This article originally appeared on VICE UK
Queer women have long been relegated to the margins of fashion. Plaid shirts, boyfriend jeans, beanies are still the clichéd signifiers of lesbianism – as if an entire subsection of the LGBTQ community has been cursed to repeat the early 2000s outfits of Avril Lavigne in a Groundhog Day-esque nightmare. But that’s slowly changing, thanks to a growing number of Instagram accounts that are using the platform to highlight, catalogue and riff on new notions of lesbian style.
“Lesbian fashion has been blindly absorbed into a nauseatingly bland notion of the alternative young, urbanite woman,” says @dykeanotherday founder Alexandra, a 25-year-old assistant literary agent from New York. “It does a disservice to our collective ingenuity.”
While camp gains mainstream currency, providing the theme for this year’s Met Gala in a move widely celebrated for honoring queer history, it remains a term almost exclusively associated with gay men. On @dykeanotherday, Alexandra highlights the “playful, flamboyant, exaggerated, and campy” side of lesbian dress to her 31.6k followers.
“Historically women, and lesbians in particular, have not had access to the modes of representation regulated by traditional media,” explains the founder of @godimsuchadyke, another platform with over 48.3k followers.
Platforms like Instagram, on the other hand, offer queer women a democratic space to cobble together their own cultural history. “Social media allows us to disseminate our culture on a much larger scale, which over time, has made our culture more likely to be represented in more traditional media channels with greater nuance.“
A cursory scroll through @dykeanotherday’s grid showcases a wildly eclectic set of ‘dykeons’, including Cher, Britney, Missy Elliot and Virginia Woolf (described in a caption as “one of the most iconic lesbians of all time”). Under the gaze of the lesbian Instagrammer, figures of all sexual orientations and genders are capable of projecting Big Dyke Energy. You don’t even have to be human, if Peppa Pig’s recent consecration as a gay icon is anything to go by.
There are, of course, ubiquitous dykeons – among them Kirsten Stewart, Cara Delevigne and Cate Blanchett (who may be heterosexual IRL, but whose role in Todd Haynes’ lesbian romance Carol spawned an entire account devoted to cataloguing her sapphic looks). The gay canonisation of straight women comes down to a visibility problem, with a relative dearth of actual celesbians in Hollywood to idolise. After all, Ellen Degeneres, who came out in 1997, still remains one of the most high-profile lesbians in popular culture.
“When you feel invisible – as queer women often do even from within the greater LGBTQ community – there’s this strange impulse toward uniformity,” explains Alexandra. Dykeons, therefore, are the figures who “go against the grain” and “embody the contradictions that I like to see in personal style”.
“I think lesbians in particular struggle with being taken seriously on the basis of our relationships and sex lives,” she adds. “We can be so self-serious, which I think is really fun to play with.”
@dykedigital addresses this self-seriousness by showcasing the fun and exuberant side of lesbian dress, channelling all the kitsch and campiness of a RuPaul fan account. The platform launched earlier this year with its first theme, Saloon Dior, which reimagines the trope of the gay male cowboy from a “dyke’s perspective”. The plan is to keep updating the account with new cultural themes, all retold through the lesbian gaze.
London College of Fashion graduate Katie, 21, founded the account after searching for lesbian photography online and finding mainly black and white images. She says she wants @dykedigital to “draw attention to bold colours, bold patterns, bold people.” The result is a carefully curated fantasy of bolo ties, Western belts and sequined cowboy hats in an array of candy colours.
The platform also looks to address the lack of or even removal of lesbians’ existence in this type of queer iconography. Westerns are often associated with male dominance and violence and are “responsible for enforcing the heteronormative roles we are still fighting today,” Katie explains. But it’s imagery that still resonates with a lesbian audience, partly because of the sexualisation of the ‘cowgirl’ in publications like Playboy and films like The Outlaw, making it ripe for queer women to reclaim.
Not every platform is looking to counter the lesbian stereotype of masculine dress. @everylesbianandtheirfashion, which has over 73.4k followers, celebrates ‘tomboyish’ or butch styles, with a distinctly 90s, golden era Jodie Foster vibe. Its founder, 32-year-old Dutch social media manager Marloes, says she was “in love” with boys clothes growing up. “Oversized sweaters, sneakers, skate tees and dungarees – I would wear them all.”
What characterises lesbian style for Marloes is a subversion of what’s expected of women, whether that’s having short hair (“because the beauty ideal for girls and women is to grow your hair”) or oversized clothing. Men often feature on her platform simply because they inadvertantly channel the sensibility of butch dressing – in one caption, Marloes compares The Rock to a “damn fine 40+ lady from North Dakota”.
Jill Gutowitz, a writer, columnist at Nylon and self-described “overlord of lesbian Twitter”, says that accounts like @everylesbianandtheirfashion “create a channel for queer women to lust over looks and styles that are catered to a specifically queer audience.”
“Growing up, I truly thought all lesbians looked like Ellen DeGeneres, because she was the only visible queer female celebrity I knew at the time,” Gutowitz adds. But she notes that the narrative is slowly shifting to encompass a broader (and camper) spectrum of what can be considered lesbian fashion, “whether that's chic pantsuits and dapper bowties, a tight-fitting dress, or a Lena Waithe-esque rainbow cape”.
Brimming with inside jokes and Cate Blanchett homages, the Internet allows queer women to speak and post freely about “what turns them on and who they're lusting over,” Gutowitz explains. “I think that lesbian fashion is something we've all kind of collectively talk about and agreed upon as being cool, rather than how the mainstream fashion world works, in that, it tells you what's cool, and who to follow.”
This more nuanced understanding of lesbian culture is no longer solely defined by the 90s or the early 2000s styles of Ellen DeGenres and Jodie Foster, but it is ever expanding and growing to encompass black and trans lesbian subcultures, too. It can be butch, it can be femme, it can be camp, it can be Laverne Cox, Ellen Page, or The Rock – but it definitely can’t be pigeonholed.