Eleanor Margolis reflects on why queer women and tailoring are the perfect fit

BY ELEANOR MARGOLIS

Gillian Anderson in a suit. Cate Blanchett in a suit. Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner… in a suit. All of these have – at various times – sent Lesbian Twitter into a frenzy. A by-product of the fashion industry’s continuing appropriation of our style is just how regularly now we get to see incredible women, besuited and looking like they’re about to take over the world. 

There’s something about women in suits that gets to us; something so deeply rooted that it’s hard to know what, exactly. Like most things that provoke this sort of response in queer women, it can probably be traced back to Shane from The L Word.  

But women in suits are an absolute stalwart of lesbian culture. From 1920s gender benders to k.d. lang; where there are queer women, there are suits. And while men in suits look like either sociopathic city boys, or courtroom defendants, women – regardless of body type – look more like Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco. That is to say – when women wear suits they don’t so much imitate men as outdo them. It’s hard to believe that – say – Tilda Swinton couldn’t put on Donald Trump’ssuit and turn it from an oversized sleazebag costume into something mind-blowingly chic. While the suit may make a man, it’s woman that makes a suit; makes it into something extraordinary, that is. 

And the suit has become even more of a symbol of dyke power since the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK, in 2013. Nowadays, I can rarely scroll through Instagram without seeing at least one woman in a tux getting married. So, now even more than a piece of gender nonconformity, the suit has come to represent our victory in that particular fight for equality. 

Yes, the suit’s clout took a hit during Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated 2016 presidential campaign. A campaign that was, of course, punctuated by Hillary’s changing pantsuit. But it’s made an almost seamless comeback, with – for example – the aforementioned Sophie Turner in a cream coloured number causing a sizeable chunk of Twitter’s lesbian population to declare themselves “deceased”. 

While a lot of the suit’s prowess can be traced back to the 80s, and the beginning of women in shoulder pads starting to break into male dominated industries, there – to this day – is nothing stale about women adopting the formal costume originally conceived for men. Basically: it’s still hot. And a sure-fire way of pretty much any female celebrity registering on queer women’s radars is to do a photo shoot, looking slightly pissed off in a tux. Anyone from Gemma Collins to the Queen could do this, and have The Lesbians tapping the fire emoji on their phones with a sense of genuine urgency. (I advise both women to make this happen). 

Meanwhile, we mustn’t forget that suits are our thing. We – queer women – deserve all the credit for transforming them from something fusty and mothball-y into something cool and even slightly subversive. And maybe we should start thinking about the next piece of traditionally male clothing to get this treatment. Cargo shorts? (If anyone can make them acceptable, it’s lesbians). Football shirts? (Definitely becoming more of a thing with queer women, especially after the Women’s World Cup). How about y-fronts? Any takers?  

Whatever we choose, it’s always good to know there’s so much more to lesbian fashion than plaid shirts and dungarees (no disrespect to either of those iconic things). Remember, we have the Midas touch when it comes to taking comfortable things and making them fashion. Just look at what we did for the North Face (a brand that, in my opinion, owes us absolutely everything). The same goes for the current popularity for sensible shoes. We will have Kim Kardashian in a fleece by 2020. Mark my words. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!

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