesitation and we promise to uplift you as well.
Your current favorite fashion trend right now?
I am very enthused about the study of how pandemic dressing has now been incorporated as regular elements of everyday fashion, especially the inclusion of gloves in every other piece. Also, I’m big on our return to exploring vintage pieces and embracing our heirloom pieces and styling them in a way that is modern but keeps the classical sanctity of the vintage pieces intact.
(He/Him) Cis Gay Man
A budding style enthusiast, Hrishikesh considers the world his runway. Be it office runs or Insta photo-ops, you will always catch him dressed to impress. Epitomising the face of camp, Hrishikesh’s style amplifies his own identity while seeking to pave the path for others in the community.
Today, in a world where the LGBTQAI+ community is slowly becoming accepted by mainstream society, their subcultures and fashion cues are also gaining traction. How would you define your experience of being a queer creative in India?
Being a queer creator with social anxiety is exhausting for someone who doesn’t dress like an average man on an everyday basis. Like, if look camp for work one day at the office, I would wear something very regular the next day to fit in and limit myself to the performative binary. That’s how I balance it out. While it might be an uphill battle I refuse to give up and stop expressing myself.
HG: What is your current favourite fashion trend?
I think my favourite fashion right now is the Y2k trend resurfacing- skimpy stringy tops and dresses. Designers like Nenci Dojaka aesthetic and Supriya Lele stand out for me. I myself am trying to experiment with my fashion taste. The Y2k trend may seem scandalous in the Indian landscape but to that I say, bring it on!
It’s very nostalgic to see all these early 2000s statement styles come back in trend and add to the cyclical nature of fashion.
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