This week on the blog, we are talking homophobia in the lingerie industry. I'd say the title is clickbait, except I mean it. While it's uncommon for a designer or blogger to be out in this already small and conservative corner of the fashion industry, what is rarer still is for a brand to acknowledge that they have LGBTQIA+ identified customers.
Which seems strange, since queer customers substantially outnumber queer members of the industry. After all, (almost) everyone wears underwear.
(In this post, I'll vacillate between saying LGBTQIA+ and "queer." When I say "queer," I mean the term as an umbrella word to signify those who are not cishet, though they may not identify as queer themselves.)
There are two big disclaimers to this post:First: not acknowledging that it’s Pride Month does not in and of itself make a brand homophobic. I am using the failure to acknowledge Pride - which in itself is an acknowledgement of the queer community - as an indication of systemic exclusion of queer people in lingerie and fashion, more broadly. But I would argue that this industry is homophobic (and a lot of other -isms and -ics), and so ignoring Pride Month -- which would be a great opportunity to embrace queer customers -- makes this particular oversight more egregious. It also needs to be said that brands who are queer-owned and/or queer-friendly make it pretty obvious. Some easy ways to tell:
- They are stocked here at Bluestockings
- They have their own super-queer website
- They have been featured on an LGBTQIA+ website/blog like Autostraddle, DapperQ, Qwear, Elixher, etc.
- Rose Wednesday has featured them in an article at The Lingerie Addict
Second, let's establish a major definition. By “homophobic,” I don’t mean that people who work in the lingerie industry are secret Westboro Baptist Church sympathizers with “God Hates Fags” signs in their closets. (Obvi.)
I also would emphasize that the industry is homophobic in the way that our society tends toward homophobia: this is an underlying, systemic problem that affects our language and behavior on unconscious levels.
So, what is homophobia? The Oxford English Dictionary defines homophobia as: “Fear or hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality.”
For our purposes today, the operative word in this definition is not hate -- it is fear.
Ultimately, I don’t think that most people are purposefully hateful. Far from it, actually. In fact, in this day and age, it seems like most folks working in lingerie would probably say they support gay marriage, the issue by which most cishet folks measure their support of the queer community. They probably have LGBTQIA+ identified friends, or at least acquaintances or work colleagues. They may even have an LGBTQIA+ identified family member.
But fear is another animal entirely.
Fear keeps us in closets, demands an “other,” and specifically, encourages us to stick to what we know. It encourages us to stay within the confines of the familiar. And as Dorothy Parker famously said many decades ago, heterosexuality is not normal -- it’s just common.
But as we all know, what is common is regarded as the norm.
So: how does this relate to lingerie? Specifically, how does it relate to Pride and to lingerie companies’ failure to engage with their queer customers?
Cissexist, Heteronormative Behavior in the Lingerie Industry
How does the lingerie industry exclude its queer customers? This is a short list, many of which were also mentioned by the LGBTQIA+ identified lingerie bloggers in our recent roundtable.
- Availability of products that are explicitly queer-friendly, from what we might call the “mild” end of the spectrum (bras without bows, for example, which isn’t even queer-friendly so much as simply making lingerie that appeals to a more androgynous aesthetic) to gender-affirming underthings such as binders, gaffs, and packing briefs.
- Treatment of LGBTQIA+ customers in brick and mortar boutiques.
- Lack of discussion of LGBTQIA+-specific issues in industry publications.
- Advertisements, lookbooks, and other imagery are overwhelmingly cishet in that they feature ciswomen’s bodies explicitly posed for a male gaze.
- Language is cishet; it’s often “for men.” While this has been changed to be “for you” on some of the more modern websites, Gift Guides are often still written “For Men” or as a “Gentlemen’s Guide,” assuming a male partner.
- Particularly relevant in light of Caitlyn Jenner coverage: when crossdressers and trans women are acknowledged (itself a rarity), there is a problematic conflation of these two drastically different communities which identify in starkly different ways and have distinctly different needs.
All of this is to say that the industry - itself a subset of the fashion industry, which itself also suffers from many of these issues - could stand to directly engage its LGBTQIA+ customers. Pride would be an excellent time to do so.
Suffice it to say, the industry creates its ideal customers through its designs, advertisements, and general product and brand positioning. This ideal customer is, frankly, a straight ciswoman. (She's also white, thin, young, and able-bodied, but that's a different blog post.) The industry's consistent refusal to engage its LGBTQIA+ customers indicates significant discomfort over what those customers might bring to a boutique environment or how advertisements featuring LGBTQIA+ customers might be perceived by the general public. Another word for these attitudes is "fear."
Which is to say: homophobia.
Why is Everyone is Playing Dumb About Pride?
