Who Says All Gay Men Are Stylish?
The idea that all gay men are fashionable is bull—just look at all the friends of Dorothy who dress like they're still in Kansas. Tell us what you think about the myth of gay style below.
-By Katherine Wheelock-
The following article puts us down a peg or two. However to me, it's not the clothes that make the man, but how he wears what little he can get away with. WOOF.
According to a perception that clings to popular culture like a sparkly barnacle, a visit to a predominantly gay neighborhood should yield style enlightenment. Going to the West Side enclave of Chelsea in New York should be like strolling the via Montenapoleone, in Milan. Fashion-challenged men and women should flock to these places and take notes.
Tracing the roots of this myth is easy. The Stylish Gay Man is at least as old as the Magical Negro, and older than the Nerdy Asian. Since time began, homosexuality has been associated with aesthetic acumen. It's a reasonable generalization—one that Edward II, Quentin Crisp, Liberace, and others did little to weaken, and one that understandably sashayed into the late 20th century and the early 21st; most of the openly gay men American society first accepted as public figures were clothing designers.
"This idea comes from how awareness of gay men grew over the last 40 or 50 years," says designer Isaac Mizrahi. "To someone who only knew of three gay people, it looked like all gay men were stylish."
In movies and on TV in the eighties and nineties, gay sidekicks gave sartorial and grooming advice to their messy-haired, mannish girlfriends. The Verdis and the Cojocarus of the world emerged in their wake, and on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Carson Kressley and company began gussying up men. As long as the tip was offered with a cock of the hip and a Mary Lou Retton grin, it was fabulous.
"The conventional wisdom has always been that effeminate men were concerned with style and appearance," says Simon Doonan, fashion pundit and creative director at Barneys New York. "If a movie script called for a character to be fluffy or superficial, they made him a fashion designer. This gave rise to the erroneous idea that all gay men are fashion-obsessed."
But even now that the confetti from the gay-makeover party has settled, the myth of the Stylish Gay Man persists. William Sledd, a 23-year-old Gap manager from Paducah, Kentucky, just signed a deal with Bravo to do an online, critic-at-large—style show based on his video blog, "Ask a Gay Man." This spring it blew up as the fourth-most-subscribed-to video blog on YouTube. Sledd has a side-swept haircut like Clay Aiken and often wears a tight argyle sweater or a slogan T-shirt. He says things like "What's up with all the black? I don't think there are enough pink ninjas in the world." He's entertaining. But what makes him a style expert—besides the fact that he's gay?
"Schooling and exposure determine your ability to say what looks good and what doesn't look good, not your sexual preference," Mizrahi says. "It's like saying all black people have rhythm."
And as a walk through Chelsea demonstrates—in the spring, it's often a visual smorgasbord of pink polo shirts skimming potbellies, patch-bedecked denim jackets, and silvery sneakers worn with an 11-year-old girl's naive enthusiasm—the idea that homosexual males have more style sense than any other category of human beings is patently untrue. If you were picking teams, kickball-at-recess-style, for a fashion championship, who would you call first dibs on? Lance Bass, George Clooney, Alan Cumming, Jay-Z, Rufus Wainwright, or Brad Pitt?
Take your time.
Gay men, unlike supermodels and rock stars, have no more knack for looking good in pretty much anything than the rest of us. And while there might be (just barely) fewer gay rumors circulating about the painstakingly groomed, French-cuffed Ryan Seacrest than there are about the black-T-shirt-clad Simon Cowell, it's hardly risky for a straight man to demonstrate an appreciation for fashion these days.
The Stylish Gay Man's days may be numbered. And when he dies, the playing field will be leveled. Entertainment-show hosts and best-dressed-list compilers will stop treating straight men who simply combed their hair and put on a well-cut suit as if they were paraplegics who just completed an Ironman. And the average gay man, saddled with unrealistic expectations for his personal presentation, will breathe a sigh of relief.
"There have been so many times when I wished I was a lesbian and didn't have to care about what I wore," says Michael Macko, vice president of men's fashion at Saks Fifth Avenue. "Why can't I put on dirty sweat pants, a pair of Birkenstocks, a flannel shirt, and think, Which baseball cap will I wear today? It must be nice to buy all your clothes at outlet stores."
I'm afraid that there will always be a little of the fashion queen in most gay men. We tend to buy clothes that dictate fashion. Where we go wrong is buying stuff out of the International Male catalog, that may look good on the model, but would look absolutely terrible on mere mortals such as us.