TOPIC: fashion Feed

"Casting spells for a female future with 70s lesbian separatist Liza Cowan"

 From i-D magazine. By Charlotte Gush. December 7, 2015. Original here:

In 1975, Liza Cowan photographed her girlfriend wearing a T-shirt that read ‘The Future Is Female’. Fast forward to 2015 and a replica bought by Annie Clark for girlfriend Cara Delevingne has caused an Instagram-based feminist fashion frenzy. i-D caught up with Liza to find out about the T-shirt’s lesbian separatist roots, her magazine DYKE and what ‘The Future is Female’ means to her. 

 

 Alix Dobkin, photo ©Liza Cowan. the future is female 1975 high res copy 2
Alix Dobkin wearing original The Future Is Female Shirt form Laybris Books. Photo ©Liza Cowan 1975

 

In recent weeks, perhaps the very first truly Insta-famous feminist fashion item has emerged: a sweatshirt worn by Annie Clark, of St Vincent, and girlfriend Cara Delevingne that reads, 'The Future Is Female'. Far from being the latest catwalk creation, the design actually has its roots in the radical feminist movement of lesbian separatists in the 70s, having been created originally to raise funds for Labyris Books, the first women's bookshop in New York City, which opened in 1972.

In 1975, photographer Liza Cowan photographed her then-girlfriend Alix Dobkin wearing the slogan T-shirt, for an advert the magazine DYKE: A Quarterly, which she co-edited with Penny House. [note from Liza - this isn't actually true. I took the photo for my slideshow, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear] Fast forward to 2015 and the lesbian feminist Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y posted Cowan's image, where it was seen by graphic designer Rachel Berks, who sells feminist products from her studio-store, Otherwild. With permission, Berks recreated the T-shirt and began selling it -- with 25% of profits going to women's health organisation Planned Parenthood -- in her online store and in the gift shop of a lesbian feminist haunted house called KillJoy's Kastle, where St Vincent singer Annie Clark bought two slogan sweatshirts for herself and girlfriend Cara Delevingne. Paparazzi shots of them wearing the designs spread across social media and a feminist fashion frenzy was set in motion.

i-D caught up with photographer, artist and feminist Liza Cowan to find out more about lesbian separatist feminism in the 1970s, her magazine DYKE: A Quarterly and what 'The Future is Female' means to her.

 

Alix dobkin and liza cowan at three maple farm NY circa 1975
Alix Dobkin and Liza Cowan at Three Maple Farm, NY. Circa 1975



 How does it feel to see a radical statement created by your community of lesbian feminists in the 70s become famous on the internet in 2015?
If you had told me 40 years ago, when Alix Dobkin and I made this photo, that it would become a pop culture sensation of this magnitude, we would have said that the idea was impossible.

Are you concerned that the feminist message gets lost and people think it's just a cool image?
In some ways the message 'The Future Is Female' is, if not lost, then certainly understood differently than it was in the 70s. Feminism has changed, the world has changed. It is difficult for many younger women to imagine the power, the excitement and the urgent need for women to come together to change the world. This may change. I do like that people think it's a cool image. It IS a cool image.

What does 'The Future is Female' mean to you?
The beauty of the phrase is that there is no precise meaning. We are asked to absorb two powerful archetypes, and to imagine them in relationship to each other. It is a dynamic phrase, a lively phrase. In order to make sense of it, we have to engage with the words. The archetype of 'the future' asks questions about the nature of time: When does the future begin? Where is the future? How does it happen? As an archetype, 'female' covers broad territories. Flora or fauna. Virgin Mary or Kali. Medusa or Quan Yin. Astarte or Parvati. Bringer of peace, or destroyer of illusion. Nurturer or avenger. Mother, sister, daughter, aunt, grandmother. Nymph, maiden, crone.

'The Future is Female' reminds me that all life formed in a matrix. Matrix means womb, matrice, mother. Life springs from the female. Whether the future starts right this second, or in a million years, it emerges from the female body; not just the body of women, but of all female sentient beings, including the body of our home, Gaia.

I have also said that the slogan is a call to arms. While I think this is true, it is also true that it is an invocation. If we are to have a future, it must be female, because the rule of men -- patriarchy -- has just about devastated life on this beautiful little planet. The essence and the spirit of the future must be female. So the phrase becomes not just a slogan, but a spell. For the good of all.

 The image of Alix was part of a photography project about women. Tell us more?
From 1972 to 1978 I wrote a series of articles called What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, starting in a small lesbian magazine I published called Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, which ran from 1973 to 1974. Later I published them in my bigger magazine, DYKE: A Quarterly of Lesbian Culture and Analysis, which I co-edited and co-published with Penny House.

Today, you can get a PhD in fashion theory. In those days, it was considered trivial. I knew it wasn't, and I knew and that clothing carried a social message. I wanted to decipher it. In the seven part series, I covered general observations, histories of lesbian clothing -- including ancient Amazons -- contemporary lesbian clothing designers, the politics of hair and the history and politics of footwear.

How did you discover feminism and when did you start to identify as a feminist?
I first heard about Women's Liberation in 1970, listening to Robin Morgan being interviewed on the New York City listener-sponsored radio station, WBAI. My life changed immediately. I joined a consciousness-raising group, and I never looked back.

After you became a feminist, you began to identify as a lesbian separatist -- what does that mean and why was it an important distinction?
I was not a lesbian when I became a feminist. I came out gradually over the next year or so. In the process of producing feminist radio shows at WBAI (the same station where I'd first heard Robin Morgan), I had the opportunity to interview many many accomplished and exciting women, including some lesbians. One morning I had a dream in which I revealed to myself that I deeply loved women, and I decided at that very moment to be a lesbian. Soon after that, I met Alix Dobkin, a recently divorced folksinger and mother of a nine month old daughter. We met when she came to the station to be a guest on my late-night feminist radio show, Electra Rewired. We became friends, and then fell in love.

Over the course of the next few years, we spent much of our free time reading and discussing lesbian books, periodicals and theory, with each other and with friends. The new ideas about lesbian separatism resonated for us, and we developed our own ideas, which I wrote about in DYKE, and Alix sang about. Our work took us to women's actions and communities in New York City and soon, all over the United States, where we enjoyed the opportunity to work out ideas with many brilliant lesbians.

Contrary to popular belief, lesbian separatism was never a prescriptive code for behaviour or relationships. It did not dictate who to be friends with, what 'family' should mean, or how to live your life. It was an analysis, a lens through which to observe the world. There was no centrally-distributed dogma. Lesbian Separatism, boiled down, was a way to figure out what it meant to be a woman, without having to bother with men telling you what you could not think or say.

It was a way to develop networks of women's businesses, publishers, bookstores, conferences, cafes, trade organisations, credit unions, music production, health care centres, media, schools, self-defence courses, cooperative farms, festivals, auto-repair shops, distribution networks. We did everything. Not everyone who participated was a lesbian, but most were. Women-only networks, spaces and actions are one of the cornerstones of creating community, and forging effective feminist activism. That's why it's such a difficult and contested thing to do these days.

