Some may swear it’s hormonal, some say it’s olfactory and subliminal, a pheromone that’s emitted and as undetectable as breathing, others insist it’s “gaydar”, as in secret messages being sent, intercepted and deciphered. For me it’s something in the eyes, but I can’t really articulate it, regardless, most gay men will tell you that they can just tell if someone else is gay...or “really” gay. While there may be some validity in all those points of view, assuredly the way gay men dress provides the most visible clues.
Gay men dress to attract other gay men. Duh! Gay men dress aware of their sexuality, what their assets and deficits are. Gay men dress to announce what tribe of the species to which they belong, or aspire to, in an effort to attract others of that subset. Exp: the denim and flannel crown, with a touch of middle class construction worker masculinity, hence the Redwing steel toed boots, not a traditional staple in your typical office environment. On the other end of the spectrum there is the "fop", be-suited, colorful, and accessorized, with fastidious attention to trend; they are one tiara short of a queen. Rest assured there are dozens of subsets in-between that define the gay male.
It is rare (but not unheard of) for one subset to be attracted to another subset. Indeed, some sweater queens are attracted to leathermen, but then who isn’t? Still, it’s the exception to the rule. For the most part, like wildebeests we stick with our own.
Gay men do not just wear clothing, they wear outfits. The dress for the occasion, but an occasion can be that’s its Wednesday, it looks like rain, or HR is hiring a new marketing intern. An occasion need not be a wedding, anniversary or birthday party at the in-laws. Gay men despite their cynicism, sarcasm and jaded point of view are hopeless romantics and hold out that someone cute will be walking his English bulldog, ordering a venti caramel apple spice at Starbucks, and therefore providence dictates that one be best prepared, i.e., dressed. The knowledge that they be scrutinized by a potential liaison accounts why gay men will mount a bar stool or lunch counter stool like they are riding English, erect, with derrieres as pert as a palomino.
Gay men are well aware that clothing is costume, and costume is character. We identify our character by selecting from the lexicon of clothing. This sends a constructed message to the tribe, reporting what our expectations are, and what we are willing to do to have them met.
In days of yore, gay men wore red ties as a signal, then came the white floppy handkerchief in the breast pocket of a suit, in the Post-Stonewall era, gay men pierced their left ear, taking the gold ring out when they went to the office, but putting it in at night when they strolled their cruising areas. Aficionados of certain sexual practices came up with a series of colorful bandannas that indicated whether you were a top or bottom, or into things like water sports and bondage. There was the Chelsea clone which is still favored albeit with some concession to fashion. Then came a time thanks to the fashion pages, and the emergence of menswear, that key looks could identify potential gay men, like the 1960’s peacock, the 1970’s Calvin Klein man who wore jeans and bleached white oxford shirts, even the 1980’s had the American Gigolo/Armani look, which included aviator framed sunglasses, which were worn all year long, sunlight not withstanding, and by men who piloted nothing more than their green Ford Mercury.
Most gay men are comfortable with their metro-sexuality. They dote on looking their best at all times. In fact, great time and effort is expended knowing how to drape a shirt artfully into one side of ones pants, and have it hanging out of the other side, catching the belt buckle just so, so that it doesn’t looked forced, which by the way, it most assuredly is. Gay men are aware of how their jeans hang, how much a boot cut should flair, and how long a boot or shoes tip should be proportionate to the hem of their pants. Gay men understand the principles of layering, and just how to tie a scarf, so that it’s functional, but still looks good. Gay men understand how to tone it down in order to almost pass for straight, or turn up the volume to compete with younger men at a circuit party.
Gay men are obsessive observers. They tend to be great fashion forecasters. They know what’s what, before it’s even identified by the mainstream.
It’s always fascinating to me how young gay men create new subsets, clearly aware that they are not really attracted to the traditional subsets. There is a new look, and for lack of a better way to identify it, I will call it the “Adam Lambert with a twist“. It’s straight jet black hair, in wispy bangs, heavily massacred/guyliner eyes, Chanel black polish on their nails, or at least on their pinky’s, lots of leggings and clunky boots, mixed with faux fur vests, pleater jackets, 80‘s retro stripes, and accessorized with S & M cuffs. It reads as a modified Goth. The curious twist comes with a self-defining element, a dark blazer, a tartan vest, or a Louis Vuitton duffel bag.
At present, if I’m honest, my focus of attention is on the power suit, maybe Phineas Cole from Paul Stuart, in navy blue, or amethyst, with a discrete pin stripe, immaculately tailored, with a narrow collar, an equestrian cut, and worn with vivid hot colored ties and pocket squares. Naturally, shirts with spread collars, and in slim cuts, are preferred, if you want to put me over the edge, a French cuff with scarab cuff links will intoxicate me like heroin. Leather (not suede) Gucci-like loafers are ideal, but Fratelli Rosetti is sufficient. A tank watch in gold or plated chrome with an oversize face is part of the prescription, and if they wear "Grey Flannel" it will put me over the edge. Clearly I’m looking to upgrade, as I’m dressed in a scaled down version, that includes second hand blazers from Gieves & Hawkes, John Weitz or Kuppenheimers, worn with practical dress pants, (not pleated) light knit cardigans, and vests to suggest a layer of further undress, vintage ties, worn with colorful socks, accessorized with a leather cuff, two silver bracelets which I seldom leave the house without. My look might suggest an eclectic point of view, closer to interior decoration than to refined astute fashion.
Gay men are disciples; they follow their icons with a religious fervency once remanded to the Apostles. If Neil Patrick Harris wears a shinny suit on the Emmy’s and Tony Awards shows you can be certain that Nordstrom will soon be stocking their four ways with silk and rayon blends. Tom Ford goes without a tie, exposing his clavicle, and the red carpet is littered with celebrities who seem to have forgotten how to tie a Windsor knot. If David Beckham wears low rise jeans sans belt, soccer playing boys in Peoria co-opt the look, and their mother’s pleading to hike up their pants are fruitless. Viewers are tuning into CNN’s live coverage from Haiti primarily to see Anderson Cooper in his tight charcoal colored tee-shirt. Note to readers, Macy’s can’t keep then in stock. You may detest his on stage/off stage antics, but the world frets over what Kayne West wears. The Sartoralist shoots him at the Paris and Milan shows, and the fashion pages know he sells clothing.
My Microsoft Word count reports that the aforementioned diatribe has reached 1,234 words which is practically a royal flush, yet I’ve only skimmed the surface, with a little bit of encouragement I will venture on in another post.