FashionLifestyle

Lesbian Fashion: Stereotyping the Signal

Inside Le Monocle, mid-1930s.

While the concept of stereotyping is grounded in othering marginalised people, clothing stereotypes are sometimes used to signal and find others who belong to the same group you do. This is especially true for lesbians. It’s one thing to find other women attractive. It’s another thing to show you do find her attractive, and knowing another woman is safe to flirt with is made a lot easier if her clothing suggests she’s not straight.

Historically, lesbian and bisexual women have had to be resourceful and secretive when finding each other. Much of what may be known as stereotypical lesbian fashion today was originally intended for lesbians to signal their sexual orientation to other lesbians. Art and artists have helped form the secret symbols, codes and trends.

Radclyffe Hall put lesbian fashion on the map when she wrote the tragic lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. The book, published in 1928, was ruled “obscene” for the homosexual content, despite the extent of lesbian romance being a kiss. Due to a number of writers supporting Hall in a stand against censorship, the case of banning The Well of Loneliness meant that there was interest in who Radclyffe Hall was as a person. As a result, her short hair, suits, and rejection of feminine expectations became synonymous with lesbian fashion.

November 9, 1928: The Trial of Radclyffe Hall and Virginia Woolf's  Exquisite Case for the Freedom of Speech – Brain Pickings
Radclyffe Hall via National Portrait Gallery

Radclyffe Hall wrote to her publisher, Jonathon Cape:

“I have put my pen at the service of some of the most persecuted and misunderstood people in the world…So far as I know nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction.”

Beyond having lesbian archetypes like Hall to take inspiration from, historical lesbians had specific style symbols and codes to communicate their sexual orientation. One of these was a monocle. Le Monocle was a lesbian bar in Paris that was open during the 1930s. The bar was called Le Monocle because some lesbians wore a monocle, along with their tuxedo and short hairstyle, at the time. The bustling bar was shut in the 1940s due to homosexuals being persecuted by Nazis in World War Two.

lemonocle3
Women wearing monocles at Le Monocle.

Without particular codes and styles, finding community and female lovers would have been almost impossible throughout history, and lesbian signalling hasn’t gone away. If anything, faster transmission of information via technology, more lesbian art, and growing acceptance — comparative to the 1920s and 1930s — has led to more signs, symbols, codes and patterns in lesbian fashion than ever before.

Doc Martens

You thought I was going to say flannel first — gotcha! Many lesbians gravitate towards practical, comfortable clothing. Doc Martens are a staple for many men and women, but a pair of these sturdy boots reflects the lesbian inclination to form a Riot Grrrl band, don a mohawk and wear pins that represent our political views, especially during the 1990s. Docs can be worn by butches, femmes, and those of us off the scale, which is great, considering the increasing diversity of lesbians and their styles.

Doc Martens, via the Dr. Marten Australian Website.

Pins, stickers or badges that reflect your views, interests and/or love for women

This depends on your style, but a few badges or pins on a jacket or bag are a good talking point if a woman is interested in you and wants to approach (or vice versa). You can go all punk if you want and make your jacket as crowded as a mosh pit, or you can put a little lesbian or bisexual flag sticker on your laptop to take to class or the coffee shop. Either way, you’re less likely to miss a chance with your local hottie if you drop a hint you’re into women. And what’s more direct than a badge that reads: I AM A LESBIAN.

Sapphic Society Pinback Button Lesbian Dyke LGBTQ Pride image 0
Via LuckyLittleQueer on Etsy
4 Gay Socialist Badges Communist Lesbian Leftist LGBT Comrade image 0
Via RadBadgesUK on Etsy
Community Lesbian Sticker Pastel Bird & Feather Lesbian Pride image 0
Via Bronwynbrimsstudio on Etsy

Snapbacks

What else would a f**kboi lesbian wear to signify their player tendencies? I joke *laughs nervously*.

Snapbacks are popular among sport-loving lesbians and are a quick and simple way to scream “I do lesbian thirst traps on TikTok.”

Or you could wear one to be as cool as Young M.A:

lesbian young m.a GIF by Music Choice
Via Giphy

Birkenstocks

Confession: I live in my Birkenstocks. I wish I could tell you it was intentional, that I am purposefully conforming to the stereotype, but I’m not. They’re even the vegan ones… talk about lesbian stereotypes.

Birkenstocks are the summer Doc Martens (for those who don’t wear their Docs year-long). I wear my Birks year-long. They’re great for lesbians who only own denim and black clothing, like myself, and really can’t be bothered tying up boots in the morning. Here’s to us!

Via the Birkenstock website

Chains

Whether it be a thick, linked chain necklace, a chain attached to your belt for decoration, or a chain that holds your keys – the ring of keys lesbian sign made famous in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home – industrial chains are IT for lesbians at the moment.

chunky industrial clasp silver jean chain image 0
Via ShopDarlin on Etsy

I could go on. Before you ask “but where’s the flannel?” I’ll say that lesbian fashion being so recognisable is demonstrated by what you anticipated I’d include here. There are many signs, symbols and trends in lesbian style-signalling that are subject to particular communities, let alone particular parts of the globe.

Lesbian art and artists have played a huge role in what we have historically used to signify our lesbianism to each other in secret. They’ve given us stories to connect with other lesbians. In tragic times of persecution, lesbian and bisexual women have managed to develop secret dress codes in order to communicate that they’re safe to be approached and confided in.

Many lesbian stereotypes that revolve around clothing reflect the widespread use of these codes, to the point that straight people have identified the pattern. That’s pretty cool! Using stereotypical or secretive lesbian clothing and/or accessories to signal your lesbianism connects you to lesbians of the past who did the same.

AJ Kelly

Contact AJ at [email protected] or view the rest of her work on aj-kelly.tumblr.com

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One Comment

  1. Yooo young M.A selling boxers n sports bras psd underwear buttt it seems shipping to uk suspended cuz corona. But shipping to nearby France is ok. And also they can do retailer deals. Wholesale. So if anyone in ldn or uk reading like lick club event on July 25th can we buy da produx there plz thnx. Summer need post lock-in underwear isn’t it . I hav no pictures on my phone but it sounds like big drip design is nyce there is also ooouuu design i fink https://www.psdunderwear. com/products/121180111-blk-young-m-a-ooouuu

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