It has become something of a stereotype that fashion and gay men “go together.”
Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, Project Runway and a host of other television, film and literature productions have cemented the notion that there’s something about gay men that draws them to the world of fashion.
There may be some objective reality to this impression, but not necessarily what you would expect. Creativity, flamboyance and “over the top” design do seem to be the purview of the homosexual sensibility, but I would suggest that there’s something else at play here.
In a world where being your authentic self might garner negative attention, bullying and even physical violence, gay men, in particular, have had to develop “protective camouflage” to secure their safety. It’s an aphorism that “the clothes make the man” and this is even more relevant in the context of that protective camouflage.
The clothes we wear communicate who we think we are and/or how we want the world to perceive us. Clothing design and fashion trends help to shape that communication, offering us a chance to stake a claim for our performative identity, whether our goal is to blend in with the heteronormative society we move through or plant a flag on the hill of our chosen identity.
Make no mistake, clothing is both armour for, and advertisement of, our identities. As Seth Godin has written many times, “people like us do things like this.” It’s a way to identify with our tribe, creating a shared vernacular that sets us apart from “the masses” while simultaneously gathering us together in like-minded groups.
Fashion in its most extravagant iterations can also be weaponized to create a protective bubble, possibly challenging potential aggressors to “sashay away.” This can be a tricky business, but if you’ve ever been confronted by an annoyed drag queen, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
This whole dynamic is, of course, not limited to gay men. Everyone in society is using their clothing to mediate their engagement with the societies they’re embedded in. It’s just that gay men seem to have elevated this whole thing to an entirely new level.
During Pride season, I challenge you to step up to the plate in your fashion choices and “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!”