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Valerie Steele Curated Playlist: Queer Fashion

DOI: 11.5040/QueerFashion

Curated by Valerie Steele

Gay male designers and trendsetters have played a major role in fashion for more than a century.  So have lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, and other queer individuals and communities. Indeed, as more research has been conducted into LGBTQ history, it becomes increasingly clear that dress and fashion have long been central to LGBTQ self-perception and social identity. In this playlist, however, we focus on fashion designers of the recent past, most of whom were openly gay.

Although French society has long been relatively tolerant of homosexuality, the fashion industry, in particular, has provided a haven for sexual outsiders. John Paul Gaultier (b. 1952), the so-called “enfant terrible” of French fashion, was also lucky enough to grow up in a family that accepted his sexuality. As a child, for example, he created a miniature corset for his teddy bear. Throughout his career, he felt confident in highlighting the sexual aspects of fashion – from corsetry and cone bras to cross-dressing and body modification.

Other European and American designers, however, have sometimes faced more overt homophobia. Alexander McQueen, for example, recalled facing hostility for being queer, and he identified with Joan of Arc, who was martyred, in part, because she persisted in crossdressing.  Arkadius, sometimes known as “the Alexander McQueen of Poland,” has also been confronted with vicious homophobia.

Prejudice coexisted, however, with the rise of defiantly joyful queer subcultures, which have also influenced many designers. Gianni Versace, John Galliano, Franco Moschino, and Marc Jacobs are among the many designers who drew on camp and Baroque themes in their work.  Versace’s Warhol-inspired designs, for example, alluded to the camp work of one of the century’s most influential gay artists. Female designers of various sexualities have also created what might be termed queer fashions; as Pam Hogg told The Guardian: “Just don’t call me normal.”


Tim Jonze. “Pam Hogg: 'Just don't call me normal.'” (Accessed August 2021)

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