Ten Tips On Dressing Masc-ish
A few moons ago, one of my housemates showed a DM she’d received from her sister. She wrote in saying how she thought whenever I made an appearance on my friend’s Instagram, I dressed “like a scally.” Upon reading I didn’t know what to think. Should I take this as a compliment? Or was it a dig at my new pair of Fred Perry trackies I was practically living in at the time? I knew the eleven-year-old Lady Gaga stan in me would be disgusted at such an accusation. The fifteen-year-old who consistently trawled Topshop for the skinniest pair of black jeans, and doused his cheeks in iridescent glitter to go see the 1975 and Warpaint live would’ve been physically sick in his mouth at the idea of being compared to the boys he used to cross the road to avoid. Yet now, I was kind of into it…
To be totally honest, “butching up” my wardrobe was a subconscious effort. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when my beloved Dr. Martens derbies got shoved to the back of the cabinet, making room for my brand new pair of Nike Air Max 95. It all came around the same time I said farewell to hometown life and made the gay ol’ leap to London. It wasn’t an overnight epiphany. One sip of my first overpriced pint at a dire freshers night in Central London and suddenly I was some masc4masc lad who bragged about keeping up with the footy scores and cringed at the thought of having to spend the night at G-A-Y listening to Britney classics because “I wasn’t your average gay.” Well, not quite. Gradually, my shopping habits changed. Now darting between all the new retail possibilities, the same eyes that were once drawn to skin-tight denim and poorly printed t-shirts telling me I was “born this way,” now wandered to statement trainers and track-pants in moody hues only.
As we grow older, some of us we tend to tame our wardrobes; mute the colour palettes and avoid anything that’s too in your face. Though it’s quite puzzling how many gay men are drawn to a visual aesthetic that we once so desperately tried to separate ourselves from. I have one friend, let’s call him Dom, who has profusely claimed time and time again how he is the “most masculine gay” within our inner circle. Dom wears Stüssy and Supreme while arguing why Fernando is ABBA’s greatest hit. My boyfriend has also had similar on-and-off masculine fascinations, continually finding himself in bidding wars on vintage Nike trainers on eBay, even having a short but sweet period of tucking his Adidas joggers into socks. We’re both glad he grew out of it quickly.
Shaun Cole is an academic specialising in research around the correlation of sexuality and dress. He has whittled down this homosexual sportswear fixation down to its hyper-masculine associations. From the early 1990s, the gay community began dressing in sportswear when FHM magazine ruled the top shelves as “lad culture” reached its peak – with the gay’s adoption of the sportswear look being dubbed “lad drag.” For many middle-class gays, this was a precursor to a fascination with scally pornography. Websites like Hard Brit Lads saw everything from Nike TNs to Adidas Chile 62 shiny track pants be sexualised, with many affluent gay men donning such sportswear staples as role play away from their day-to-day lives. Or as Paul Flynn put it in Attitude back in 2005, “loads of middle-class people fantasise about a bit of common rough.”
Though trying to search for an explanation doesn’t have to be so doom and gloom. Working class gays like myself have often reconciled our class backgrounds with our sexuality through dressing more masculine. Even though I wasn’t surrounded by many openly gay men growing up North (I guarantee I was the only boy in my school with a Katy Perry poster plastered on the bedroom wall), somewhere down the line, I must have been inspired by the same styles my straight male peers were. That explains why I’ll probably turn up to the next family function in the same trainers as one of my younger, decidedly straighter cousins. While I’ll secretly think I’m superior in my Cottweiler trackies, he’ll most definitely not care that I’m wearing Cottweiler trackies.
Such rigid masculine wardrobes within Britain’s gay community have often represented toxic efforts in segregating the “blokes” from the “queens”. They stood for internal homophobic tendencies from masculine gays avoiding any associations to themselves being (romantically involved with someone who is) effeminate. While it was once used as a defence mechanism against homophobia, this notion transpired into bigotry within the community that still exists today. Just take a quick tour through Grindr in your local area and you’ll be bombarded with headless profiles whose bios read “no femmes,” “no lads in make-up,” or “not into camp.” But we are currently in an age of hyper-fluid homosexuality in all senses of the word. Watching Kylie perform at Brighton Pride last month, I was surrounded by men dressed in Palace tees, wearing skirts or nothing but a glittery jockstrap – all singing their hearts out to Love at First Sight. And that’s exactly how it should be. The more boys in this world who can pull off a full sportswear look whilst passionately being able to debate which Sugababes line-up was their fave (the original one obvs), the better.
Illustration by Tom of Finland.