 

 

Liza Cowan and Penny House circa 1975 photo by Alix Dobkinjpg
Liza Cowan and Penny House at Three Maple Farm, 1975. Photo ©Alix Dobkin

Why did you create DYKE: A Quarterly, and what was the reaction to it?
DYKE: A Quarterly (DAQ) was my second feminist magazine, following a smaller predecessor, Cowrie Lesbian Feminist. Before that I'd been a radio producer. I like media, I like to write, I like to design; and we had wonderful resources of lesbian writers, artists and activists to draw on as contributors. Co-editor Penny House and I decided that publishing a lesbian feminist magazine would be our perfect contribution to the movement.

Some women loved it. Some hated it. Some loved how brave and honest we were. Some women were frightened by that. Some hated that we wrote about such 'frivolous' topics as clothing and fashion. Others found that enlightening. Some women loved that we tried our best to make it beautiful and substantial. Others were suspicious of us because it was beautiful and substantial. But we were always taken seriously.

All our articles were written by lesbians, (except one, by our woman dentist, about oral hygiene.) Our typesetters were lesbians, and the magazine was printed by a lesbian printshop. We sold only by subscription, or in women's bookstores. Sometimes we sold the magazine in person as we toured the country with Alix Dobkin. All our advertisers were lesbian feminists. We paid for everything we published. It was quite the cottage industry. Our biggest problem was funding. But that was par for the course in what was then known as 'alternative publishing'. We folded after four years and six issues.

Back cover DYKE A Quarterly photo ©Irene Young

In DAQ Issue 1, the introduction says that subscriptions will be returned to men, that you don't want male readers or straight women, just lesbians. Why did you want to be exclusive in that way?
The idea of women talking seriously to other women is often seen as a threat to the social order. We just wanted to talk amongst ourselves. Nobody else was interested, anyway.

Some people feel that lesbians have been ignored in the history of both the feminist movement and the gay rights movement. What's your take on that?
I agree, that absolutely happens, and I find it infuriating; but that doesn't mean that nothing has been written. It does depend on where you look. Lesbians have been writing both popular and scholarly works about lesbians for decades now, and there are some wonderful documentary films. Once you start searching, you will uncover a goldmine.

The DAQ archive is now held at The Museum Library at MOMA in New York. Do you think more needs to be done to preserve original feminist and lesbian cultural history?
Absolutely. I always encourage lesbians to donate their personal papers and their personal lesbian libraries to local or national women's or lesbian archives.

Flier for DYKE A Quarterly photo ©Irene Young
Flier for DAQ, Media issue. Photos ©Irene Young

 

The Future Is Female statement spread around the world after Annie Clark and Cara Delevingne were photographed wearing the Otherwild sweatshirts, and there is a big resurgence in celebrities endorsing feminism, like Beyoncé, who performed in front of a huge bank of lights that read 'FEMINIST' on her tour. What do you think of celebrity feminism?
I don't keep up much with celebrity feminism. I'm not a huge consumer of contemporary pop culture. I don't think it can be a bad thing for women celebrities to endorse feminism, and if it encourages other women, particularly young women, to feel good about being feminist, that's a good thing. For me, it depends a lot on the scope and content of their message. If there is no analysis or activism, feminism becomes a symbol with no substance. "The map is not the territory. The name of the thing is not the thing named." -- Alfred Korzybski, 1931. The word 'feminist" is not the same thing as feminist activism.

Although is it very popular to say you are a feminist now, some of the achievements of 70s feminists seem to be being undone. Has progress been made or are we slipping backwards?
I hope that we are reaching the end of an era of mean-spirited attacks, critiques and disavowal of 70s Lesbian activism, attacks which have been painful to witness, and are filled with lies, distortions and half-truths. I see a new generation of folks who have discovered us, and appreciate our work. The h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y Instagram account is one of many examples of this. I hear from more and more young people every day who are truly excited to know more about what we did, and are inspired to carry on the work.

Photoshoot for DYKE IS OUT circa 1974
Image from contact sheet, photoshoot for DYKE IS OUT flier 1974

 

What advice do you have for young feminist and lesbian activists today?
KNOW YOUR HERSTORY: Read, read, read. There is so much to read, so much scholarship, so many articles, so much literature. Get to know the radical roots of feminist theory. Read about 1st and 2nd wave feminists. Become familiar with the legions of amazing feminist and lesbian feminist women who came before you: activists, artists, scholars, scientists, trade-unionists, abolitionists, community leaders, organisers. Likewise, listen to women's music, watch feminist and lesbian films and documentaries. Explore lesbian theatre, and lesbian novels.

Form consciousness-raising groups with a few trusted women-friends. Consciousness-raising was the foundation of second wave feminism, and I can't stress enough what an important tool it is. Meet weekly, pick a topic for each week, and talk honestly and openly with one another. You'll be surprised what you discover. Things you thought were your private problems are not just common, but are the very structure of oppression. This is the technique by which we discover that "the personal is political". Not only will it expand your consciousness and political understanding, it will help you develop the small, trusted and intimate groups from which all kinds of networks and activism can spring.

lizacowan.com

Credits

Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Liza Cowan


Lesbian History Exploration, 1975. Part 2

 

Dyke a quarterly,  Blue London and anon woman in photobooth 1950's or early 60's
Blue London and unknown woman. Photo booth photo circa late 1950's. From What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear Slideshow, 1975

 

The Lesbian History Exploration was a small conference, held in the Spring of 1975 at a Jewish camp in Malibu, California. It was organized and produced  by Good Taste Productions, a Lesbian collective in Los Angeles. Among the collective were Alice Bloch, Jan Oxenberg, Evan Paxton, Nancy Poore, Jocelyn Cohen, Jan Aura and Nancy Toder.

I can't remember how Alix Dobkin and I heard about the conference, either it was a personal invitation or we saw a notice about it in one of the dozens of women's publications that circulated around the country in that era. We submitted our proposals, and then spent part of the winter preparing for our presentations, which would take place far from our home in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

DAQ dear exploration anthology collective
Dear Exploration...letter from Liza Cowan 1975

 

The Exploration Collective must have sent out a series of questionnaires, which not only did I anwer quite thoroughtly, but I also managed to keep copies of my letters in my posession until 2001, when I donated some of my papers and collections to The Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. 

In September of 2012 I visited the Herstory Archives to retreive the slideshow so I could digitize it, and I did manage to digitize much of it. I also retreived a cache of slides from The Lesbian History Exploration, which I'd also taken, but had no memory of ever having, much less having donated to The Lesbian Herstory Archives. Nonetheless, there they were in a manilla envelope with the letters.   Feeling daunted by the idea of scanning so many slides, I stashed them away for a couple of years, until I recently when I was sorting through part of my office and came across the envelope and peeked in. Et, Voila.

Title card from What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear slideshow. 1975. dyke finery. ©Liza Cowan


 


What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear: The Lesbian History Exploration,1975.

