What’s “Too Gay” For Fashion?
July 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m pretty sure most people would say that I dress gay. I’m not afraid of short shorts, my jeans are sometimes so tight I have to put them on laying down, and my t-shirts show off my time at the gym as well as my time away from it. But even for me, a flamer working in fashion, there are limits to how much flamboyance I want to project in my wardrobe. Just the other day, I considered buying a red, floral Engineering Garments shirt online. The pros included that it was cute and 50% off. Plus, I’ve always wanted a floral shirt; Simon Doonan, the Creative Ambassador for Barneys, wears them all the time and looks fabulous. But after some discussion with my boyfriend, Alex, I decided to forgo it. “Too gay,” I thought. “Too gay and not-on-sale enough to risk looking like a Rose Parade float.”
I realized recently that my seemingly silly concern about looking “too gay” was shared by other faggy fashionistas. Over the weekend, I saw clips from the soon-to-be-released documentary The Guts of Duckie Brown, which follows Duckie Brown designers Steven Cox and Daniel Silver as they create their latest collection. In one particularly endearing and utterly honest clip, Steven Cox discusses the conflict and eventually acceptance he experienced in dressing what some would consider a garish (or gay!) manner: “I admit sometimes that I have been homophobic and have been a self-loathing homosexual because I wanna be like butch and like a real man and things like that, but in the end you’ve got to own it. It’s ok to wear a floral, nylon jacket.”
The male desire to look butch – or stereotypically masculine – that Cox expressed serves as a strong marketing and design force in menswear. Fashionista reports that at a Q&A following a private screening of their documentary, the Duckie Brown duo shared that “their clothes have been criticized for being ‘too gay’ and unfit for mainstream fashion magazines that target ‘real men.'” As a result, their clothes don’t receive the attention from buyers or the coverage from media that they would need to grow as a brand.
The value placed on conventional masculinity that the Duckies were expressing is seen in fashion magazines every month. Take GQ’s July cover, which features Chris Evans sporting a double breasted navy blazer, blue jeans, simple white t-shirt, and a tuft of chest hair. With no pattern, color, or new design ideas, the outfit doesn’t push any sartorial boundaries. And I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Evans is a fashion icon. But despite the seeming lack of fashion on this cover, GQ chose this image because it reflects a mainstream ideal of masculinity that America covets. Evans is straight and buff, and his clothes are understated and follow a classically masculine silhouette. Male readers can see it and think, “I want to look like him,” and because of this, GQ will probably sell more issues.
Details Magazine’s July cover demonstrates a similar mentality, putting another straight, uninspiringly dressed figure – Ryan Reynolds – on its cover under the tagline, “Ryan Reynolds is just like you.” Like the GQ cover, it promotes a conventional masculinity targeted at the average American man. The overall image has enough polish for a fashion magazine, but it’s not obscure or experimental enough to scare away readers or make them feel emasculated (no Duckie Brown here!).
Despite my criticisms of these images, I’ll readily admit that I’m not above staring at or even sometimes admiring them. But for me, an awareness of my reactions to media allows me to better control their impact on my self expression and self esteem. I think other men should reflect on how media influences them as well. Maybe if this happens, boundary pushing designers like Duckie Brown will get more editorial attention, attract more buyers, and have a clientele that extends beyond just big fags.