Conspicuous Waist: Queer Dress in the "Long Eighteenth Century"

Yale University Press
Publication Type:
A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk, 2013, 1, pp. 71 - 107
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What are the main contours of the history of queer mens fashion? What are its narratives? How has the concept of queer mens fashion been put together within the history of dress and the history of sexuality? How does the body and gesture work together to create a fashionable image? Why are young gay men attacked if they appear thin and pretty? What are the precursors for this way of being in the world? Why does society blame gay male designers for attracting female shoppers? How do persecuted minorities manage their identity via clothing and fashionable looks? These are big questions indeed. They can be tested in part through an historical overview and a series of case studies reaching back in time, and in so doing, we see both how stereotypes travel across time and how they are formed at specific historical moments. This chapter will consider the tantalizing but difficult hypothesis that gay style actually sets trends. Its what straight people take fashion from. This overview begins with the development of sodomitical subcultures in early-modern western Europe, that is, the period 15001800. Much can be recovered of the fashionable taste of outsider males including their apparent liking of vibrant colors, clashing colors and patterns, and sometimes also cross-dressing, which seems to have fulfilled the roles of entertainment, ironic pleasure, or occasional sex work. In this backdrop I will unpack the archaeology of queer dressing and explore the queer trace in eighteenth-century Western Europe.
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