Letter from Liza Cowan to the Lesbian History Exploration collective march 22 1975 about the slideshow what the well dressed dyke will wear Dyke a Quarterly

 

 

Early in the Spring of 1975, I was preparing for my slde show, "What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear" for the upcoming Lesbian History Exploration, a small national conference to be held outside of Los Angeles. 

The Good Taste Collective was organizing the Exploration. Here is some correspondence from me, Liza, to the collective. I only saved my responses, not their inquiries.

Snapshots of Liza Cowan and Alix Dobkin 1975 Potter Hollow NY
Alix Dobkin and Liza Cowan, Spring 1976. Three Maple Farm, Schoharie County, NY


 

White Mare Archive to Lesbian Hirstory Exploration

To: Good Taste Productions

From Liza Cowan 3/22/76

Private correspondence

Page 1

Dear Good Tasters,

My slide show is coming along ok, I guess. I took about 200 pictures at the NY Women’s Music Festival, and none of them came out because I didn’t know that the shutter speed had to be at 60 for the flash to be in synch. So consequently I have lost most of my contemporary Dyke fashion slides. I took some pictures at the Lesbian Feminist Liberation/ New York Radical Feminist Lesbian Speak Out, but there was no picture taking allowed inside so I had to take them outside and didn’t get too many. We are going to Washington, D.C in 2 weeks + I’ll get more there.

I think that my first showing will be at the exploration. I wish I had about another year to finish, because I’ll be taking pictures in California + everywhere we go, and it

Page 2

will get better and better. But anyway, it’s good now, too. I will show slides of the Older Lady Dykes (Gertrude, Alice, Natalie, Romaine, Sylvia, Colette, et al) also before and after (coming out, Dykes in drag (in ladies clothes) and contemporary dyke duds. Also I will play appropriate music, and preface the whole thing with a short talk about the power of clothes.

I don’t know how long it will run. I hope it will be at least 15 minutes (I’m very upset about losing all those contemporary dyke slides.)

It will be light and amusing, fun to watch. I decided not to get into any heavy analysis and history because it’s too talkie. I think a slide show should be more fun.

I will need a screen + cassette play back machine. I have a projector.

I’m thinking of changing the name to “How We Look” or “What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear – how we look 1900-1975.

[I shaved my head yesterday]

See you soon, love, Liza Cowan


What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear: Amazons

Before there was DYKE, A Quarterly, there was COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. It started off as the publication of a local women's group in New York City, Community of Women, COW. Although Community of Women was not strictly a Lesbian group, COWRIE quickly became a Lesbian magazine, independant of COW, taken in this direction by the editors, Liza Cowan and Carol Hardin. 

It was here that Liza Cowan's series, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear originated. Vol. 1 #4 was the Amazon issue, with cover of Amazons and inside, the essay on Lesbian Clothing. Here it is, the original text and graphics: 

 

COWRIE LESBIANFEMINIST VOL 1 #4 FRONT COVER ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. Vol 1 #4, December 1973. Cover design ©Liza Cowan

 

 Look at Greek vase paintings in a book or at a museum, you can always spot an Amazon by the way she looks. Greek patriarchal women are very femme, they wear loose, flowing chitons and are very nice to the men who share their space on the vases. The Amazons wear bold, striking pants, tunics and weapons, and are busy killing the men.

 I spent a lot of time last week tracking down Amazon clothes. The Metropolitan Museum Clothing Institute had nothing. No hints, no leads. A curator at the American Museum of Natural History told me that Amazons never really existed. Katherine Springer of the Greek and Roman department at the Metropolitan Museum was helpful. She told me about a book called Amazons In Greek Art by Deitrich Von Bothmer, which I got at the library and had to spend an hour just figuring out how to read it.  I called her back to ask a question, which she answered, and handed the phone over to her boss, none other than Deitrich Von. B. He told me he wouldn’t do my homework for me, that I obviously wasn’t an expert at anything, etc. etc. So here I am, back where I started, with a few feminist sources and some pictures of Amazons painted by Greek men.

 It is incredible the way our heritage is denied us. I never studied about Amazons in school. My twelfth grade Ancient History textbook never even mentions them. In order to write about Amazon clothes I first have to bust my ass trying to find information about Amazons themselves, information which isn’t readily available, and what is available is mystified, obscured and held by men who don’t want to part with their precious knowledge. Information Imperialism! (There is one excellent book, Mothers and Amazons, by Helen Dinar) We should have learned about our Amazon foremothers before we learned about George Washington. We are never taught about women. Every book that mentions Amazons (excluding Dinar) says they were a mythological race of women. The concise English Dictionary calls them “ A fabulous race of women warriors, masculine women” Men cannot stand the idea that women preferred to live without them.

 The Amazons were a strong, powerful group (or groups) of women identified women who lived according to their own determination, without men. They were forced to fight for survival against a growing patriarchy. Their existence has been documented as early as 1760 BC, when Queen Euripyle captured the Amorite capital in Babylon. They lived in many different places, migrating frequently, conquering new lands. There were Amazons all around the Mediterranean area, in southern Russia, north of the Black Sea, in Asia Minor and in northern Africa. There were two major groups, the Libyan (Libya being the place we now refer to as Morocco) and the Thermodontines. The only pictures of Amazons are those on Greek Vases (and some sculptures,) usually depicting the great war between the Athenians and the Thermodontine Amazons, whose territory extended from the Saramatian Planes to the Aegean Sea (which is roughly southern Russia, the Balkan countries, Greece and Asia Minor. This is the story of that war:

 

COWRIE MAGAZINE VOL 1 #4 WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR ©LIZA COWAN 1973
COWRIE, Lesbian/Feminist. Vol 1 #4, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, ©Liza Cowan

 

In the 13th century BC, a group of Greek men (Heracles and Theseus, according to one version) sailed to Themiscyra, the Thermodon capital on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea, to steal the belt of Hippolyte, the Queen. It was a gold and crystal sword belt, one of the Scythian insignia. It symbolized virginity, which meant unmarried rather than unfucked. It was more than the belt they were trying to steal. Patriarchy was trying to conquer and dominate Matriarchal authority. Stealing the belt was a symbol of this intended domination. If Amazons surrendered their virginity, they surrendered their independence, as every Lesbian/feminist knows.

 At any rate, the Greek men fell upon the undefended city and its Queen, while the other Queen was away defending the borders with her army.

 Amazons always had two Queens, one to administer and one to lead the armies. The men stole the belt, killed the remaining townswomen, and abducted Antiope, Hippolyte’s sister. When Oriethia heard the news, she came rushing back, but the men had already left, so she led her army to invade Athens.

They besieged the Acropolis, but were not victorious. Antiope (and maybe Hippolyte) fought alongside the Greek men, and the war ended with a compromise. Oriethia died of grief and shame. Few of the remaining Amazons every reached home again. They were discouraged and almost totally defeated.

 This war is the one that is usually portrayed on the Greek vases. Some others show the Amazons, led by Penthesilea, fighting the Greeks in the Trojan War. The earliest vase paintings were done in the 7th Century BC, most were done in the 5th Century BC, eight hundred years after the Thermodontine-Athenian War. But clothing styles didn’t change as rapidly as they do now, so there’s a good chance that the Amazon clothes depicted on the vases are accurate.

