4Women - Lifestyle

From toys to furniture, sneakers to hairdo's. Everything that makes a South African lesbian's life interesting

Lesbian Fashion Explained

By Cathy Simpson

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 short haired 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 Cape Town's Beula 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 'red light' 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 Cape Town, 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 gay pride stickers that are available 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.

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