The following are all things that have been said to me at, or regarding my presence at, fashion events:
- ‘Oh yeah, you and room full of women, bet I know why you like that so much!’
- ‘Doesn’t your girlfriend ever get jealous of you hanging around with all these fashion girls? If she does, give me a call.’
- ‘I hope the boys who are coming know this is about blogging, not picking up chicks.’
- ‘Here you go mate, have a few extra free drinks tokens if you’re going to be stuck up there all night.’ (Ok, admittedly this was actually pretty nice of this guy to offer, even if it was misguided)
- ‘Sorry, tonight’s girls only!’
- ‘So what’s actually your story? We all know there are no straight men in fashion.’
It’s an ongoing joke that there are ‘no straight men in fashion’, one that isn’t completely unfounded – aside from a few biggies like Oscar de la Renta, Christian Lacroix, Paul Smith and Tommy Hilfiger, I struggle to think of many straight male fashion designers. However, I’m not here to talk about straight fashion creators, rather straight male fashion enthusiasts and the discrimination they face.
I’ve been interested in fashion for as long as I can remember. Even as a boy (once I outgrew my penchant for oversized American sports jerseys and Big Dog t-shirts), fashion fascinated me because of the extent to which it pervades popular culture. In my teenage years, I devoured magazines like Vogue, Cosmo and InStyle, always making sure that I had an alibi for doing so – I would read them in the hairdresser’s because there was ‘nothing else to read’, or because I was ‘THAT bored’ in the sixth form common room. By the time I went to University, I had given up on quipping to cashiers that I was buying fashion magazines ‘for the girlfriend’ and gathered them with impunity. The common thread in all of this is that I knew (or at least, felt) that fashion wasn’t something I was supposed to be interested in. When male interest in fashion went mainstream, the term metrosexual was born. Of course, it’s worth noting that this term is still shrouded with a sense of ‘otherness’ – the implication is that men who like fashion, even if they aren’t gay, are still somehow different from their hetero brethren.
Since I started blogging more regularly about fashion, I’ve made some incredible friends who have welcomed me into the scene with open arms. However, they have been the exception, not the rule. The sad fact is that I feel alienated from much of the fashion community on a daily basis. I see new bloggers quickly becoming chummy with fashion PRs, being invited to events that I haven’t even heard about and being sent freebies, despite the fact that they’ve been on the scene for a matter of days. I’ve been pretty down about it recently and have found myself wondering if I’m just a really unlikeable person – I can be pretty self-centred and come across as fairly obnoxious, so before I made any generalisations I decided to see if this is just my problem. Thankfully, I quickly found out that it isn’t.
I spoke to a lot of male fashion bloggers, some straight and some gay, and most of them told me that they’ve all had similar experiences. Arash Mazinani told me that he believes that ‘in my limited experience, I’ve found that gay men are welcomed more warmly by bloggers’ and that despite having previously worked at a big high fashion department store ‘I’ve never been invited to their local fashion events when other female bloggers in my city have, which I was a bit disappointed by.’ Joseph Kent, of Unlimited by JK (which I love, by the way), told me that he’s “found it difficult as a male fashion blogger in gaining followers and being noticed by brands/PR companies etc.” He describes it as “rather a blow, because more than just having fun at these events, I’m trying to further my career into fashion journalism by networking and building relationships.” Even after a year of knowing Joseph, a lot of people on his journalism course thought he was gay (he isn’t), with one remarking that “I know you’re straight, but I find it hard to believe, because you have such a good fashion blog.”
Speaking with one gay male fashion blogger, who asked not to be identified, was a particularly interesting experience. He told me that women, particularly fashion bloggers, almost immediately start cooing when they meet him because they’re desperate for a gay best friend. However, he told me that “they soon lose interest, as I act quite differently depending on the people I’m mingling with. It’s like as soon as we’re not at an event, I’m not gay enough for them anymore.” He poignantly described this experience as being similar to his coming out – “Sure, it was tough at school when everyone found out I was gay. Everyone seemed to forget about it after a while, then when I didn’t expect it someone would make a joke or generalisation and it would come right back to the surface. It’s the same with some of these girls – we might not have talked in ages, but when they need the token homo opinion on something that’s when they pick up the phone.” He also told me about the way in which he feels he has become a parody of himself – “I do sometimes think about whether the things I’m saying are ‘gay enough’. It gets to me sometimes, and I end up questioning my whole identity.”
In recent years the mainstream media has done little to help break stereotypes of gay and straight men – while shows like Sex and the City and Will and Grace romanticise the idea of the GBF, as if they’re a chihuahua in a handbag or some other bang on trend accessory, columns that ‘ask the straight bloke’s opinion’ feature footnotes by an (almost exclusively female) industry expert who rips their ideas to shreds and laughs at how wrong they are. Men are placed on a two point scale, with the lager swilling, football loving, boob honking caveman at one end and the immaculately groomed, purple suit wearing, flaming homosexual at the other. There seems to be a need to round off anyone who falls somewhere in the middle to one side or the other, which might explain why people seem shocked when they discover that, while I might use three different kinds of moisturiser and like to watch ballet, I’d give my left pinkie for a night with Kate Middleton. The fact that I don’t ‘fit’ with the traditional idea of the gay male fashion enthusiast immediately calls my motives into question, and tends to make girls think that I’m only there to get into their trousers. Whereas, actually, I’m probably just interested in looking at their trousers.
So, my point? Well, people say there are no straight men in fashion. Maybe they need to work a little bit harder at letting them in.