 There is no one Amazon clothing style. The clothes change with place of origin, but there was much migration and communication between locations. The most striking clothes are those that come from Asia Minor, around modern Turkey, near the Amazon capital, Themiscyra. They wore an outfit that looked like a body suit covered by a tunic. The front and back pieces were oblong, sewn together on the shoulders and down the sides, with openings left for the arms. There was a single seam in the arms sewn on the undersides. These coats were usually made of leather, and sometimes wool. They wore tight fitting knit hose with bold geometric designs, checkerboards, stripes, circles, stars and zigzags. 

COWRIE LESBIAN FEMINIST VOL 1 #4 WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR P.2 ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. Vol 1 #4, 1973. What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. Text and image ©Liza Cowan

 

Some sources say that the Amazons were tattooed on their arms and legs, but this is unlikely. The shirts and tunics had tight sleeves, close fitting at the wrists, and were also boldly patterned with geometric designs. They frequently wore long soft red leather boots. The toes of the boots were often curled up, indicating a northern origin. Shoes like this are usually worn in snowy, rocky climates.

 They wore a variety of hats and helmets. One popular hat was from Phrygia (150 miles due east of Lesbos.) This was a tall conical cap, knitted in one piece or made of felt. It had a broad flap which hung over the nape of the neck and two other flaps which came to the shoulders and could be tied.

 In battle the Amazons carried crescent or double crescent shaped shields, emblems of the Moon Goddess, and they frequently wore the crescent emblem on their helmets. They carried bows and arrows, darts, javelins, nets and, of course, the Labyris, double-edged axe, symbol of the matriarchy. They wore armor made of red leather, and sometimes were greaves, armor for the shin area. Some pictures show them wearing no trousers, though I doubt that any self-respecting Amazon would ride into battle without her pants. She would be too vulnerable.  Some pictures show them wearing earrings. Their hair is shown tied back, or is hidden by the helmets.

There are no pictures of Amazons alone with each other, having fun, making love, eating, sleeping, building houses, training horses, playing with the children, or doing anything else but fighting. After all, men were not allowed to hang out with the Amazons so the only way they would have been able to see them was in combat. There are no remnants of Amazon art or artifacts (that I have found, anyway.) Probably everything was destroyed.

 Amazons were our great, great, great grandmothers. The patriarchy almost defeated them, but not quite. Here we are, the North American Amazons. Long live the Amazons.

 

Bibliography

Mothers and Amazons – Helen Dinar (available in paperback) The best book about Amazons so far.

 Amazons In Greek Art – Deitrich von Bothmer. Complete collections of Amazon pictures.

 Les Guerilleres,  Monique Wittig (paperback) not specifically about Amazons but gives, I think, a sense of an Amazon Community. 

COWRIE LESBIAN FEMINIST VOL. 1 #4  WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR P3 ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/Feminist Vol. 1 #4, 1973. What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. Amazons. Text and illustration ©Liza Cowan

DYKE, A Quarterly: Challenging Assumptions Since 1975

Dyke a quarterly challenging assumptions since 1975, butch femme, lesbian nail polish
DYKE, A Quarterly: Challenging Assumptions Since 1975
 
Did painting or not painting our nails make us butch or femme? We didn't think so. But we had an inkling that it would confound our readers to see us with nail polish, which we happened to be wearing the day we made this graphic. 
Original images made with Letraset transfer letters on paper, hand held on the bed of a Mita 500D copy machine. 

 


What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear: The Slide Show 1976

In September, 2012, I - Liza - took a trip to The Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City to delve into my own collections. I was looking specifically for my 1976 slide show, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. I found it, and brought the slides home to digitize. 

The online magazine Dapper Q, which had interviewed me about Dyke Clothing, had requested some of the slideshow images, should I ever find them, so I sent some along for them to publish HERE

In my interview about What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear in dapperQ, I mentioned that the slides from my traveling slideshow were at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in NYC. Since then, I visited the Archives and borrowed my slides to digitize them.

In 1975 and 1976, I took pictures at various events and places around the country to show to women-only audiences. While I had permission to show the slides in this context, never in my wildest dreams, in the mid 1970s, could I have imagined the internet, or websites like dapperQ. So, I have selected a few images to share in this context, choosing only the women who have given permission or who are famous, or whose identity I think won’t be recognized after all these years. Photos by Liza Cowan unless stated.

 

Alix Dobkin circa 1975 wearing t shirt from women's bookstore Lammas. Photo ©Liza Cowan
Alix Dobkin in a t-shirt from Lammas, a women’s bookstore in Washington, DC. We had all just gotten new haircuts and were happy to show them off.

 

 

Alix Dobkin, 1975. Photo ©Liza Cowan
Alix Dobkin in vest and striped shirt. This was taken on Amtrak, travelling from DC to NYC. Alix is wearing one of the buttons I created, “A You’re An Amazon,” the first line of one of her most popular songs, “Amazon ABC.”

 

 

Alix Dobkin wearing various feminist t-shirts. 1975. Photos ©Liza Cowan
T-shirt collage, featuring Alix Dobkin. Lammas was a women’s bookstore in Washington, DC. “The Future Is Female” - the slogan for New York City’s first women’s bookstore Labyris Books. Amazon Expedition. I can’t remember what this shirt was for, but there was a popular anthology of the same name, published in 1973 by Times Change Press, edited by Bertha Harris, Jil Johnston, Esther Newton, Jane O’Wyatt and Phillis Birkby. I am Woman, a shirt we found at some five and dime store, probably a take off from the famous song by Helen Reddy. Note the props.

 

 

Amy and Phranc at concert in LA. 1975. Photo ©Liza Cowan
Amy and Phranc taken at an Alix Dobkin concert in LA. This concert took place the week after the What The Well Dressed Dyke slideshow made it’s debut at the Lesbian History Exploration outside Los Angeles. In an interview in The Advocate, July 22, 1986, Phranc said: “…then I saw the slide presentation by Liza Cowan [at the Lesbian History Exploration] on ‘What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear.’ It was great: all these women in 3-piece suits. They showed a slide of Liza shaving her head and I thought, ‘This is great.’ ‘I went home and got a total buzz-cut, and just loved it.” Note that Amy is wearing the “A You’re An Amazon button and Phranc is wearing another one of my buttons, “I like Older Women.”

 

 

Liza-and-penny-on-wall-photo-by-alix-dobkin
Liza Cowan and Penny House, posing for the slideshow. I am wearing my favorite wool vest, tie, jeans and green Converse sneakers. Penny is wearing wool sailor pants, a vest and tie, and Frye boots. Photo by Alix Dobkin.

 

Liza-getting-a-shave-photo-by-Alix-Dobkin
Liza Getting her head shaved. Our neighbor, friend, and riding instructor, Dorethea, had a haircutting salon. She was puzzled and amused when I asked her to shave my head. Photo by Alix Dobkin.

