Part Two: Queer Fashion Series

Photo by

Photo by


Over the past few months, I have been thinking a lot about what queer fashion is and isn’t. Some of the questions that keep surfacing are:

I want to consider each of these questions individually over the next few weeks in a series of articles, in hopes of engendering further conversation and debate about queer fashion and style.

Part Two: Queer Fashion

Is queer fashion about the clothes, or about the person wearing them?

Group Dynamics

When considering clothing as a means to personally express oneself, it gets more complicated. Our fashion expression lives within the larger context of culture expectations and norms. Even if we wear something we “want to wear” or “feel comfortable in” as a way to individually express ourselves, it’s still likely connected to the larger social pressures to “fit in” or at least recognize when you’re “standing out.” After all, we are all part of fashion trends somehow whether thoughtfully, or dismissively, and our personal expressions typically exist within these predetermined constructs. And yet, to say that personal style doesn’t exist, in that is just an externalization of group identity is reductive and over-simplistic.

Illustration by Joshua Seong.  © Verywell, 2018.

Illustration by Joshua Seong. © Verywell, 2018.

On an Individual Level

The above argument relies on the assumption that people have access to unlimited varieties of clothing at any time, and yet are still falling into socially expected patterns. The reality is that most people have a limited amount of clothing available in their closet at any given time. In this context, personal expression might be contained by larger expectations, but still exists on a daily basis. For example, the silhouette, color or pattern a person chooses to wear, might be an externalization of a person’s emotional state—happy or sad—or an emphasis of their body. Conversely, a person might use clothes as an armor, to hide or shield their true feelings or bodily imperfections. In this sense, personal expression feels real and powerful for the wearer, no matter the larger constructs at play.  

Inherently Queer?

Clothes are given meaning by the groups who wear them, in that clothes themselves don’t have any intrinsic value or meaning beyond their utility. These meanings develop and shift over time, and are largely facilitated by dominating social, religious and political influences. However, meanings are also applied to clothes by minority groups as well, including the queer community. In this sense, queer fashion has become distinctive on a whole, and within the even smaller tribes that exist in the community. Because of these meanings, clothing can become a method—a shorthand—to express a personal queer identity. And a sense of power and inclusion can be felt by the wearer when choosing to wear these queer styles—often because they challenge the status quo.  However, this access to a new, or shifting personal identity, does fall into the limitations discussed above related to group dynamics, wherein choices are being dictated by the queer majority or queer media. And what’s more, there is overlap with the larger heteronormative context, in that these queer styles often are just subversions of social mores in general; for example, a cis-female wearing a short hair style, or a cis-male wearing a skirt.

Photo by  Liliia Beda

Photo by Liliia Beda

More Possibilities

However, queer fashion does provide a much broader spectrum of styles for someone to choose from, in that it doesn’t limit the wearer to prevalent gender norms. A larger array of options related to silhouette, color and pattern allow for more ways to express a person’s emotional and physical state. As a queer person becomes more comfortable expressing themselves, outside of prevailing social norms, there is a sense of a freedom that emerges, that gets much closer to the idea of true personal style. In Judith Roof’s book What Gender Is, What Gender Does she describes a person as being chatoyant, a term used to describe all of the hues of a stone, such as a diamond, and how it shines in different ways depending on the light. This is such an apt description of personal style emerging in its truest form, an actualization of self, that goes beyond fashion trends, social expectations or even identity. In short, it becomes less about the clothes themselves being queer, and more about the individual wearing them being queer.

Joshua Williams, Chief Branding Officer

Joshua T WilliamsComment