…Others, however, sought a departure from the ubiquitous classicism. Suits in electric blue, almond green or old rose were much admired, but few dared to wear them for fear of being kicked out of public places. Certain accessories became homosexual signs of recognition, in particular suede shoes and camel’s hair coats. Some dared to wear their hair long.
Any eccentricity was readily perceived as proof of inversion, leading to a little adventure for Quentin Crisp, а Над rant homosexual it ever there was one, when he presented himself at the draft board: While his eyes were being tested, they said to him, “You’ve dyed your hair. That’s a sign of sexual perversion. Do you know what these words mean?” He just said yes, and that he was a homosexual’.
Thai does not mean that the man in the street could clearly identify a homosexual, that lie knew enough to decipher the signs. I low ever, any sartorial oddity was suspicious and could easily be seen as a sign of homosexuality. There was one way out: to be perceived as an artist, i.e. necessarily an “original.” Crisp notes that the sexual significance of certain forms of comportment was understood only vaguely, but the sartorial symbolism was recognized by everyone. Wearing suede shoes inevitably made you suspect. Anyone whose hair was a little raggedy at the nape of the neck was regarded as an artist, a foreigner, or worse yet One of his friends mid him that, when someone introduced him to an older gentleman as an artist, the man said: “Oh. I know this young man is an artist The other day I saw him on the street in a brown jacket.”
In the same way, the use of makeup was spreading, so that mere possession of a powder puff was enough to prove one’s homosexuality for the police. Evelyn Waugh remembers sleazy young men in shirtsleeves standing in a liar, repairing the devastations caused by grenadine and creme de cacao with powder and lipstick. This practice was still tainted with infamy and it generally was indulged in secrecy, sheerly for the titillation:
Sometimes I arranged to meet my friend George at the station. We would hoard in first class, for there was no conductor at that hour of the night and the compartments were private with a mirror on the wall. George was mad about makeup and initiated me. It was just brown powder bought from a theater shop on Leicester Square. Once applied, we would ask each other if it were visible. “Yes” meant that a layer had better be quickly removed. “No” meant the addition of a little more powder; and so on to Liverpool Street. Once in the subway and until the end of the line, we would sit in the corner very withdrawn, terrified at the thought of being seen and per haps sent to prison.
The very chic Stephen Tennant, taking tea with his aunt, was admonished: “Stephen, darling, go and wash your face.” Thus we know that the practice was by no means limited to male prostitutes, but involved various social classes. I low ever, it was far from being well accepted, even in the most exalted circles. At a ball hosted by the Earl of Pembroke, Cecil Beaton was thrown in the water by some of the more virile young men; one of them shouted: “Do you think the fag drowned?” According to Tennant, who was there at the time, the attack was caused by the abuse of make up; he was convinced that it was Beaton’s made up face that so disturbed the thugs. In the 1920s, Stephen Tennant embodied homosexual aesthetics carried to its apogee. He was a great beauty, and he enjoyed using all the artifices of seduction and l’art de la pose, theatricality. In that, he exaggerated the prevailing fashion for dressing up. Vogue, in its spring 1920 edition, wrote that there was nothing more amusing than to dress up and paint one’s face outrageously for, “as Tallulah Bankhead says, there is no such thing as too much lipstick”. Photographed by Cecil Beaton, especially, Tennant looked like a prince charming. Even in his everyday wear, he stood apart from the crowd; his biographer Philip Hoare made much of his style, and his innate sense of theater which made him a symbol of the Bright Young People of the 1920s in London. Late in the decade, Tennant represented the most extreme of fashion for a man, at least. His feminine manners and appearance were not diminished by the striped double breasted suits he wore, in good taste and well cut, “which ought to have made him resemble any young fellow downtown.” But Stephen’s physical presence was enough to belie such an impression. He was large and imperious, but he moved with a pronounced step, affected, which was described as “prancing” or as “seeming to lx- attached at the knees.” Each of his movements, from the facial muscles to his long limbs, seemed calculated for effect. He gilded his fair hair with a sprinkling of gold dust, and used certain preparations to hold the dark roots in check. “Stephen could very well have been taken for a Vogue illustration perhaps by Lepappe brought to life.
The most famous Bright Young People had made their studies in Oxford, like-Harold Acton and Brian Howard. Acton was the first to wear very broad trousers (Oxford bags) in lavender. Together with Cecil Beaton, Stephen Tennant and other young society men they organized all kinds of themed evenings. Stephen Tennant’s effeminate appearance caused ambivalent reactions. Some were simply struck: “I do not know if that is a man or a woman, but it is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen,” the admiral Sir Lewis Clinton Baker would say. Others were less indulgent. When Tennant arrived one evening dressed particularly outrageously, the criticism reached a boiling point. Rex Whistler, one of his friends, considered it regrettable that he had gone too far: “He posed as much as a girl.” Rex’s brother added, Men should not draw attention to themselves. That was the only true charge against Stephen, and it was irrefutable.” Parents also complained that their children spent time with Stephen. Edith Olivier noted that Helena Folkestone was complaining about how badly people spoke of Stephen, that he was hated by people who did not understand him. Olivier noted that they were out of touch with the times, since “nowadays so many boys resemble girls without being effeminate. That is the kind of boys that have grown up since the war.”
The main trends which we have just reviewed for men are also found among women.