 

Louise-and-liza-2-photo-by-alix-dobkin
Louise Fishman and Liza. Louise wearing the now-stereotypical flannel shirt, Liza wearing, again, my favorite wool vest, a bandana with women’s symbols on my neck, and, again, the “A You’re An Amazon” and “I like Older Women” buttons. Photo by Alix Dobkin.

 

Three-piece-suit-by-morgan-photo-%C2%A9Liza-Cowan
Three piece suit by Lesbian designer, Morgan, at a fashion show/tea party she hosted to present her collection.

 

 

Val, wearing vest, tie and jacket. Going to a dance. Photo ©Liza Cowan
V in three piece ensemble at a women’s dance.
title card from slideshow What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. ©Liza Cowan 1975
Title card from slideshow. Liza self-portrait.




Side Trip: What The Well Dressed Dyke Won't Wear

Gender. What the Hell is it? I snapped these 4 images from a catalog that came in the mail today. It's not just the shoes, but the way that models persistently stand with their toes pointed inward, signifying that they are like girl-children, and not steady on their feet.

Just stop that! Gender is a politically and socially imposed system of oppression.

 

women's show and foot placement as markers of gender
Collage of images from a women's clothing catalog. Gender is a politically constructed system of hierarchy and oppression.




Well Dressed Dyke...Liza Cowan interveiw

 

DapperQ » Blog Archive » Interview with Liza Cowan of Dyke, A Quarterly
screenshot from interview in dapperQ. Transcription below.

 

dapperQ: transgressing men's fashion  is a website/blog about what in the old days we'd have called Dyke fashion. These days there are a whole slew of new words and attitudes applied to clothing and self presentation, most of them having to do with newish ways that people are using gender rather than sex to describe who women are and the ways they go about their business. 

I, Liza, am not a big fan of these new descriptors. My apporach is more traditionally radical feminist, or LesbianFeminist. Women are women, - men are men, and the rest is culture. I've encountered as much opposition as support on this issue. 

Queer "newspeak" describes Lesbians as "boi" "masculine of center" and "transmasculine." I've seen this all over the place, from fashion blogs to Harvard professors. It rankles me. In the following interview, I got to explain why.

Thanks to dapperQ and editor Anita Dolce Vita for reaching out to me for an interview and then for publishing the words I wrote even though they often critique the very words dapperQ uses to describe itself and its readers. Kudos, mes amies.

LINK TO dapperQ

LINK TO INTEVIEW WITH LIZA COWAN

From dapperQ:

DYKE, A Quarterly, a magazine of lesbian culture and analysis that included articles such as “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear,” was created by Liza Cowan and Penny House in 1975 and ran for six issues. We recently read Qwear’s interview with Cowan and were floored that dapperQ had not yet published a post about DYKE, considering DYKE’s goal of expanding the definition of what it meant to be a “woman,” including in areas of dress and behavior. After taking a look at some issues of DYKE, as well as reading some of DYKE’s fan and hate mail, we decided to have a chat with Cowan to learn more about her venture.

dapperQ: You once said of DYKE, “Our readers, for the most part, found our interest in clothing superficial, classist and apolitical.” dapperQ has received some similar criticism. Can you expand upon why it was and still is important to explore this topic within the context of sexual orientation and gender identity?

Cowan: Many of the readers of DYKE, A Quarterly, which was published in the 1970’s, did not think of fashion as a system of codes to be deciphered, or as a text that could be read. They imagined that clothing didn’t matter, and that, even worse than not mattering, an interest in fashion was only for the upper classes and only for women who had nothing better to do in their lives than to go shopping.  Very few people at that time were interpreting the meanings of fashion. Fashion Studies did not enter the academic curriculum in the US until the 1980’s when the field of Cultural Studies was first introduced.  These days you can get a PhD in fashion studies. I don’t mean fashion design, but the study of the meaning and history of clothing.

Fashion is political. What we wear signifies who we are in terms of our socio-economic class, age, culture, ethnicity, historical time, geographical location, sex, and gender.  If we are native to a culture, that is, if we were brought up in that culture, we know how to read and to obey the rules of fashion, but we don’t usually know how to analyze or articulate them. Lesbians are among those folks who live in multiple worlds simultaneously, and often have to navigate two or more sets of codes. Isn’t that fascinating and important? I think so.

Rather than follow or even break rules willy-nilly, I think we can do a much better job of making personal and collective statements if we understand what is expected of us and why. We can learn to read the codes. Then we can choose to obey, bend or break the rules with more purpose, imagination and clarity.

dapperQ:  In your interview with Qwear, you mentioned that many of your readers may have identified as genderqueer or transmasculine today, but that, while our language has expanded, the fashion aesthetic is similar. At dapperQ, we recognize the rich diversity of our community and understand that how we identify impacts how we perceive, interact, and experience the world. Keeping the vast array of unique experiences in mind, we consciously made the decision to bridge what our founder calls the “transgenderational gap” by focusing on some common ground: fashion. Do you feel that DYKE would have included a wider audience had this new language been available to you back then?

Cowan: Cowrie Magazine – and later DYKE A Quarterly (the two magazines I edited, for which I wrote “What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear “) were written by for and about Lesbians.  It is true that I told Qwear that I supposed that many of us were genderqueer in those days, but what I meant – and I apologize for the linguistic slippage – was that in those days many Lesbians crisscrossed traditional boundaries of “male” and “female” fashion and grooming codes. I did not mean that my readers thought of themselves as anything but women. I did not say that “our language has expanded” because, in fact, I don’t think it has, unless “expanded” means being more confusing and more constricting.

Gender, in my linguistic universe, is a set of behaviors and expectations that are given, forced, inscribed onto female and male bodies. One of my favorite theorists, Lierre Keith, puts it this way: “Gender is not a binary; it’s a hierarchy- global in its reach, sadistic in its practice, murderous in its conclusion, just like race, just like class.”

I don’t like or use the terminology that is so popular these days: transmasculine, genderqueer, masculine-of-center, boi, etc. These are all words and phrases that obscure the fact that women and men are trained by patriarchy to live in constricting, life-denying, soul -sucking, yet totally made-up categorical boxes. It obscures the fact that men, as a class under patriarchy, created these conditions, and that men, as a class under patriarchy, benefit from that pervasive world-view.

Far from expanding our world view, the language of transmasculine etc. has, in my opinion, shrunk it. One of the goals of feminism, certainly of Lesbian Feminism, is to make the category of woman bigger, not smaller. Phrases like transmasculine or masculine of center suggest that woman, as a category, is not large enough, or expansive enough, or elastic enough, to encompass a full range of behaviors, aesthetics, expressions and attitudes.

On the contrary, I believe that whatever a woman does is womanly. If she wears a suit and tie and sports a mustache – she is womanly. If she wields a blowtorch, she is womanly. If she drives a 16 wheeler, she is womanly. If she runs a government, she is womanly.  She may not be “feminine” according to the socially constructed, restrictive gender rules of our contemporary dominant culture, but she’s womanly. To call a woman who identifies as a woman transmasculine or boi or masculine of center is to deny scope and breadth and depth to the category of woman. These words serve to claim as “masculine” the behaviors, occupations, attitudes, fashions and grooming styles that are not only liberating to women, but that women can enjoy, do enjoy, and should be able to enjoy as women.

