LGBTQ+ culture, which can also be called queer culture, is commonly referred to as a culture shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals. The fashion industry operates under a façade that is a flood of LGBTQ+ individuals and a haven for the queer community. If you asked a 100 people to name a fashion designer past or present, it is probable that the majority would be gay men such as (but not limited to) Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Halston and Calvin Klein. Homosexuality, however, within the industry was once something that was not spoken about, albeit this has significantly improved in recent years.
“LGBTQ people have had a big impact on fashion for a long time, and it's not just by chance.” - Valerie Steele
Focusing on Giorgio Armani, he was responsible for reinventing men's suiting and this became known as the 'unstructured suit'. A suit was typically seen as being a rigid, stiff jacket but he changed this to a garment draping softly along the body by removing the lining and introducing innovative fabrics. Therefore, simple but innovative ideas introduced by the knowledge of LGBTQ+ individuals have changed and are constantly changing the fashion industry by pushing the boundaries.
Stereotypically, leather culture has been associated with what is known as 'fetish fashion'. An obsession with leather has been thriving amongst the LGBTQ+ community ever since the 1950s and is still worn today by leathermen like Max in sex clubs, parties and Pride parades. While it is wrong to assume that leather fetishwear is exclusively LGBTQ+, it is widely recognised that coming out into leather represents coming out as LGBTQ+ and thus, increased visibility of these identities.
In Hal Fischer’s seminal photography book 'Gay Semiotics', which examines coded gay fashion in 1970s San Francisco, leather accessories such as caps were a representation of the wearer being interested in sadomasochistic sex. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, this marked the beginning of greater integration of elements of leather culture into both the larger gay subculture and into popular culture. A good example is rock bands like The Village People and Judas Priest who adopted some of the trappings of leather culture to further enhance their stage presence and character.
You have probably realised by this point that leather is strongly associated with sexual practices and sexual gratification and there are even leather bars still present in the US such as Eagle NYC. However, leather is equally very fashionable and thus, influencing people beyond the LGBTQ+ community.
The 1920s was when drag art became more aligned with the LGBTQ+ community and "drag balls" have taken place ever since - where men dressed as women; a dance of drag culture. Unfortunately, this received unwanted discrimination as drag performers were often ridiculed and sometimes arrested for simply being who they were but nowadays, society has adopted much of their culture, beauty standards, language, and fashion archetypes with nearly no acknowledgement. One could argue that drag has in fact promoted body positivity by repopularising the body type of exaggerated curves.
“You’re born naked and the rest is drag.” - RuPaul Charles
This quote by RuPaul provided educational awareness with regards to the blurring of gender roles, illustrating fashion's connection with drag culture. It is therefore imperative that drag continues to have an active role in educating others on these important issues in order to break down barriers and fight stereotypes. RuPaul's contract with MAC Cosmetics in 1993 was the first breakthrough of drag into the mainstream fashion industry with US billboards presenting him in full drag.
The LGBTQ+ community is vast, plural and proud of who they are. They deserve respect and recognition. Drag queens don’t necessarily belong to the community but due to prejudice and discrimination, people marginalize these artists and their art. In spite of this, change is happening through the aforementioned education, thus connecting the fashion industry and wider society.