lesbian chic

lesbian chic
   The term ‘lesbian chic’ (often interchangeable with ‘lipstick lesbianism’ and ‘new lesbianism’), used since at least the early 1990s, refers to a new fashion or style for lesbians which invariably involves the adoption of feminine accoutrements. The use of ‘chic’ implies ‘high-class’ rather than ‘high-street’ fashion, but from within lesbian culture, lesbian chic has come to denote the use of feminine fashion and styles as opposed to a more ‘butch’ look, and is thus not so class-specific. Elizabeth Wilson (1990) pinpoints a change to ‘glamour’ in British lesbian fashion in 1988.
   Much like the lesbian sadomasochist movement which began some years earlier (though with less ‘take-up’ by the British media), the popularity of lesbian chic for lesbians is often connected to a rejection of anti-materialist and antipatriarchal politics usually associated with lesbian feminism— itself often misrepresented as unitary and restrictive. Lesbian chic is not a rejuvenation of the lesbian butch/femme dyad popular in 1940s and 1950s cities; rather, masculine lesbian identities are seen to be decidedly unfashionable in the ‘queer’ 1990s, often by straights and ‘queers’ alike.
   Perhaps the unfashionability of butch lesbian styles has been the impetus for the popularization of lesbian femininity in more mainstream media sites. Long-haired and lipsticked lesbian characters have appeared in British soap opera in the 1990s. The mainstream media also often represents lesbian chic through iconography which presents a white upper-class and often temporary lesbian identity, as a recent article in Harpers and Queen (June 1994) illustrates: here, straight women are reported playfully experimenting with lesbian sex. The instability of lesbian identity often intimated by such articles also connects lesbian chic to queer identity.
   Criticisms of lesbian chic often concentrate on the way that the impetus for this style turns on an unfair dismissal of the political gains of the lesbian feminist movement in the 1970s and the 1980s, the demonization of masculine lesbian identities, and the way that the British media seem to have trivialized lesbian identity and culture in this representational context.
   See also: accessories; bisexuality; gay liberation; ‘gender benders’; sadomasochism
   Further reading
    Wilson, E. (1990) ‘Deviant Dress’, Feminist Review 35 (Summer): 67–74(an excellent short history of lesbian fashion and quite specific to Britain).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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