In the last six days, more lingerie brands posted about National Running Day and National Doughnut Day than about Pride and the wonderfully internet-breaking Caitlyn Jenner, combined.
If a brand has bothered to find out that it’s National Doughnut Day, I’m sure they know it’s Pride. Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover was released on June 1, the first day of Pride Month. That wasn’t a coincidence.
Though Pride celebrations extend throughout the summer and into the fall, the majority of major metros in both the United States and Europe celebrate Pride in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots in New York City’s West Village. There’s a lot of history and a lot of energy attached to Pride and, of course, a lot of mixed feelings depending on your community and which part of the community you’re coming from. One thing can generally be agreed upon, though: supporting local Pride events and advertising to the queer community (e.g. with rainbow colors) is generally considered good for business.
To wit: within the last few days, Adidas and Nike have already released limited edition rainbow-themed Pride gear. Hillary Clinton launched her Pride shop and officially changed her logo for the month of June. Last year, Kenneth Cole, Levi’s, and department stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom’s all launched major Pride campaigns and/or Pride-themed products during June.
Lingerie, however, can't be bothered.
This weekend, I looked through the facebook, twitter, and Instagram accounts of 109 lingerie brands, stores (either boutiques or stores where folks commonly buy lingerie), and trade publications, looking for mentions of either Pride or Caitlyn Jenner (I figured that showing support for Caitlyn Jenner would sort of figure as goodwill towards trans people?). The social media research project took place June 5-6, so at that point, there'd been plenty of time to play catch-up. Pride festivities in several major U.S. metros were already underway.
The following brands mentioned either Pride or Caitlyn Jenner during the first week of June:
So the total: 11/109 (or 10%) mentioned Jenner on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Highly relevant celebrity on a highly relevant publication, wearing lingerie. Honestly, I was surprised the number wasn’t higher.
As for Pride? 3/109. Which, for you math nerds, is 2.7%.
Small indies are often small operations, with one person (maybe a few) doing a lot of work. Other companies keep their feeds pretty much entirely about their brand. Still others have accounts that are outdated. However, collective industry silence only serves to further a culture of silence and neglect.
Again: lots of brands found the time to post about National Doughnut Day.
Hanky Panky: This is How You Do It
So Hanky Panky released a Pride ad and it rocks. Let's talk about why it's important.
As a disclaimer, Bluestockings does not stock Hanky Panky. I have never inquired with Hanky Panky for wholesale. They are an A+ brand when it comes to ethics, and their products are readily accessible (you can buy them on Amazon!).
Y'all: the ad they blasted over all their social media channels this first week killed it. This is how you advertise to your LGBTQIA+ customers:
Image courtesy of Hanky Panky Ltd.
It’s a simple image: a rainbow of their signature thongs. The caption simply read “Happy #Pride from Hanky Panky!” Their media team used smart, relevant hashtags: #LoveisLove #LGBTQ #Pride2015 #PrideMonth
Short, to the point, and - most importantly - knowledgable. It hit home, so hard.
I literally cried.
I instantly messaged a designer at Hanky Panky just to say thank you. And even though I’m not really a thong person (Hanky Panky is known for their thongs), they have plenty of other products I can purchase to support them this month. When a company shows you that they care, you buy from them.
This has been my most important lesson as a business owner: put your money where your mouth is. Support brands who support you. Because there are so, so many who are too afraid to publicly support the LGBTQIA+ community. So many who are still operating in old-school, cishet advertising that is fear-based -- who won’t use queer couples, who won’t use trans or nonbinary models, who won’t hire anyone who even slightly steps outside of the box of the kind of femininity they are trying to portray.
These issues are systemic and pervasive. And they only change when consumers talk back -- and when they really talk back with their cash.
Sales are nice. But our budgets are moral documents, and where we shop and what, precisely, we are willing to stomach says a lot -- not only about our own character, but also about the society we want to shape.
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P.P.S. Here's a (not exhaustive) list of Pride celebrations in the U.S. this month:
June 2-8: Orlando, FL (“Disney Gay Days”)
June 5-7: Milwaukee, WI and Detroit, MI
June 5-13: Indianapolis, IN
June 5-14: Boston and Washington D.C.
June 6-10: Portland Black Pride (Portland, OR)
June 10-14: Pittsburgh, PA
June 12-14: Los Angeles, CA and Des Moines, IA
June 13-14: Portland, OR
June 14: Philadelphia, PA
June 19: Scottsdale, AZ
June 19-21: New Orleans, LA
June 19-28: Houston, TX
June 20-21: Denver, CO and Providence, RI
June 20-28: Chicago, IL
June 21-28: New York City
June 25-28: Tampa Bay, FL
June 26-27: Nashville, TN
June 26-28: St. Louis, MO
June 27-28: San Francisco, CA, Minneapolis, MN, and Seattle, WA