Professor Dominic Janes: Freak to Chic: ‘Gay’ Men In and Out of Fashion After Oscar Wilde  – New book and online exhibition

Freak to Chic: ‘Gay’ Men In and Out of Fashion After Oscar Wilde  

For a period during the interwar years queer styles were in fashion. People who had been regarded as freaks became seen as chic. This book provides a new interpretation of the origins of ‘gay’ culture from a time when that word typically meant happy but was starting to mean homosexual. It explores the ways in which men who were sexually attracted to other men were able visually and creatively to express same-sex desires in the first half of the twentieth century in London seen in the context of New York and Paris. This was a time when openly homosexual sexual expression was illegal, but the worlds of glamour, fashion and art provided rich opportunities for the construction of queer spectacle such that the interwar period saw the appearance of startlingly new fashions for androgynous ‘freak chic’. Queer men gained important roles as photographers and designers working to creating glamorous images for women. This book looks at the complex ways in which images of women shaped and were shaped by those of men, and the role of both male and female empowerment in that process. Fashion and freakishness remained as attributes of homosexuals even after the vogue for queer style had waned. Britain’s interwar ‘freak chic’ remains important to contemporary debates over liberal values due to its resistance to moralism and its celebration of acts of transgressive self-expression. This is an interdisciplinary book of significance to those interested in glamour, photography, gender, sexuality and the history of fashion. It’s themes are explored in a UCA online exhibition: