Paving The Way: influential LGBTQ+ Icons Through Fashion History

A look at LGBTQ+ icons that paved the way for LGBTQ+ representation through fashion

Ella Townson
21st February 2023
Image Credit: Instagram @dragraceukbbc
Fashion has and always will be an expression of creativity, but it is also an artform that has been shaped and defined by marginalised groups throughout the centuries. In particular, the LGBTQ+ community has long been utilising fashion as a way of fighting oppression and as a form of showcasing their actual self.

Early examples of LGBTQ+ fashion icons include ‘Divine’, who was a well-known American Drag Queen. Divine began dressing in drag in the 1960s and was henceforth turning out look after look, with them later going on to be successful in the film industry. They became a huge part of the counter-cultural movement and a well-known figure in the community, with many still being inspired by Divine’s fashion today.

Image Credit: Instagram @Samuelefailli_

It is important to consider that Divine began as a very extravagant Queen in a time where it was effectively still illegal to be gay in many States. Not only this, but there were all kinds of intrusive speculations in the media surrounding Glenn’s (Divine’s name out of drag) identity, but the defiant pushback against the norm of the time only makes Divine’s looks all the more powerful. Undoubtedly, Divine’s most recognisable and infamous look was their red, bodycon dress moment. They partnered this show-stopping dress with dangling diamante earrings, a ginger updo wig, elaborate makeup and a fake pistol. Iconic!

It is important to consider that Divine began as a very extravagant Queen in a time where it was effectively still illegal to be gay in many States

Around this time, LGBTQ+ artists such as Andy Warhol were also gaining notoriety for work that deviated from the heteronormative standard. We will all recognize Warhol’s images of Marilyn Monroe, but his notorious paintings actually made pop art come into fashion, with designers creating beautiful, vibrant pieces clearly inspired by him. For example, the Dior Autumn/Winter 2013 collection showcased some of his pieces. Additionally, many other well-known designers are LGBTQ+, including Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, and each have produced some of the most dazzling looks in history.

Image Credit: Instagram @thewarholmuseum

Fashion icons can also be smaller-scale, however, and it is crucial to give flowers to lesser-known individuals that have collectively influenced future fashion icons. For example, Ryan Murphy’s show Pose recently shed light on the ballroom scene that emerged around the 1970s/80s in New York. The Ballroom community mainly consisted of African American and Latino trans people. While these individuals often weren’t appreciated by the wider public, their looks and practices, such as voguing, often made their way into popular culture. Madonna’s music video for her song Vogue is a prime example of this. RuPaul, a well-known drag Queen and host of his own TV series, came from the ballroom scene and is now one of the most prominent figures of our time. She is acclaimed for her fashions, songs, and her mantras, with dozens and dozens of Emmy awards to her name.

While these individuals often weren’t appreciated by the wider public, their looks and practices, such as voguing, often made their way into popular culture

Image Credit: Instagram @rupauloffical

My personal favourite fashion icons to emerge from her show are Naomi Smalls and Bimini Bon Boulash, but regardless of what your taste may be, it cannot be disputed that the show has led millions to feel free to express themselves. It can also not be argued that LGBTQ+ individuals have been highly significant in creating the world of fashion as we know it today.

Notable mentions- David Bowie (king of androgyny), Elton John, Janelle Monae, Billy Porter and Freddie Mercury.

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