FEATURE

Sex talk
Speaking of Fashion


Simon Sheppard, QSyndicate.com


Queer men aren't immune to the tides of fashion. Indeed, if popular belief is right, we're more trend-driven than your average straight guy, the gay dating scene being very appearance-driven. Het women look for stable guys who'll provide for the children; we queers are in search of a good-looking mate whose clothes we can borrow.

If there's one thing history teaches us, it's that the right clothes can get us laid. If there's another thing that history teaches us, it's that one generation's "sexy" is another era's "ludicrous."

In pre-Stonewall days, most folks thought of gay men as faux-women, femmy bottoms looking to get plowed by "real" men, or "straight trade." From Oscar Wilde to Greenwich Village poodle-walkers, foppish effeminacy advertised sexual availability.

The modern gay movement was born in the midst of the whole hippie thing. Woodstockish long hair and frilly shirts were already viewed as suspectly queer, and '60s bell-bottom trousers were flared at the cuffs, but skin-tight around basket and ass, a pleasant attention-focusing device. To many a gay hippie, looking like a Deadhead meant you were self-accepting, hip, and sexually available.

Then came the "Castro clone" look, now a tired cliche, but then semi-revolutionary. Gone in the first flush of sexual liberation was the old butch-femme divide, replaced by flannel shirts and Levi 501s worn by tops and bottoms alike. It was an assertively butch look that said, "Real men do like to get fucked." Like many gay-derived fashion statements, it was picked up in short order by straight fellas, though without the sanded-down baskets and carefully ripped-up asses that made so many gay men's jeans such blatant ads for screwing. Because tops and bottoms now dressed alike, the "hanky code" enabled men to signify their tastes with a well-placed handkerchief or two, left for top, right for bottom, red for "give me a hand."

The clone look held sway till the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when looking good signified matters of life or death. Gay guys, always a body-conscious bunch, started joining gyms in record numbers. Comfy flannel shirts were replaced by skintight tees that showed off one's carefully constructed pecs. Because sex was so fraught, "looking sexy" was less firmly linked to actual fucking than to narcissistic good health.

As time went by, sex came back into fashion. To a new generation, though, the once-hot clone/gym look meant, "He's older, probably promiscuous, and presumably infected." Young was hot, and young men's fashion was affected as never before by mass-media images.

Spending a couple of extra bucks on Calvin Klein underwear let us identify with that billboard-perfect demigod who thrust his giant crotch out over Times Square. Then Calvin became Tommy became Abercrombie and Fitch, sedate fashion trends that bespeak consumerist conformity, not blatant dick action: "I'm responsible, datable, and only eventually fuckable." These days, some online cruisers advertise themselves as "A&F; boys." Next year, who knows?

Another youth-signifier, the hip-hop look, is almost defiantly body-denying. Super-baggy pants and oversized T-shirts conceal what lies beneath, and skater shorts cover most of the legs. (At the same time, though, sagging waistbands and way-revealed underwear act as sexual catnip.) There's nothing specifically gay about many young gayboys' clothes, which reflects queer culture's increasing absorption into the mainstream. (In any case, underground fashion gets rushed to Old Navy in record time. Tattoos and piercings once signified "I'm kinky and cutting-edge," then "I watch MTV," and now "So what?") So, we're back to the hippie-wear message: "I'm young, hip, and fuckable." And hey, if you are, there's nothing wrong with that.

And if you're not? There's always Dockers.

Simon Sheppard is the author of Kinkorama: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Perversion



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