Eleanor Medhurst, "Unsuitable: A History of Lesbian Fashion" (Hurst, 2024)


Eleanor Medhurst joins us today to talk about Unsuitable: A History of Lesbian Fashion (Hurst & Company, 2024). Clothes are integral to lesbian history. Lesbians, in turn, are integral to the history of fashion. The way that we dress can help us to present who we are to the world, or it can help us to hide ourselves. It can align us with a community or make us stand out from the crowd. For lesbians, fashion can have innumerable meanings - yet "lesbian fashion" is rarely considered, the main association between lesbians and their clothes being of un-fashionability. 

In Unsuitable, Eleanor Medhurst explores the history of lesbian fashion, a field that has been overwhelmingly ignored within both fashion and queer histories. Unsuitable uncovers the relationships between lesbians and their clothes as well as their fashionable details, from top hats to violet tiaras. It spans centuries and continents: Anne Lister of nineteenth century Yorkshire and "Paris Lesbos" of the 1920s, butch/femme bar culture of the 1950s and lesbian activists in the '80s. It celebrates Black lesbian histories, trans lesbian histories, and histories of gender-nonconformity. The lesbian past is slippery; it has often deliberately been hidden, altered or left unrecorded. This book lights it up and shares it with the world, adorned in all its finery.

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Jana Byars

Jana Byars is an independent scholar located in Amsterdam.

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