Making a Spectacle

I have a fetish for reading glasses.  This penchant developed during my college years when I discovered that the sight of a certain brilliant lesbian professor peering over her readers sent me to the moon. (sigh)  Ever since, I’ve dreamed about the day when I would require reading glasses myself.

I know that most people think that readers just make you look older, but I think they’re sexy.  Maybe this makes me eccentric.  So be it. I see them as a fantastic prop and fashion accessory, like sunglasses.  In fact, I must confess that I purchased a particularly stylish pair of readers a few years back when I had absolutely no need for them. Seriously.  They just sat in my drawer for years.  But I’ve recently noticed that I benefit from a little help when I’m reading the menu in a dimly lit restaurant or bar, so I’ve actually had a legitimate reason to wear my fabulous readers of late!  It’s been a delight to wear them, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Style blogger Cammila Albertson, who knows a thing or two about chic eyewear, has got me thinking about lorgnettes, which are spectacles or looking glasses with a long, decorative handle that doubles as a case.  They were extremely popular in the nineteenth century, when they became a must-have accessory for ladies of fashion. On her blog, Dressed Up Like a Lady, Cammila confesses, “I’m actually kind of obsessed with lorgnettes, and have a small collection of them. Such a pretty way to handle something as mundane as reading glasses. Sadly (or rather, fortunately), I do not require reading glasses, so these are purely decorative.”  There’s a great pic of her wearing lorgnettes here.

Although I agree that lorgnettes are charming, I must admit that my enthusiasm for them has been diminished ever since I saw Sarah Jessica Parker holding a pair in a poster for Sex and the City 2.  (For the record, I haven’t seen the film but just hearing about it makes me nauseous.)  But there’s a silver lining because I’m starting to think that others may share my fetish for sexy spectacles.  Perhaps the time is right to revive the most iconic piece of lesbian eyewear, the monocle. Are you in?

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Top 10 Lesbian Style & Fashion Icons

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I can’t say I agree with all their picks, but I’m happy to see Kate Moennig, Beth Ditto, kd lang, and Joan Jett on Autostraddle’s Top 10 Lesbian Style & Fashion Icons list

I love that dapper kd talks about herself almost as a third gender while simultaneously owning her “womanly” body.  I’m not a Jackie Warner fan, but I think she deserved to make the list.  But hey where’s Rachel Maddow, the new “Butch Fatale?”

I should admit that Ellen Degeneres is #1 on their list, but I would much rather put up a pic of Kate Moennig (#2) than Ellen.  In addition to being everyone’s favorite sexy andro tomboy, she really does have great style. So there, Autostraddle!  And you’re welcome, dear readers.

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The Butch Fatale

It’s official.  Everyone in the universe is crushing on Rachel Maddow.

Lesbianism has finally come into a glamour of its own, an appeal that goes beyond butch and femme archetypes into a more universal seduction. Her name is Rachel Maddow, the polished-looking, self-declared gay newscaster who stares out from the MSNBC studio every weekday night and makes love to her audience….

This is from Daphne Merkin’s latest style dispatch for The New York Times, “Butch Fatale,” which describes Maddow as the embodiment of a new out and proud media-friendly “lesbian glamour.”   Suddenly it seems that “pretty” butches like Maddow and Ellen Degenerous are the new face of lesbian chic.   Merkin states that “Sapphic archetypes tend to raise questions more than answer them.”   I agree, but this is equally true of the butch fatale, which is probably what makes her such an intriguing figure.

The L Word, Fashion and Femme

What’s the significance of fashion and beauty on The L Word?  This question and others are asked by The Ginja Ninja in her recent post.   Check it out and come back here for my response!

The Ginja Ninja discusses the characters’ fashion and beauty practices as an enactment of 3rd wave feminism, but I think the rise of lesbian chic and the distinctive subcultural style of LA lesbians are much more influential on the social world of The L Word.  There’s a great NY Times article, “The Subtle Power of Lesbian Style,” which discusses the enormous impact LA lesbian style has had in the worlds of fashion and pop culture.   Contrary to popular stereotypes, “fashion” and “lesbian” are hardly a contradiction in terms!

In the first episode in which Moira/Max is introduced (as Jenny’s lover), Bette remarks, “I just don’t see why Jenny feels she has to role-play like that.”   I don’t think this is an example of the group’s “up-to-date gender politics,” as you assert. To the contrary, this is precisely what 2nd wave lesbian-feminists said about butch/femme!  I’ve written a lot on this blog about the dismissal of butch/femme as role-playing, so I won’t repeat myself here.  However, we should ask:  does this demeaning attitude about  butch/femme reflect the LA scene, at least to some degree?  I think this attitude–and the presentation of butches as “archaic”–demonstrates some of the show’s profound limitations around gender identity and expression. 

I think it’s important not to conflate “feminine lesbians” and “femme.”   For example, you refer to Jenny as “unmistakably femme,” but I’m not sure I agree.  Many femmes, myself included, feel that femme identity is not just about how you look, and is not equivalent to being conventionally pretty or “feminine” (although some of us are simply ravishing, I must admit).  For example, there are (equally ravishing) tomboy femmes, gender-transgressive femmes, etc. 

There’s a reason Tila Tequila says she’s into lipstick lesbians!  Unlike lipstick lesbians (I know I’m generalizing here), femmes tend  to be self-conscious about how we create our gender, which we often experience as complicated–maybe this explains why we’re all blogging!   In my experience, femmes have been very engaged in theorizing femme identity in relation to and as part of feminist, queer, genderqueer and transgender discourses and communities.  Obviously, this isn’t true of all femmes but it does highlight a point of pride for many of us:  as Jewelle Gomez puts it, we refuse to be muted or assimilated.

Where’s the challenge and provocativeness of lesbian sartorial styles on the show?  I’m certainly NOT saying that the characters of The L Word are assimilationist because they’re fashionable and/or feminine.  Instead, my concern is that lesbian style on The L Word often functions as a vehicle for dissolving and/or absorbing social and cultural difference.