1971: “What Gay Women Wear” [part 1]

My friend Suzanne found this amazing article in a magazine called Rags, in the March 1971 issue.  Rags was based in San Francisco and NYC, and was, perhaps, the Nylon of its day.   I could be way off on that comparison.  In any case it’s pretty hip.

Pp. 20-21
What Gay Women Wear by Mary Jean Haley/Photos by Candy Freeland

If neither you nor your friends are gay, you can be forgiven for retaining the stereotyped image of the Gay Woman as the middle-aged person in the iron grey ducktail and tailored dark suit who startled the life out of you when she walked into the ladies/mens room.

But this stereotype simply does not fit the liberated gay women I recently interviewed.

Young gay women have discovered both gay liberation and women’s liberation, and they are asserting themselves as women — beautiful gay women.  They want no part of male-female, oppression-submission roles.  Don’t want to look like men.  Do want to look like the women they are.

“Ten years ago,” says Nancy, who claims no last name, “most butchy women wore men’s clothing exclusively.  People’s image of gay women is mostly these amazing old bull dykes.”  Nancy, who explains that “last names are all men’s, so I don’t have one of my own,” is wearing tailored women’s slacks and a pink shirt over a brown turtleneck.

This difference — between men’s clothes and women’s slacks — is more subtle than, say, the difference between men’s slacks and women’s skirts.  To Dixie McMills, a postal worker, it isn’t so much the mode of dress as the times that have changed.

“We’re still wearing men’s clothes,” she says.  “Ten years ago they would wear men’s suit jackets, loafers with white sox [sic], crap like that.  Now everybody else is wearing men’s clothes.”

These gay women have gathered in Wanda Van Dusen’s living room, at her Berkeley home to talk with Rags about the clothes they wear.

“At school,” says Wanda, a UC Berkeley graduate student, “I just look like another radical student.”  This, she thinks, is because the hip movement and street fashions have freed gay people like they have freed everybody else.

“We’re breaking down the old butch-femme roles which mimic heterosexual society,” says Susan Walsh, a San Francisco furniture finisher and self-described funky dresser.  “We’re getting through all those layers and becoming real.”

“Visually,” Wanda responds, ” there are no significant patterns in the way gay women look.  They tend to dress according to the society they live in.  In the straight world they’ll wear high heels and stockings.  Many gay women in LA are overdressed.  They reflect the rampant consumerism that predominates here.”

to be continued…

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One Response to “1971: “What Gay Women Wear” [part 1]”

  1. givemespacetorock Says:

    this is super fascinating… it’s interesting to learn what people thought of femmes in the 70s. i’ll be checking back for part 2!


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