What is Queer Fashion? Highlights From Day 2 of FIT’s Queer Fashion Symposium

Today provided more answers my ongoing question: “What is queer fashion?” also explored after yesterday’s lectures as part of the FIT’s Queer Fashion Symposium. Many of today’s speakers offered insight into gay fashion trends, highlighting observations and speculating on what caused certain styles.

Writer, lecturer, and curator Shaun Cole said he in no way means to define what gay fashion is, but rather report observations he and other people have made within the community. His interest in observing rather than defining resonated with the purpose of my blog. Am I trying to dictate the meaning of queer fashion? No. I just want to provide a platform on which to display a diversity of style from queers all over the world — in particular queer women and trans people —  in an effort to inspire one another and engage in conversation. Never will queer fashion be one definable style. It grows and changes every time we shop, put on a piece of clothing, or go out and interact with the world. It’s a visual language through which to express our queerness to one another, and at times, society at large.

Cole highlighted that people dress at times with the purpose of attracting partners. The parts of ourselves that we emphasize shifts according to whom our gazer is. In other words, is queer fashion influenced by sexuality in addition to gender? Absolutely. Our clothes seduce people through the way they fit, feel, emphasize parts of our bodies, and allow us to interact with our partners. If you haven’t tugged on a cutie’s tie or worn a tie that was tugged on before, I highly recommend it.

One of the final speakers Joel Sanders, designer of the current Queer Fashion exhibit at the FIT, gave one of the most impressive descriptions of queer fashion I’ve encountered. He believes that queers — whether conscious of it or not — have a special lens into society’s inflicted gender performance, which we then reinterpret for our own style. He generously gave me the quote from his talk to share with all of you:

“LBGTQ people have enlisted fashion as a vehicle to express their identities by appropriating and reinterpreting the binary sartorial codes borrowed from mainstream culture that signify femininity and masculinity… These social conventions are so deeply ingrained in our cultural unconscious that they tend to go largely unnoticed. However, queers are not unlike expatriates living on foreign soil who have a heightened sense of the unfamiliar customs and protocols that natives take for granted. Fashion designers are adept at doing what queers do instinctively – detecting and highlighting the social conventions that shape gender performance.”

Those us of who don’t fit into heteronormative behavior and desire have a heightened sensitivity to society’s gender roles. Whether femme, butch, genderqueer, stud, etc, the way we dress references these roles and reinterprets them.

So, what is queer fashion? Hypersensitivity to society’s inflicted gender roles, seduction to whom we are attracting, and simply, whatever we see around us. It shifts from culture to culture, era to era, and has been affected at times by needs to conceal identity or code our identity to one another. But regardless of how we choose to use the language of queer fashion, at the heart of it is hypersensitivity to the meaning behind our clothes, with particular regard to gender and sexuality.

Needless to say, this symposium was well worth the trip to New York! As you reblog and perhaps share your thoughts, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming of style inspiration and queer eye candy. Thanks for being part of this amazing platform for queer expression through fashion!

A Queer History of Fashion: From The Closet To The Catwalk at The Museum at FIT runs though January 4th, 2014.