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A Queer History of Fashion Symposium

The Museum at FIT’s thirteenth fashion symposium, A Queer History of Fashion, included over twenty participants, more than any symposium we've held yet. Over the course of two days, an international array of scholars, authors, designers, and curators discussed historical and contemporary issues related to queer designers, icons, fashion, and style.  

It has long been recognized that gays appear to have a special relationship with fashion and style. However, A Queer History of Fashion was the first symposium to explore the “gayness” or “queerness” of fashion, and to examine the contributions made to the modern history of fashion by gay men and lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. Invited speakers included designer John Bartlett, Simon Doonan, Fran Lebowitz, and Hal Rubenstein.

Watch the symposium videos on YouTube!

The videos are 5-minute edited selections from each talk.
The full-length symposium video is available for checkout at the Gladys Marcus Library.


Queer History of Fashion symposium

Read the speaker biographies


Friday, November 8        

9–10 am Check-in, registration
Haft Auditorium, Feldman Center, second floor
10 am–1 pm Dr. Joyce F. Brown, president of FIT, Welcoming remarks
Dr. Valerie Steele, “A Queer History of Fashion”
Simon Doonan and Fred Dennis, in conversation
James Gager, “MAC: All Ages, All Races, All Sexes”
Professor Christopher Breward, “Couture as Queer Auto/Biography” 
John Bartlett, “My Life as a Gay Designer”
Dr. Monica L. Miller, “All Hail the Q.U.E.E.N.: Janelle Monae and A Tale of the Tux”
1–2 pm Lunch break
2–5 pm Fran Lebowitz and Valerie Steele, in conversation
Kevin Sessums, “The World was Safer Sitting Under my Grandmother’s Singer Sewing Machine:
A Sissy’s Remembrance of a Boyhood Filled with Butterick Patterns and Bouffant Palaver”
Vicki Karaminas, “‘Born This Way’: Lesbian Style Since the Eighties”
Liz Collins, “Art Dykes and Hag Fags: An Insider’s View of Queer Style Icons”
Hal Rubenstein, “Do Gay Clothes Have More Fun?”


Saturday, November 9

9–10 am Check-in, registration
Haft Auditorium, Feldman Center, second floor
10 am–1 pm Randolph Trumbach, “Man-Milliners and Macaronis: Clothes, Same-Sex Desire, and the 18th-Century Origins of the Modern Sexual System”
Elizabeth Wilson, “What Does a Lesbian Look Like?”
Dr. Deirdre Clemente, “Life in the Closet: Deconstructing Liberace’s Wardrobe”
Shaun Cole, “Queerly Visible: Gay Men, Dress, and Style 1990-2013”
Jonathan D. Katz, “Queer Self-Fashioning”
1–2 pm Lunch break
2–5 pm Ralph Rucci, “The Greatest Gay Fashion Designers”
Reina Lewis, “Out of the Closet and Into the Wardrobe”
Joel Sanders, “Closet Space: Philip Johnson, Paul Rudolph and the Runway”
Omar Sharif, Jr., “The Fashion of Philanthropy”
Fred Dennis, “Reality Check: Gay Bashers and Bullies”


The symposium was presented in conjunction with the exhibition A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk, the first museum exhibition to explore in depth the significant contributions to fashion made by LGBTQ individuals over the past 300 years. Join the conversation on the exhibition Facebook page.

The Fashion Symposium was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Coby Foundation; MAC Cosmetics; the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; the New York Council for the Humanities; the Couture Council of The Museum at FIT; the Student / Faculty Corporation; and the FIT President’s Diversity Grant Fund.

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