FASHION'S COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY
The fashion industry is an industry founded on the freedom of expression. This is an industry where we are encouraged to be ourselves and to be proud of it; from seeking your personal style, embracing the clothes that represent you the most, to more personal and complicated aspects, like sexuality. That is precisely what I admire so much about this promising and encouraging field. The fashion industry is accepting, global, and helpful towards the LGBTQ+ community. Fashion has been one of the first industries to not make distinctions, and to allow members of this community to be themselves and to really shine. Although this may likely be owed to the substantial amount of its LGBTQ designers, press, and influencers, there are still more strides to be made towards universal acceptance of this community in fashion.
Speaking for myself, I feel safe in this industry. I have newly accepted myself as gay only a few months ago and couldn’t help but feel frightened by the traditionalist and hostile reactions. In my few interactions with the fashion industry since coming out, I can say that I feel included and unafraid of being myself around these people.
Some of the most powerful fashion figures are clear supporters of same-sex marriage, including Anna Wintour, Tom Ford, Christian Siriano, and Karl Lagerfeld. The annual Life Ball in Vienna, which supports people with HIV/AIDS, is probably the most welcoming event for the LGBTQ community to express itself. Equally, some of the most notable and influential fashion houses and magazines are in favor of giving LGBTQ a voice in the industry as well. Remember when two female models, dressed in bridal dresses and holding hands, closed the Chanel SS13 Haute Couture show? Or how Karl Lagerfeld clearly had several male models modeling 'womenswear' in the AW13/14 Haute Couture show? Some high street brands are clearly in favor of LGBTQ rights as well, such as American Apparel and Target. And when Caitlyn Jenner landed the cover of Vanity Fair - not just for the fact that the magazine was featuring a transgender woman - but because of the amount of support that she got from people in the style world, it is clear that this industry is very accepting of all sexual orientations... for the most part.
Unsurprisingly, this acceptance is not congruent throughout fashion. A clear solution to this might come in simple ways; some of the most accessible brands that are found all throughout the world, such as Zara, should start making statements that cue tolerance towards the LGBTQ. The famed global retailer is currently under fire for discriminating against employees and customers alike, with accusations of racism, Anti-Semitism, and yes, homophobia. Even if people around the world might disagree with Pride movements, tolerance should be a priority, especially for brands that hold so much power over fleets of consumers.
Even moreso, garment-makers and designers have always designed clothes with very gender-normative constructs. The division is quite simple – menswear and womenswear, and they even present in different seasons! At major fashion houses, has anyone stopped to think about those who love fashion, but struggle to identify with their gender? In some small cases, yes. Little changes in trends, like Burberry Menswear SS16 using strait-lace on shirts, signify big changes. Lace, stereotypically used in womenswear, is now inviting men to try new and entertaining clothes. These types of statements break up the established gender norms, opening up to the LGBTQ community in particular, but also to anyone who wants to experiment further with their clothing, regardless of stereotypes.
Not to mention, designers need to begin treating all of their customers with universal respect. For example, Giorgio Armani, who has commented before that gay men shouldn’t dress ‘homosexual’, or Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabanna, who have criticized same-sex families. The latter, who ironically identify themselves as LGBTQ, justify their opposition based on their Catholic beliefs. But their religion does not dictate in any way to judge or offend others, nor to evade taxes, for which they were charged last year. This is a tremendous contradiction on D&G's part. The designers' religious statements have also spread into their clothing designs. While I have respect for all faiths, I also feel that the prints of religious figures in their clothing represent something much more complex. To me, in the end, it signifies a religious statement that still, even if fashion is about unity and self-expression, abstractly draws a shattering division between minority groups, such as the LGBTQ community.
Even if the fashion industry is accepting and tolerant towards the LGBTQ community, it’s very upsetting to face the fact that we’re not there yet. On one side there’s this aspect of fashion that fully supports the community and that allows its members to be recognized and respected, but then we come across this disappointing and rejecting side, such as the technical cis-normative exclusions, and the contradictory opposition of leaders in the field, excluding subtly, but effectively. The real question here is: how can we fully achieve LGBTQ acceptance in fashion, an industry so closely identified with gay voices and rights? To me, the ideal LGBTQ acceptance in the fashion industry cannot happen until these types of everyone dares to unite and support one another, not just in spite of, but because of our differences.