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Identity

Beyond Butch and Femme: A Beginner’s Guide to Lesbian Style

A comprehensive taxonomy of lesbian fashion, from the Wellesley girl to the health goth.
July 8, 2016, 6:55pm
Photo by Alexey Kuzma via Stocksy

Happy pre-, post- or present Pride, depending on where you are. As a queer community, this past month has shown us some of the lowest lows and highest highs we've ever had, and the rainbow spotlight aimed at my gay family forced me into contemplative headspace—one my sheltered baby butch brain rarely roams as I lumber around the big old city, as dumbly accepted as just another odd millennial. It got me thinking about how, as lesbians, myself and my peers have typically been viewed by society.

Watch now: A Weekend at the Biggest Lesbian Party in the World

Sartorially speaking, we get a pretty bad rap; too often, we're boiled down to our most basic binary of butch and femme. But as a lifetime member of the lesbian community, I've spent my best years surrounded by women who span a massive spectrum of identity and style. This year, after the biggest Pride New York City has ever seen, I felt inspired to put together my own take in a taxonomic style guide to the nuances of gay girl style. Below are some of the most notable subgroups.

The Wellesley Girl
She's torn between admitting she's #withher or alienating all her #bernout friends. To achieve this look, run, don't walk, to the Otherwild website and get yourself a Future is Female or How Dare You Assume I'm Straight shirt immediately. (Honorable mention: everything else in the store.) There's truly no other way to make sure everyone knows you're a progressive lesbian and not just a girl who calls her boyfriend her partner.

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The Collegiate Athlete Turned Photo Assistant
The most trend-conscious girl of the bunch, she's only as loyal to a brand as she is to her Instagram girlfriend of the week. The look for her this year is health goth. These monochromatic lycra and mesh stylings have it all: queer roots, ironic pool slides, and $4 black cotton shorts layered on top of $130 leggings. She can best be found at the triangle of VFILES, Nike Lab, and the no-name athletic stores on Broadway and Canal. There's no better way to let all the babes know that the intersection of sporty and downtown is you.

The Houston Girl
Really, she's from anywhere that isn't New York or LA (or Toronto or Chicago). She's the classic car of modern dykes. Like an old Ford made out of solid steel, this All-American gal doesn't dent easily. A comfortable Reef flip flop and a full-length cargo short is the solid foundation here. Almost anything can be paired on top: a striped polo, a H&M tank, or a solid graphic tee from the mid-aughts mall collection. Google "Pac Sun 2009" for inspo.

The Musician
Don't call her a singer-songwriter—unless she does first (and she might). She's just a girl with a guitar. Underneath that Fender you'll find an oversized plaid button down, a custom sleeveless youth soccer league shirt, dirty jeans, and either combat boots or Van's high tops. I'd say the shoe depends on the type of music she plays, but that's actually not true: She probably has both, and it's really just about her mood. She can often be found in a beanie year round.

The Artist
Often confused with her best friend Wellesley girl—although she's decidedly still voting to #bernonedown in 2016 because education should be free, man. This paint-splattered ensemble might seem the easiest to achieve, but it's harder than you'd think to scour overpriced vintage stores to find perfect and somehow still available oversized men's trousers with a threadbare khaki colored cotton tee.

The LA Lesbian
This type of woman comes from all over but settles in the land of a thousand palms. She loves a good knuckle ring—or twelve—and isn't scared of a long single dangling pendant necklace. Often confused with her straight counterpart the Coachella Girl, the LA lesbian is more prone to wide brim hats and leather jackets than rompers and flower crowns. Some would say she's Lana del Rey in ill-fitting jeans. You, too, can achieve the look: Try NastyGal, All Saints, or just steal from the wardrobe for the shoot you assisted on.

The Corporate Girl
God bless, I have no idea. I imagine this archetype probably dresses the same as straight women—professional-looking J Crew work basics that are intentionally boring and hopefully loose enough, but not too loose to be ignored, so as to be taken seriously by the men they work with.