What Gay Women Wear, 1971 Images

As promised, here are the two photos that went along with the article from Rags 1971.

Gay Girl 1971

Jill Bray, gay girl in 1971

Gay girl 1971 with her dog

Susan Walsh, furniture refinisher and gay girl

The girl in the hat has a pretty groovy look, don’t you think?

I searched for all the women online to see if any were still around. The only one I was able to find information about was Wanda Van Dusen, who committed suicide in 1995.

If you have information about any of these women, please let me know. A retrospective interview would be a most amazing project.


1971: “What Gay Women Wear” [Part 3, final]

Continued from last post…

“A lot of gay women,” says Michelle, “would like to change, but they don’t know what to do.  They don’t know how to dress in the first place, so they go down to Macy’s and buy a pantsuit.  Ugh.  I like a woman to look natural.  Her clothes should suit who she is and how she feels.”

For her part, Susan Ellard doesn’t dig “anything that makes women look weak– frills, flimsy fabric, high heels she can’t walk in.”  Feminine (or at least what the word has come to mean) is a negative concept.  “It’s been used against me too much,” Susan explains.  “Like: ‘Why can’t you be more feminine?'”

To Dixie, feminine is “like some super-Nellie queen posing and drooping.  That’s not what a woman is.  It’s just what he thinks a woman is.”

The new emphasis on womanliness makes it increasingly difficult for gay women to recognize each other, a source of frustration.

“You just can’t tell who’s gay anymore,” Jill laments, “It used to be you could tell a dyke by her hair.  A lot of European gay people wear pinkie rings.”  Jill keeps her hair short and likes short hair on other women.

“There ought to be a law,” says Susan Walsh, “that gay people have to identify themselves in some way.”

Wanda is doing her part.  She wears her Odd Fellows button just about everywhere. ~~

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…