Women in the LGBTQIA+ community have been challenging gender-norms through dress for centuries. The stereotype of the “butch,” masculine, lesbian is probably the most common stereotype associated with queer women. Today, cargo shorts, loose-fitting jeans, and Birkenstocks are seen as essential garments of the masculine-of-center wardrobe. While not all lesbians dress in the masculine-of-center or butch style, some women in the LGBTQIA+ community do feel most comfortable and confident when expressing a masculine aesthetic.

Kai (gay, 43, Iowa) who said she is “uncomfortable in feminine things” stated, “I feel like the way I dress is very authentic to me and so I would dress this way regardless who I was attached to. If that makes sense.”

Green sweater, orange t-shirt, tan cargo shorts

Owner – Kai, gay, woman, 43, lives in Iowa

c. 2010s

“I prefer men’s [clothes] you know, I’m attracted to most things that are men’s styles.”

“Anything cargo I’m all in, I just think they’re great, how could you ever have too many pockets?”

“Because its an automatic assumption [that she’s gay], and because I look the way that I do [masculine] I don’t always get to make that choice [to disclose her sexuality or not], and there are days when I don’t want to carry the sword. There are days where, I don’t want to have to say I’m gay or I’m married to a woman, or there’s days where I’m just tired and I just want to be able to easily move through this interaction and move on and I can’t because of the way I look. That’s probably one of the more difficult aspects I think. I’m coming out all of the time because of the way I look whether I want to or not.” -personal interview with Kai, October 17th, 2017

Red t-shirt, blue casual pant

Owner – Jennifer, lesbian, genderqueer, 50, lives in Iowa

c. 2000s

“Cyndi's [their wife] dad gave it [red t-shirt] to me, um, and when Cyndi and I first started dating, he talked to me for about nine months and then he learned I was going to seminary and then he stopped talking to me for three years and so, during those three years, I had to, I had tried all these different ways to get him to like me. I tried on all these different personalities, and finally in the end, I said "fuck it" I'm just gonna be myself, and we had an encounter where we made eye-contact and I'm now one of his favorite people, so I worked really hard.” -personal interview with Jennifer, November 21, 2017

Purple plaid swim trunk

Owner – Lyadonna, bi-sexual, woman, 32, lives in Iowa

c. 2010s

“We had this disgusting creek in Joplin but everyone still went and it was just like don't go with open sores or anything. Whenever I would go swimming there I would wear men's swimming trunks and a sports bra instead of a bathing suit, so and also because it was you know, gross, and it would have gotten like dingy on a swimsuit. It was part utility, but it was also you know this is, I bought this in the "lesbian section.” -personal interview with Lyadonna, October 5, 2017


Photograph Lyadonna as a teenager wearing a more feminine swim suit, highlighting the fluidity of her style. 1994. Photo courtesy of Lyadonna, personal collection.


Blue, one-piece swimsuit

Owner – Cyndi, lesbian, woman, 42, lives in Iowa

c. 2010s

“I wear this, but then I wear swim trunks [over top] because I felt too exposed, not wearing swim trunks with it, yeah…’aquatard’.” -personal interview with Cyndi, November 21, 2017


White and blue plaid swim trunk

Owner – Kai, gay, woman, 43, lives in Iowa

c. 2010s

“There’s another place that’s really tough for gay women, which I didn’t really ever think about until I had kids: the swimming pool. What do you do with swimsuits when you’re a gay woman and you are just uncomfortable in feminine things, so my answer to that was to just get a one-piece swimsuit, and then I wear men’s swim trunks on top of it.” -personal interview with Kai, October 17, 2017

White sports bra, Fashion & Culture Research Lab at Iowa State University


White button down, blue tie, blue dress cargo pant

Owner – Kai, gay, woman, 43, lives in Iowa

c. 2010s

“One of my pet-peeves is that it’s really difficult to find accessories for women who look like me, so for example, I really like cufflinks not cufflinks, like suit cuff links, but cuffs. Like leather brand bracelets kind of thing. You don’t typically find those for women in a kind of fashion I like. If you find them for women, they’ll be bedazzled or ornate or you know just make them girly in some way. Those don’t appeal to me, but the men’s are too big for my wrist, so that’s a huge thing. -personal interview with Kai, October 17, 2017

Black belt, Fashion & Culture Research Lab at Iowa State University


White button down, pink tie, grey vest, (Jennifer loan) blue pleated front pant (anonymous loan)

Owner – Jennifer, lesbian, genderqueer, 50, lives in Iowa

c. 2010s

“I dress like a man. I mean I present like a man, I think everything that I have on except underwear is on the man side.” -personal interview with Jennifer, October 28, 2017

Grey suit, pink plaid button down

Owner – Brooke, genderqueer, 32, lives in Illinois

c. 2010s

Nik Kacy began their shoe line to serve the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. Their shoes provide a solution to the on-going problems of individuals unable to purchase men’s styled shoes due to limitations in sizing set by the shoe industry based on gender.

The monk boots (two-tone grey and blue); Owner – Nik Kacy Gender Equal Footwear and Accessories; 2017

  The classic derby (two-tone tan and blue); Owner – Nik Kacy Gender Equal Footwear and Accessories; 2017

Example of a masculine-style shoe currently in Kai’s closet. 2017. Photo taken by curators.