The overwhelming commercialization of Pride Month remains a long-standing criticism among members of the LGBTQ+ community, with many taking to social media to lament and even ridicule these performative marketing ploys. TikTok is filled with videos of its gay users draping themselves in garish rainbow clothes purchased from Pride collections, only to transform into an outfit more characteristic of their true personal style.
Derided of “rainbow capitalism”, brands showing dishonest solidarity with an increasingly profitable population are epidemic in a multitude of industries, but this pattern is particularly pernicious in the world of fashion. Rainbow capitalism threatens to downplay, if not erase, innovations pioneered by queer designers in fashion, as well as the importance of clothing for self-expression and defiance of gender norms.
Fashion has always been the realm of LGBTQ+ people, encompassing distinguished designers, dynamic drag performers, and everyday trendsetters looking for community. Even individual pieces of cloth have been adopted as signifiers of one’s sexuality, such as the handkerchiefs that gay men used to signal themselves discreetly to make their presence known. The most famous symbol of homosexuality is itself an item of clothing, adorned by various opportunistic companies throughout the month of June: none other than the famous rainbow flag.
(Source: Getty Images/jacoblund)
In order to fully understand the corporate exploitation of rainbow flag appropriation – and by extension, the queer aesthetic – it is crucial to know the symbolism inherent in the flag. Her very existence is rebellious in nature, empowering and giving hope to an oppressed group, and these values are represented by each of her colors. Pink carries the boldest and most subversive meaning of sex, complemented by colors like red, orange, green and dark blue symbolizing life, healing, nature and harmony respectively. The Rainbow Flag is a creation born out of resilience and unity by people ostracized for their gender and sexuality, and now this embodiment of their continued struggle has been exploited by the dominating institutions that once denounced them. .
The contributions of LGBTQ+ people to the fashion world are far too vast and varied to be limited to the rainbow garments that few members of the community actually wear. As early as the late 1800s, black and brown homosexuals presented their extravagant ensembles on the runways they themselves had constructed at the first recorded balls. Famous musicians like Elton John and Freddie Mercury have flaunted flamboyant outfits during their electrifying performances, and many of the most renowned fashion designers, such as Marc Jacobs and Christian Dior, are gay men. These trailblazers and countless other trailblazers paved the way for fashion programs like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Queer Eye” to become huge hits, which even provided cis and straight public figures with the freedom to develop their own personal style by experimenting with gender non-conformity. .
Companies that superficially plaster rainbows on clothing have become a laughing stock, but companies have begun to emulate the queer aesthetic more authentically, a new tactic far less noble than it seems. . T-shirts emblazoned with the term “woman” often separate it from its origin as a distinct Sapphic aesthetic and reuse it as a generic descriptor of femininity. The Venus symbol, usually depicted in pairs to represent same-sex attraction, is yet more lesbian iconography whitewashed by mainstream fashion brands, reducing it to a single figure to be touted as pop feminism. Barely an improvement on lazily produced rainbow clothing, replicating true queer style is a futile attempt to show support for the LGBTQ+ community if the quirkiness of these looks isn’t fully represented.
(Credit: Getty Images/Sabrina Bracher)
Even the processes by which these Pride collections are made are at odds with the sense of justice intrinsic to LGBTQ+ activism. “Fast fashion” is a scourge that permeates the industry as a whole, and its environmental damage is made even more immoral by the fact that these unsustainable materials are collected from countries where being gay or trans is punishable by imprisonment or even death. Fast fashion is commonly produced in China, a country known for its LGBTQ+ censorship and human rights abuses inflicted on the grossly underpaid factory workers who assemble these products.
One effective solution to rainbow capitalism is to hang out with LGBTQ+ designers, especially the more underrepresented members of the community who are fighting for the biggest change in the industry. Black and/or trans artists have always revolutionized fashion in myriad ways, and that legacy lives on through the burgeoning careers of modern designers challenging gender norms and championing diversity on the catwalk and backstage. As the first trans woman to appear on an official New York fashion calendar, Pierre Davis designs hand-embroidered wardrobes for wearers of all skin tones, body types and genders with her No Sesso brand. Stoney Michelli and Uzo Ejikeme started Stuzo Clothing as a small line of t-shirts, which has since grown into a major streetwear brand worn by queer celebrities like Ruby Rose and Lena Waithe. The meteoric success of Telfar Clemens mirrors that of his predecessors Willi Smith and Patrick Kelly, all of whom are black queer men whose visionary talents and tireless diligence have established them as legends in their craft. With such a proliferation of black LGBTQ+ designers redefining their industry, perhaps queer fashion can one day be freed from rainbow capitalism.