The Lesbian Uniform

by Teena Parker

We’ve all seen it. The Lesbian Uniform.

Look no further than Wall Street’s dance floor on a Friday night or Slammers’ patio on a warm summer evening. I’m not talking about cleats and softball gloves here, although that look is admittedly more attractive than the unofficial uniform to which I’m referring.

If you own a pair of Bermuda shorts — and I know you do! — you’re already halfway there. Now pair those shorts (preferably in a hideous plaid pattern) with a polo shirt (pop it if you’ve got it), and voila!

This ubiquitous ensemble is what I lovingly call the Lesbian Uniform. And to be brutally honest, it is not a good look. Baby dykes, I’m talking to you. We all know you started it. I’m just not sure why 30- and 40-somethings felt compelled to copy it.

I’m dying to know exactly how and why this seemingly endless trend began. I don’t think we can blame it on The L Word (like we can just about every other trend in lesbian culture), because not even Dawn Denbo or her lover Cindy would be caught dead in a pair of knee-length plaid shorts.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore butch women. And I’m all for women feeling comfortable in their own skin — and, by extension, their clothing. I’m also aware that there hasn’t been a mainstream female fashion model with same-sex tendencies since Gia Carangi.

But that doesn’t mean we have to settle for something that looks like it was rejected from Adam Sandler’s closet — or Justin Bieber’s for that matter.

Lesbians, on the whole — and, yes, I realize that I’m about to make an unfair, ridiculously broad generalization here — have championed some poor fashion choices in the past. Cases in point: the mullet. Combat boots. Anything flannel. Melissa Etheridge concert T-shirts.

And I’m guilty of it too, folks. I admit it: I love my Tevas! And in 1995, you could’ve found me wearing all of the above simultaneously (minus the mullet, although I did have an embarrassingly bad haircut). But I left that look in the ’90… where it belongs.

Today, the phrase Lesbian Chic has become a somewhat controversial topic after a Style story last fall discussed the menswear-for-women trend going more mainstream and the fact that a plethora of female fashion models have come out of their well-appointed closets.

In fact, more and more out and proud women are emerging in the heretofore hetero- and gay-male-dominated fashion industry. Amber Rose. Beth Ditto. Freja Erichsen. And we all know Ellen is easy, breezy and beautiful. There are so many more lesbian style mavens for us to aspire toward today than just our P.E. teachers of the past.

A former contestant on America’s Next Top Model, Kim Stolz, put it beautifully in a 2009 interview with “Back on Top Model, I had short hair and was acting a bit more androgynously. … Today, I’m wearing a dress, and my hair is straight and long. … It just depends on how I feel. … I just wish [the LGBT community] would realize no matter how I dress or look, I will always be really gay.”

Amen! And I love her point: that no matter how we look on the outside, we’ll always be filled with rainbows and strap-ons on the inside.

So you can maintain a butch look without making Bermuda shorts the staple of your spring and summer wardrobes. What about suspenders? Or vests? An alternative-lifestyle haircut? Give it a try! It’s quite possible for a woman who loves women to look and feel like a woman who loves women without wearing plaid Bermuda shorts and popping the collar of her polo shirt.

Let’s face it. Being at a lesbian bar wearing the Lesbian Uniform is a lot like being at a Tegan and Sara concert wearing an “I Heart Tegan and Sara” T-shirt: It’s a bit redundant, isn’t it?

So please. I beg you. When the first winds of spring blow through Columbus later this month and you feel the urge to pull your summer clothing out of storage, please: Put down the Bermuda shorts and simply walk away. Just leave them behind. Forever. Don’t even donate them to the thrift store for some poor, unsuspecting teenage lesbian to discover. Just throw them in the garbage bin. Immediately. Or, better yet, burn them.

You can keep the Melissa Etheridge T-shirt. Just don’t wear it to her concert, please.