A History of Lesbian Fashion
From Sappho and Suffragettes to t-shirts and TikTok, a fascinating journey through the culture, politics and social history of lesbian clothing.
Clothes are central to lesbian history, and lesbians are central to fashion history. The way we dress can help us show who we are, or hide ourselves; make us into a community, or make us stand out from the crowd. Yet ‘lesbian fashion’ is often strangely overlooked. Without this story of self-expression, what are we missing about the culture and status of queer women?
The lesbian past is slippery: it has often been deliberately hidden, edited or left unrecorded. Unsuitable restores to style history and queer history the fascinating, ever-changing tale of modern lesbian dress, from top hats to violet tiaras. This story spans centuries and countries, from ‘Gentleman Jack’ in nineteenth-century Yorkshire and Queen Christina of seventeenth-century Sweden, to Paris modernism, genderqueer Berlin, butch/femme bar culture and 1980s activists, via drag kings, the Suffragettes, the Harlem Renaissance and the power of slogan tees. This book is a kaleidoscope of the margins and the mainstream, celebrating trans lesbian histories, Black lesbian histories, and histories of gender-nonconformity.
You don’t have to be queer or fashionable to be enthralled by this hidden history of minority identity. In Unsuitable, Eleanor Medhurst lights it up for the world to see, in all its finery.
Eleanor Medhurst is a historian of lesbian fashion and author of the blog Dressing Dykes. She has worked on Brighton Museum’s exhibitions Queer Looks and Queer the Pier, and been interviewed by Grazia, Cosmopolitan, Cameron Esposito’s Queery and Gillian Anderson’s What Do I Know?! This is her first book.