The traditional Lesbian category of Butch is different from transmasculine or masculine. The traditional Butch Lesbian knows full well that she is female. Her way of expressing her Butch womanliness has an honorable history of its own.

DYKE A Quarterly would not have invited a “larger” audience even if other folks were using “new” language. Our intended audience was always women-identified-women: Lesbians and Dykes (terms we used interchangeably). These days, we have altered our scope somewhat by allowing male scholars to access our archival materials.

dapperQ:  In your 1970s article, “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear,” you stated, “I am confident that there will begin to evolve a true Dyke fashion, just as Dyke music and theater is already beginning to appear.” Today, there exists many blogs about queer, lesbian, dyke, butch, and trans style. In what ways do you think that our fashion has changed? Remained the same? Progressed?

Cowan: When I was writing “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear” back in the mid-70’s, I was confident that when women wore “men’s” clothing we were doing so not to look like men, not to be read as masculine,  but to look like Dykes.  We did it to honor our Lesbian foremothers who had dressed in “men’s” clothing. We did it so we would recognize each other. We did it to defy the constricting rules of femininity, and we did it to break free from the confining and degrading nature of “feminine” garments.  I don’t think that young Lesbians are dressing much differently these days than we did in the ‘70s.  They are just giving it different descriptors, different names. Also it seems to me that on the whole, young Lesbians are less fascinated by, and less interested in honoring their Lesbian foremothers than we were in the 1970’s. I hope I’m wrong. I hope the young Dykes of today are reading their history, because it’s fascinating and important. Then again, the Dykes of the 70’s are now the foremothers of today’s younger generations,  and there seems to be some new interest in what we did and who we were, which pleases me.

I don’t see anything particularly interesting or unusually imaginative happening in Lesbian fashions. Alas, we have not evolved our own unique style.  I’m not really surprised. Sad, maybe, but not surprised. “Men’s” suits?  By now I find them a bit trite as an idea, though they may be charming to view, and I certainly understand the impulse.  “Ladies” garments?  Also not terribly inspiring as Lesbo wear, although I do love to wear a string of fake pearls to political demonstrations.  I can’t believe that Lesbians wear high heels. In my day you wore shoes you could run away in.  At my age – 63- I’m more driven by comfort than by style, but I do wish there were more imaginative ranges of style for everyone, including straight folks.

 

dapperQ:   In 1976, you created a slideshow of images documenting lesbian fashion that is now at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in NYC. Can you tell us more about these images?

Cowan: I made the slide show “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear” for the Lesbian History Exploration in 1976. That was a wonderful gathering  of Lesbians held outside Los Angeles featuring presentations by a variety of women including Tee Corrine, Judy Grahan, Jan Oxenburg, Elizabeth Kennedy and Madeline Davis, Alix Dobkin, Elsa Gidlow, Phranc, Margie Adam, Alice Bloch, and other scholars, artists, and activists.

The slideshow is now at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, NY. I will go there later this year to digitize my collections, which are housed there, including the slide show, so stay tuned for it to show up online.

I prepared for the slideshow by taking photos of images in books of Lesbians from a particular section of Lesbian History…women like Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, Margaret Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Clifford Barney, Sylvia Beach, Alice B. Toklas, Romaine Brooks, Janet Flanner, Renee Vivien and more. I can’t really remember now because I haven’t seen the slides since the 1980’s. I relied heavily on photos taken by the legendary Lesbian photographer Berenice Abbott.

Then I took photos of contemporary Lesbians, mainly in NYC, where I was living at the time. I created the categories of fashion expression, “DYKE Schlepp” and “DYKE finery,” and set about going to every event I could find at the time. DYKE Schlep is, as it sounds, our everyday clothing: jeans and t-shirts, pea coats, work boots, sneakers and Frye boots. Pretty much an upcycled workman/folkie look.  DYKE Finery included the outfits we wore to mostly evening events: jeans, suspenders, blazers, ties sometimes, Frye boots, wing tip shoes sometimes. And there was a section on hair. We tended to wear our hair short, sometimes the very bold shaved their heads. I did once, just to see what it was like, and so I could document it for the slide show.  The difference between Schlepp and Finery was not huge, as I recall. I also included categories of Lesbian accessories, like Feminist/Lesbian political buttons and the ever-present bandana/kerchief, which was tied in many different ways.  As I travelled around the country, I continued to add slides and would include them in subsequent presentations around the US.

The last section of the slide show was about the evolution of style of a few Lesbian friends, showing how their looks had changed as they went from girlhood to adulthood. I made slides from the photos in their photo albums and then photographed the women as they were at the time I was putting together the presentation. Most had gone through a period of being heterosexual, which made the whole thing both interesting and hilarious to my audiences. I think only one woman had been a Dyke her whole life, but even she had a marriage of “convenience,” which she had documented and was in the show.

dapperQ:   DYKE, A Quarterly is currently archived at the Museum Of Modern Art Library in NYC. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the archives and how they can support it?

Cowan: One evening in 2010, Penny House, co-editor of DYKE A Quarterly, went out to dinner with her friend Milan Hughston, Chief Of the Library and Museum Archives at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Their conversation got around to DYKE, and Hughston expressed an eagerness to have the magazine be part of the collections at MOMA. Penny and I discussed this at length, since our original intention was to have the magazine seen only by women.  We decided that since the collection was historical, not contemporary, we owed it to scholars to make the materials available for research. And, because I am an artist, I actually jumped up and down at the idea of being included in any collection at MOMA. Seriously, what an honor.

Fortunately we had managed to keep a lot of the collateral materials from the magazine: some letters, including hate mail – mostly about class and fashion – layout sheets, notes, doodles, ads, fliers and whatnot. We had to have them all appraised for museum acquisition.

Meanwhile,The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College,  asked to have our collection. Ultimately, after discussions with both MOMA and Schlesinger, we decided that MOMA would get copies of the magazine, which is what they wanted, and The Schlesinger would get copies and the rest of the materials. In addition, copies of the magazine are available at the Labadie Collections at the University of Michigan  and at The Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Scholars can make appointments at any of these Libraries to do research. If anyone wants to support an archive, my suggestion is to give money or time to The Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, NY, which is seriously underfunded, or to other Gay/Lesbian archives around the US and around the world.

DYKE A Quarterly archive is also available online at www.dykeaquarterly.com, which is a work in progress.

 

 

 


SIDE TRIP: What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, Liza's interview in the blog Dyke Duds

A few weeks ago I approached the blog, Dyke Duds, (which has since changed its name to Qwear ) to interview me about What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, the series of essays I wrote for Cowrie Magazine and DYKE, A Quarterly. I thought that the young readers of that blog would be interested in what I had written decades earlier. I hope they were. 

Sonia Oram, the editor of Dyke Duds/Qwear, edited my original answers so the version that appeared in Dyke Duds was a bit shorter. She has space considerations that I do not, so I've decided to run my orginal answers.

