A History of Lesbian Fashion

June 2024 9781805260967 344pp, 35 colour illus
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


The way we dress can show or hide who we are; make us fit in, make us stand out, or make our own community. Yet ‘lesbian fashion’ has been strangely overlooked. What secrets can it reveal about the lives and status of queer women through the ages?

The lesbian past is slippery: often deliberately hidden, edited or left unrecorded. Unsuitable restores to history the dazzlingly varied clothes worn by women who love women, 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 gay rights activists—via drag kings, Vogue editors and the Harlem Renaissance.

This book is a kaleidoscope of the margins and the mainstream, celebrating trans lesbian style, Black lesbian style, and gender nonconformity. You don’t have to be queer or fashionable to be enthralled by this hidden history. Unsuitable lights it up for the world to see, in all its finery.


‘Charts the myriad styles of women-loving women through the ages.’ — The Guardian

‘Unsuitable is an essential read that shines a light on a rich and often obscured legacy.’ — Oxford University Press blog

‘An absolutely fascinating study of lesbian clothing, in all its unpredictable variety, over continents and centuries.’ — Emma Donoghue, award-winning author of Room; The Pull of the Stars and Passions Between Women

‘A charming, enlightening and inspiring history of a too-often overlooked identity.’ — Paul Baker, award-winning author of Camp!Outrageous! and Fabulosa!

‘A wonderful, celebratory and joyously queer insight into lesbian fashion—I loved it.’ — Tasha Suri, award-winning author of the Burning Kingdoms trilogy

‘Whether it’s Japanese Bluestockings or stage actresses in Georgian London, Eleanor Medhurst brings hidden worlds to life in her positively engrossing book.’ — Cameron Esposito, standup comic, host of Queery and author of Save Yourself

‘An affectionate and informative history, deeply researched and bursting at the seams with interesting facts about the lives and styles of queer women from the past.’ — Diarmuid Hester, author of Wrong and Nothing Ever Just Disappears

‘A wonderful, long overdue celebration of often neglected histories. It reminds us of the power of dress to shape our place in the world.’ — Kate Strasdin, author of The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes

‘A rare exploration of the nuanced history of lesbian fashion.’ — Clare Hunter, author of Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle


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.

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