Sexuality and style are two of the most misunderstood facets of life. Combine the two and you are presented with one of the most confused, jumbled, nonsensical, contradictory forms of human signalling and communication I have ever encountered. Sex itself is not the issue; although it boasts an enormous and essential role in the fashion world, in style it is an also-ran. Sexual appeal is the issue and it has become the shy elephant in the room ‘that dare not speak it’s name’; proverb-cocktails aside, it is a largely unspoken problem and one of deep importance that goes to the heart of society’s interpretation of aesthetics and sexuality. And, as sweetly attractive as the ideas of ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and ‘veracity’ are, interpretation is the emperor of thought in the modern age and this applies as much to the most powerful politicians in the world as it does the lowly bedroom-based hack.
You’re not like a faggot, are you?”
The above comment was posted to my blog last week. I apologise if it offends readers as it offended me but it was necessary to include it as part of this analysis as it provided the catalyst for these thoughts. I have received similar comments in the past and the, arguably wise, advice from friends and followers has always been to ignore them. Ignorance is sensible and a happy state but it’s rather selfish and short-termist. It shows no regard for the long-game problem of prejudice, and the causes of that prejudice, and it actually propagates the self-conscious superiority that can fuel such mistrust and hatred.
It is an interesting comment for it can be interpreted in more than one way. Perhaps the commentator was a keen follower of the blog and was expressing disquiet about my deportment and attire representing more than a love of colour and pattern and, inexplicably, connected one love with another; love of inanimate objects to love of a particular anatomy. Perhaps the commentator was a follower of these articles and decided to make a visit to my blog to examine the author; perhaps they had chanced upon the blog whilst idly browsing the Blogger pages. However they arrived at the point at which they decided to make that comment, they must still have possessed a motive and intent to produce an effect and reaction – and I doubt they expected this.
Whilst chatting on the topic with my friend Barima recently, I realised how much of an issue sexuality and style was and always has been. Living in a metropolis like London is an unrepresentative experience of a country. The sophistry and cosmopolitan nature of city life leads you to an appealing numbness to things that are different; what to the rest of the world is sideshow-freakery is merely humdrum to the metropolitan.
Heading into the sparsely populated ‘shires attracts more looks of suspicion than admiration – Britons don’t like ‘different’ things – and a great deal of what people do not understand needs a simplistic explanation. This applies not only to my country but to many others. People have been known to ask, rather awkwardly, about sexuality, even when one has an arm around a girl. It doesn’t seem normal to a lot of people to be what many have said they would consider ‘well-dressed’ and be anything other than a homosexual. And it is not only stag-fighting that provokes such supposition; women have also been known to leap to such conclusions. Despite frequent protestations from the fairer sex that men should take more care of themselves, develop at least a half-interest in dressing and take pride in their appearance, the reality is that their desires at the courtship phase are frequently the opposite. This is where the lines of sexual understanding between the sexes blur; when societal suspicions and ‘interpretations’ take hold.
Clothing has often played a role in signalling sexual inclination. The ‘Green Carnation’ is one of the most famous trademarks – prompting Noel Coward to use the reference in his musical Bitter Sweet, which premiered when homosexuality was still illegal; “And as we are the reason for the “nineties” being gay, we all wear a green carnation.” And, as Barima informed me, in the 1960s and 1970s, Tommy Nutter’s Savile Row emporium was a haven for London’s gay sartorialists and that for some people, the Nutter suit became a symbol of something more than stylistic élan.
Today, there is no dyed flower or flared trouser, coloured-button stitching or peculiar item of sartorial jewellery representing the calling card. At the beginning of the last century, a noticeably well-dressed man was likely to have been considered a terror of the ladies, which, in fairness, is partly due to the organised oppression, criminalisation and concealment of homosexuality but also partly to do with the aesthetic ideals of the age.
A century later and even the merest poke of a pocket square is apt to provoke the castigation of a suspicious public. A well-dressed man is no longer simply a well-dressed man. Unless he is overtly expressing his true sexuality for the benefit of the presumptuous and feeble minded, he is a foregone conclusion.
In 1911, he is a cad.
In 2011, he is a gay.
His sexual identification, curiously and necessarily entwined with his manner of dress, may be misapplied but his sexual appeal rarely is.