Big thanks to Sonia for being interested in what this old Dyke had to say about clothing way back when.

 

What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, Cowrie Magazine, Liza cowan, morgan Zale, lesbian fashion 1973Cowrie Magazine, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. Photo © Barbara Jabaily 1973. Clothing by Morgan Zale and Laura.

Q: What topics in fashion did you cover in DYKE A Quarterly?

 A: My column was called What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, and it started in another, smaller, Lesbian magazine I published called Cowrie, which ran from 1973 to 1974. I had just come out the year before, at age 20, and had started to dress like my Lesbian peers. I wanted to know why we dressed as we did, and what were the social and political implications. Mind you, this was decades before fashion, or even culture theory, was considered worthy of study as an academic discipline. Now you can get a PhD in fashion theory. In those days, it was considered trivial. I knew it wasn’t and that clothing carried a message. I wanted to decipher it. My inspiration was James Laver, the only historian I knew of who was interested in the meaning of clothing in terms of social status.

 In the seven part series, I covered general observations, history of Lesbian clothing - including ancient amazons- contemporary Lesbian clothing designers, hair and shoes.  In every one, I was trying to decipher the political and social consequences and meanings of our clothing choices.

 In addition to writing about Dyke clothing for my magazines, I produced a slide show, also called What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. I made this for the Lesbian History Exploration, a conference that  took place in California in 1975. I spent a couple of months taking my camera to Lesbian events, photographing what the women were wearing.  I also used photos from biographies of famous Lesbians like Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, and others of that era, to show the evolution of that genre of Lesbian Style.  The slide show is at the Lesbian Herstory Archive in NYC.

My main theory was that contemporary Lesbians didn’t want to look like men - as we were constantly accused of trying to do - but we wanted to look like Dykes and other women-loving-women to invoke the styles of at least some of our foremothers. We wanted to honor our history and to wear clothes that would signal our identity to other Lesbians. It had nothing to do with wanting to look like men. 

Why did our foremothers, some of them, dress in men’s clothing? Because of the power and freedom that men’s clothing both symbolized and allowed.  Through the ages men have dressed for freedom, for comfort and for power. Women have been forced to dress as second- class citizens and sexual objects. From shoes to corsets, our clothing has confined and constricted us. Lesbians didn’t want to look like men…we wanted to be free, to catch the eye of other women and to mark ourselves as off- limits to men. That’s what I believe to this day.

[I highly suggest reading Esther Newton's classic 1984 essay, "The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and The New Woman" from the journal Signs, Vol. 9 No. 4, The Lesbian Issue. HERE]

Clothing, in addition to being necessary, is about power and class. It always has been.  Clothing is deeply symbolic. That is my interest. Writing about clothing was always an intellectual pursuit. I was not interested, or able, to tell women what to wear or where to shop, or what accessories to buy. I wanted to explore the meaning. Always the meaning.

In the first article I mused over why I wanted to look Dykey.

“The clothes I wear help me to know my own power. So does being a lesbian. I love the way I look. I love the way other lesbians look. I’m learning to rid myself of all straight patriarchal values and build my own world. So it’s a combination of clothes and attitude that make a woman identifiable as a lesbian.”

 In the second article, I wrote about Morgan Zale and her partner Laura, who designed and made clothes for Lesbians in New York City. 

The third article was about ancient Amazon clothing, not just because Lesbians of my generation were obsessed with Amazons as role models, but to find inspiration for contemporary clothing possibilities.

The fourth article was more general history. For this article I went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Costume Institute to talk to head curator, Stella Blum, although the article is not an actual interview.  This was before Diana Vreeland made the Costume Institute the hugely popular hit-generating department it became.

Quoting Stella Blum,

“ ‘It took the vicissitudes of World War 1, which forced women into the male world and in turn permitted them activities and freedoms previously denied them, to reduce their costumes to functional simplicity and put a male cast to their appearance. Towards equality with men and to resemble them, in the 1920’s women flattened their bosoms and hips and cut their hair.’ ”

This is me, Liza:

“We know that men, the patriarchal rulers, take what is best for themselves, at least materially, including clothes. So, to dress in “men’s” clothes is not to imitate men (who wants to be a man!) but to wear what is least oppressive. When World War II was over, and women were no longer needed to support the country, the fashion market was flooded with incredible gowns, full draperies and lush fabrics. During the war, materials were severely rationed. This is usually the reason given for the simpler clothes during the war, and for the return of the luxurious post-war fashions. But I know the real reason to ensure that, once again, women would be forced to resume their roles in the all-consuming patriarchal culture.” 

The seventh article was about hair, including a short history of hair styles.  Hair, like everything else, has social meaning.

 “ Melba Tolliver, a black newscaster for ABC-TV, was not allowed to wear her hair in an afro. The network deemed it too militant. It was too threatening. It’s easier to get a job with long hair, or very neatly coiffed short hair worn with appropriate makeup and clothing. It is much safer to pass as a straight woman than to look like a Dyke.

 

DYKE A QUARTERLY No 1 p 22Evolution of a haircut. From DYKE A Quarterly No. 1. Photos by photobooth.

Q: How have you seen these styles evolved and can you draw parallels between the 1970’s Dyke world and the styles you see on Dyke Duds today?

A: Today we have an intellectual phenomenon termed “transmasculinity,” which I think is bullsh*t, and is thoughtlessly applied to Lesbian style. It has muddled the thinking of many an otherwise intelligent woman, and I grieve. 

Whatever clothing a woman wears is feminine, womanly. If I wear something, it is woman’s clothing, because it is mine and I’m a woman, even if it is a suit and tie. A man wearing a dress is wearing man’s clothing, because it is his. I do not think that any item of clothing itself is masculine or feminine, or male or female, except as a symbol of power or powerlessness. So while a style may co-opt, or translate, or borrow even, the article of clothing itself has no sex or gender. The meaning resides in the viewer as well as the wearer.  I will never be transmasculine or anything masculine. As a woman, everything I do is womanly.

The styles I see on Dyke Duds are not that hugely different from what we’d see on Lesbians in the 70’s…perhaps a bit more preppy.  Looking over your posts, it seems the women and clothing you feature would slip into any of our events pretty successfully without looking like time travelers. Is it just that the 70’s are fashionable again?

The Dykes I wrote about in the 70’s consciously tried not to overplay their clothing. I used to get mad at women for refusing to dress up for events, because I believed that we owed it to ourselves to show up looking great for each other. What you’d see mostly were jeans, t-shirts or button-down shirts. T-shirts with screen printing by dykes for events or venues were popular.

Frye boots, work boots,  converse sneakers were in fashion. Sensible shoes. Shoes you could run away in. There were always lots and lots of bandanas, tied around the neck or the head mostly. In my slide show I divided the Lesbian look into two sections, “Dyke Schlep” and “Dyke finery.” They weren’t that terribly different, frankly. Blazers and vests were popular. For a while, it was out of fashion to wear a bra, no matter how big your breasts were, so vests were a good and stylish way to cover up.

