Queer Fashion Subtext

“The homosexual is beset by signs, by the urge to interpret whatever transpires, or fails to transpire, between himself and every chance acquaintance. He is a prodigious consumer of signs, hidden meanings, hidden systems, hidden potentiality. Exclusion from the common code impels the frenzied quest: In the momentary glimpse, the scrambled figure, the sporadic gesture, the chance encounter, the reverse image, the sudden slippage, the lowered guard. In a flash meanings may be disclosed; mysteries wrenched out and betrayed… The need to trace a compatible world becomes the urge to control one with an unceasing production of signs (the suede shoes and cigarette holders of the 1950s, the leather and chain accoutrements of the 1960s…), as if nothing could be determined by trial, except the signature; nothing deduced from content, only hieroglyphs.”

Semiotician Harold Beaver, from “Couture as Queer Auto/Biography” by Christopher Breward

Fuelling my thoughts on queer subtext in fashion – In this article, Breward argues that we have moved away from subtextual statements about queerness through dress as LGBT+ lives have become more visible, and gained acceptance in the hetero mainstream, because we no longer need to secretly signal our queerness to other members of our community.

I think about my rainbow wallet, which is always a conversation piece with other queers. If someone offers a compliment, this is often to signal they are queer – if they wink at me, I can be even more certain. Queer fashion subtext still plays a valuable role in my community interactions – interactions that do not require explicit confessions of mutual queerness to communicate exactly that. I love that there are sartorial codes that signal queerness, a secret language for those “in the life”.

As a cisgender queer femme woman, the concept of queer fashion subtext appeals to me in that it offers an opportunity to communicate my queerness while presenting as feminine. I am not typically read as queer, which requires a perpetual and explicit confession of queer identity and behaviour. My rainbow wallet affords me recognizability as a member of LGBTQ community because it is an intelligible symbol of queerness. Not only is it recognizable on it’s own, but it often also provides an opportunity for conversation (about where I got it – in the village – or why I have it – I’m queer!) In this way, it is not only a symbol, but a catalyst. Queer subtext makes my rainbow wallet a very powerful accessory, indeed!

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