When I paired a pink T-shirt that read ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ with a blue plaid shirt and wore them to the WORN office the other day, I was taken aback when a fellow wornette said I looked like a cowboy. Yes, I realized, that would be the literal symbolism. But wasn’t I also following the male hipster tendency of wearing the traditional items of working-class culture (flannel, cowboy shirts, trucker caps) as a tongue-in-cheek joke? Had I not also been influenced by the Clone look of the 1970s, when gay men asserted their masculinity through tight Levis and denim vests? Rather than imitating a cowboy, I was imitating an imitation of a cowboy.
I realized I was wearing more layers of identities than layers of clothing and the post-modernity of it all made me want to go lay down.
The Clone was a stereotype and the gay community continues to have a love/hate relationship with stereotypes. At diversity-training workshops we say they are not true and academic queer theorists maintain that all identities (gay, straight, female, male) are socially constructed. At the same time, gay culture revels in its stereotypes and continues to invent more; Clones may have disappeared, but gay ‘Bears’ (larger-set, hairy men) have taken their place. Stereotypes can be useful for those wading their way into a new identity, but they can be suffocating to others who feel trapped.
When I started to write about the influence of fashion in the gay rights movement, I knew I was walking on a tight rope. I wanted to argue that clothes were important for gay men when coming out of the closet, while not making vast generalizations and offending people. Eventually I realized that it was impossible to write about queer fashions of the 1950’s to the 1970’s without talking about the stereotypes that they accompanied. Clothing, as is often the case, was the main component of these identities, and without knowing the stereotypes the outfits made no sense.
Even though we live our lives differently now, we can still take pride in the identities and outfits which came before.
I ended up structuring my article on gay stereotypes and explained how the effeminate Fairy of the pre-1960s turned into the macho Leather Man of the disco era. When we received the wonderful illustrations by the Pin Pals’ Sara Guindon we thought they were too special to leave on the page. So we did what any other journal would do: we turned them into puppets. Lovingly hand-cut and assembled by wornettes, they are now for sale at the WORN store, but for a limited time and only as supplies last!
Introducing Wilfred the Fairy: With his snappy suit, pink carnation and sidekick poodle, he wouldn’t be out of place tickling the ivories in a Noël Coward comedy. While his jokes may be dry and a bit cruel, he’s a sweetheart deep down who tears up when Judy Garland sings ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.
Don’t let Gunther’s tutu fool you. He’s a tough-as-nails Radical Drag Queen who doesn’t let gender binaries or police officers prevent him from marching in pride parades and high-kicking his magenta heels. By mixing femininity with masculinity (note the beard and hairy legs) Radical Drag Queens of the early 1970s forced people to question what, if anything, gender meant.
None of that gender-play for Lance the Clone. He likes his t-shirt tight, his green jeans tighter, and his moustache well trimmed. While Fairies of the 1950s had dressed like dandy aristocrats to escape the bourgeoisie, Clones of the 1970s embraced the icons of working-class manhood (cowboys, soldiers, construction workers) to show the world that just because you slept with men didn’t mean you couldn’t look like one.
Tobias the Leather Man has only one inspiration: the leather-clad biker. Gay men were into black leather for almost as long as the Hell’s Angels. He demonstrates his sexual interests with signifying keys on his belt or with a coloured hanky. But beneath his studded and studly ensemble, he’s harboring a secret: he’s got tickets to go see Bette Midler with Wilfrid next week.
To read more about fashion during the gay rights movement, read ‘Out of the Closet’ by Max Mosher (me) in issue 12 of WORN Fashion Journal. And click here to order one of these men or collect the entire set.
They’re a fabulous addition to any puppet play.