 

Dyke a quarterly ad which shoe fits you circa 1976Controversial ad for DYKE A Quarterly, circa 1976, in which shoes become a symbol of the reader's interest in Lesbian Feminist analysis. We thought it was funny. Some of our readers were not amused.

 The other accessories that you’d always see were buttons - political buttons. I had a business making them, so I was always aware of them, but they were very popular for decorating clothing and bags. I think of them as little billboards.

 Q: Where did you shop for clothes?

A: I really don’t know where other Lesbians went shopping. I mainly went to thrift stores and to army-navy stores, which was where you could get jeans and work clothes. There weren’t the zillion brands of jeans available now. You could get Wranglers, Levi’s and Carharts. That’s all I remember. Some jeans were made for women, with zippers on the side. I loved wool sailor pants, the kind with lots of buttons. You could find those used, along with pea coats, at army navy stores. I bet they don’t even have army navy stores any more. It’s also where you’d get denim work shirts and bandanas and sensible shoes.

I’d sometimes cruise Bloomingdales looking for clothes, but mainly because that’s where I’d shopped as a kid, and was familiar with it.  I’d sometimes shop in the men’s department, which was kind of scandalous, but amusing. Sometimes I’d get cast offs from my father or brothers. My very favorite suede vest was a gift from my dad’s closet. I got some ties from him too. He was puzzled, but generous. 

 

DYKE A Quarterly original shot for publicity flier 1975From the contact sheet of the photoshoot for DYKE IS OUT flier. 

Q: Can you tell me more about the fashion magazine image?

 A: The photo shoot you refer to was for our very first publicity flier. My partner, Penny House, and I had read fashion magazines ever since we were young girls. We both came from upper middle class families in New York City, where fashion -and the fashion industry - was part of the air we breathed. We had one school chum who moved to England and became one of the world’s first supermodels in the 60’s, and other friends whose parents were photographers, fashion editors, or were featured in magazines like Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, and the like.

 

We thought it would be hysterically funny to do a photo shoot of Dykes as a fashion image. You know, Dykes - the famously “ugly” and badly dressed. We found a Lesbian photographer who had access to a fashion photography studio. Her dad owned it and she was one of his assistants. Her name was Michelle, but I don’t know her last name. I’m hoping that one day she will contact us and let us know who she is.

 So Penny and I gathered a couple of women to join us in the shoot. The now-famous singer, Alix Dobkin, was my girlfriend, so of course she came. And Penny’s tall model-esqe friend Val came too. And the photographer’s girlfriend, Deborah Glick, who is now a New York State Assemblymember, was in the shoot as well.

 Alix and I were wearing jeans. I had just shaved my head and was wearing a bandana and a blue work shirt…the kind I’d loved since I was a “folkie” teen. Blue work shirts were emblematic of 60’s folkies, as were bandanas. Laborers outfits, appropriated by middle class kids, up trended again by a  subcategory of Dykes who had grown up as beats and folkies.

Penny, Alix and I are all wearing vests. Alix and Penny’s were traditional, woolen “men’s” vests, which we used to buy at thrift stores. Mine was blue cotton with tiny white flowers on it… a kind of a vestigial hippy item.  Val had on gorgeous tall leather boots with a folded over top. I have no idea where they came from. Alix and I were wearing workmen’s  boots and shoes, another leftie/folkie appropriation - that was quite popular. Debbie and Penny seem to be wearing Frye boots, which were all the rage.

I don’t know about Penny’s white scarf. It is typically her style, but was not something you’d see all the time. And we all had short hair. I was bald, but you can’t see that.

More than anything, though, it is our posture that says “We’re Dykes!”  Ladies just did not stand like that; hands on hips, standing squarely on two feet, balanced and ready, staring straight at the camera with no smiles. It would never be unusual to see a group of men with this body language, but a group of women? Highly unusual, and only could be read as Lesbian.

To juxtapose this on the seamless paper and studio lighting?? Hysterical, right? We thought so, anyway.

We picked this image from dozens – some of which are viewable on the DYKE A Quarterly website here. Using Letraset press-on letters, I designed our flier, and we sent it out. On the back was the copy describing our project. We had maybe 100 printed at a print shop, and sent them out. Very few exist anymore. If you own an original it is highly collectible. I don’t even have an extra copy to donate to the DYKE A Quarterly collection at the library of The Museum Of Modern Art in NYC.

 


DYKE A Quarterly No, 6, 1978, Back Cover

We proposed an issue on Lesbian media. It was going to be issue No. 7. The magazine folded before we could publish it, which is a great shame. Irene Young took these amazing photographs so at least we have this stunning graphic.

DYKE A Quarterly No.6 Back Cover, photo by Irene Young, lesbian buttonsDYKE A Quarterly, No. 6.1978. Back Cover. Photos by Irene Young. ©Tomato Publications 1977, New York

 

Women's Buttons in DYKE A Quarterly. Send us a button* of a photo of buttons to be used in a photo essay on Women's Buttons in DYKE #7, Lesbian Media.

This issue will feature essays, interviews, resource lists and graphics on different forms of Lesbians communications: magazines, newspapers, letters, posters, buttons, fliers, video, films. We are looking for articles and news for this issue

DYKE pays for everything it prints. Remember we will always print non-theme related articles, so don't hesitate to send other work,

A subscription to DYKE, A  Quarterly costs $8.00 for four issues. A single copy costs $2.25 in women's and gay stores. $275 by mail. Please address all correspondence, submissions and make checks payable to: Tomato Publications, 70 Barrow Street, New York, NY 10014.

*Please send us a button or a photograph of your favorite woman's buttons. Please tell us the size and colors of the buttons if you send us a photograph. Please tell us, if you know, when it was made, who designed it, what is the event, place, group action or idea that it describes. We would prefer to keep the button if you have doubles, be we can arrange to return them to you if you request. We will not return photos. Please send clear, sharply focused, black and white prints. No slides please. Thank you.

Photographs:  Irene Young

 

Lesbianism is Revolution, button, circa 1970LESBIANISM IS REVOLUTION

1" purple and white, designed by Denny Covallo for Gay Women's Liberation Front, New York City Circa 1970

 

 

 

 

 

 

DYKE button circa 1974, photo irene young ,dyke a quarterlyDYKE

1" purple and white

circa 1974

 

Stars and dykes forever, button, delia davis and denise wong, photo irene young, circa 1973STARS AND DYKES FOREVER

1" red, white, blue,

designed by Delia Davis & Denise Wong

New York City, 1973

 

Amazon warrior button,DYKE A Quarterly , photo by Irene Young, lesbian buttons

AMAZON WARRIOR

1" black and white

drawing from Greek Vase

California, circa 1975

 

 

 

 

Tykes and dykes button, photo irene young, dyke a quarterlyTYKES & DYKES

1 1/2" black and white

designed by Tykes & Dykes

New York City, circa 1976

 

 

Lesbians ignite, button, photo irene young, dyke a quarterlyLESBIANS IGNITE

1" red and white

?Philadelphia circa 1974


Photos by Irene Young. ©Tomato Publications 1977, New York