Two Months Shy of 19: a (Queer) New York Style Retrospective

I arrived in NYC on New Years Day 1993, and spent 18 years and 10 months calling the city my home. To live in New York, for me, was to live in its queer community, which both partook of the city, and was separate from it, in fashion as in other things.

This photo was taken about six months after I moved to New York, and I think it captures the early-’90s NYC lesbian style pretty much perfectly.  The shaved heads, the tattoos, the abundance of black– the fact that I am dressed exactly like my then-girlfriend.  On the one hand, this is some classic ’90s styling; something anyone might have worn back then.  But on the other hand, it is totally, specifically queer, as evidenced by the fact that that lady in the background is unabashedly staring at us.

Summer of '93

My young queer styling.

I lived in Alphabet City then, on Avenue B between 13th and 14th.  No one lived in Brooklyn!  I did not have a single friend who lived in Brooklyn in those days.  Everyone I knew lived in Alphabet City, the East Village, etc.  And everyone sort of looked like this guy:

Classic early-’90s NYC queer punk: faded jeans with clip, black t-shirt, and leather jacket with buttons pinned to the lapel. The only thing missing here is the chain wallet.  Of course this was an evolution of New York ’80s punk fashion.  If the Ramones and Grunge had a gay baby, it would look just like that dude.

The Ramones

The Ramones. No gay baby, unfortunately.

It doesn’t seem necessary to post a million images of the ’90s fashion that we all know about: flannel shirts!  Combat Boots!  Ill-fitting jeans!  But, of course, I wore all those things.  I wore the shit out of some Doc Martens.

docs

The  late-’90s and early 2000s seemed like a strange time for clothes. We hadn’t left the early-’90s punk thing behind, but we hadn’t quite…evolved.  It seems in retrospect like people were sort of wandering around, trying to recapture the grittiness of the last decade. Trying random things to see if they might become stylish somehow.  For instance, the trucker hat.

Remember this guy? There was a lot of this guy.

My bandmates and I did a shoot for Rigged Outfitters around 2004 (another trucker hat!), that seems to sum up the situation pretty well:

Maybe things went a little too far in a certain direction.  The ’90s had instilled in us the idea that to be stylish was to be laid-back, not too fancy or “done.”  And so, be a fashionable dyke in the late-’90s and early-2000s meant, for me and my friends, looking a bit like an adolescent skateboarder.  But then around 2007, maybe in reaction to all this laid-backness, my friends went from looking like this:

To looking like this:

This is my friend Regina. If you are in Brooklyn, you should go to her bar, Blueprint. It is like a bar version of this stylish guy.

 

Different!  A lot of things probably contributed to this.  For one, I got older, as did my friends, and I no longer felt comfortable looking like a dirtbag all the time.  I don’t think it was only age, though.  Maybe it had something to do with a renewed interest in sincerity, as opposed to irony?  I’m not sure.  But suddenly everyone wanted to look… nice.  Tailored, kempt– as if they had put thought into their outfit, and weren’t ashamed of it.  Of course, this shift was not limited to homos.  Check out these guys:

A bartender at Prime Meats, in Brooklyn; ground-zero for natty New York gentlemen.

 

Nick Wooster, fashion icon.

 

But the queers so often do it best, in part because they know– maybe better than anyone– the value of self-transformation through fashion.

And then there are, of course, the New Yorkers who are just classic.  New York has got a lot of classics.  Thoughtful, careful dressers, who nonetheless look comfortable and at-ease in their clothing. Not too laid-back, but not fussy.  This man, basically:

When I am an old man, I shall wear white linen.  And I shall look great, year after year.

About Terry LaFrazia

Friend of a tailor. Interested in process and content.

3 comments

  1. Frank

    Terry, I love this post, this is SOO great. Can I post it to my wall? Love you, thanks for all the influences for all these years.

  2. Brian

    Surprising not to see this fashion put into political context. Surely ACT UP (if nothing else) heavily influenced the nyc queer look of the late ’80s / early ’90s?? The photo of the person in the queer/bear t-shirt looks like he could actually be at an ACT UP rally.

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