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Mullets, Flannel, and Hipster Jeans: Lesbian Fashion Now and Then

by Conswella Bennett
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jun 6, 2011

When it comes to lesbian fashion, just what is the code? At one time, the lesbian look was a mullet, flannel shirts, dungarees, and work boots. While some baby dykes are trying to bring back this old-time lesbian uniform, many have chosen to merge the old with the new to create their own look.

When perusing the gay clubs and hanging out in popular lesbian spots, it's easy to see how prevalent an unspoken lesbian dress code has become. Certain fashions have become a stereotypical lesbian trademark, a way for gays and lesbians to recognize each other.

According to, an online encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture, the "illegality of homosexuality and the moral disapproval that it attracted forced gay men and lesbians to live virtually invisible lives in Britain and North America and in many other parts of the world in the first part of the twentieth century. But gay men and lesbians found ways to express their identities through their dress choices."

"The adoption of a series of secret codes allowed gay men and lesbians to spot each other, while remaining invisible to the outside world," stated "The gendered nature of clothing led some gay men to adopt overtly feminine dress and some lesbians to adopt overtly masculine garb as markers of sexual identity."

While society has become a little more accepting, the gay and lesbian fashion codes still exist as a way to identify each other as "family." While the dated '80s mullet and flannel are not quite so prevalent today, they have been creeping back up in varying styles among young lesbians trying to make their fashion mark.

Everything Old is New Again

Kenyetta Riley, a Georgia-based lesbian, said that flannel and dungarees are coming back -- but with an updated twist. Now, said Riley, the trend that seems to be a hit mostly on the West Coast is flannel shirts with a bowtie accompanied by skinny jeans.

"The younger lesbians are taking a little bit of everything -- the throwback hairstyles from the '80s and some of the older fashion trends -- and making it their own," Riley noted.

Riley said that in the South, the lesbian uniform is all about comfort. "Here, it's flip flops and plaid or cargo shorts topped with a polo style shirt," she said. But she admits that lesbians are bringing back the old school fashions and adding a modern flair.

Now, the popular styles are the Justin Bieber long swooped hairstyle, spiky hair, and even the faux hawk. The skinny and hipster jeans along with skater shoes are still popular lesbian attire, but with different variations.

"Back in the day, women wore that stuff as a statement letting people know that they were a lesbian," said CaSandra Minichiello of Atlanta.

Does this Shirt Make Me Look Gay?

Riley came out while attending college in Mississippi, and although she followed her own style, she admits to giving in to parts of the lesbian uniform by sporting a pair of Doc Marten black work boots and cargo shorts.

It was while in college that Riley realized that her attire was clumping her in the LGBT category on campus. She recalls that some women who she would have never thought were gay reached out to her through campus chats, because they'd seen her on campus and assumed she was gay. For Riley, the lesbian uniform became a way for her to meet other lesbians.

"Lesbian fashion is really comfortable fashion," Riley added. "It's not just about looking good, but being comfortable."

Riley, who also performs as a drag king, said that she has seen some of the coolest lesbian fashion come from the West Coast. "It's an eclectic mix of what's hot now and what was hot," she added.

The stereotypes have changed some, but some of the old ones are unforgettable. There were the Birkenstocks, black Doc Martens, small silver hoop earrings, flannel shirts, and the notable mullet. Those lesbian fashion fads were sure to set off one's gaydar -- and would today surely send Clinton Kelly, host of TLC's "What Not to Wear" into a tizzy.

CaSandra Minichiello of Atlanta confessed that if she saw a woman sporting a mullet, work boots, or flannel she would assume she was a lesbian. "Back in the day, women wore that stuff as a statement letting people know that they were a lesbian," Minichiello said. "That clothing was a statement of a lesbian's masculinity then, but lesbians have come a long way and clothing doesn't necessarily have to portray your sexuality."

In her teen years, Minichiello herself sported a mullet. "I went through a phase when I wore boy clothes. I was a tomboy," she said. "I was wearing them to make a statement that I was a lesbian."

Now, comfortable in her heels, dresses, and makeup, Minichiello noted that there are other ways to express your sexuality now because lesbianism has become more accepted. "I accept my femininity," she said.

And while certain clothing and styles like the mullet, flannel, and work boots will forever be seen as lesbian-identifying trademarks, both Riley and Minichiello are hopeful that the stereotypes can be broken and new gay and lesbian styles will emerge. Rather than fashion affixing a label or category to a person based on how they are dressed, perhaps our society is slowly moving toward a place of more universal acceptance.


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