It’s been over 14 years since the hit show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy premiered on cable back in 2003, blowing wide open the previously taboo subject and shuttered stigma of gay males in America. The show was a massive success — running up until 2007, with the “Fab Five”; including the most famous of them all, Carson Kressley, taking on the sartorially bewildered and hopelessly dressed straight male, showing him how 21st-century styling works.
While the series might seem almost trivial and stereotypical now (a gay who obviously knows style introduces a straight, basketball shorts-wearing male to hair gel and loafers, really?), at the time of its inception, Queer Eye was radical, exciting and most of all, game-changing, helping to mainstream homosexuality in U.S pop culture.
So in honor of Pride month and Billboard’s #30DaysPride initiative, we reached out to Kressley, currently a successful public figure and judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race (“If I were a drag queen my name would be ‘Lease A New Sonata’ spelled ‘Lisa New-Sonata'”), to talk about the seminal show, how far the LGBTQ+ community has come since his coming of age — and, of course, whose queer style he’s loving right now, and who just needs to let the scrunchies and mom jeans go.
The LGBTQ+ community has come a long way since Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Tell us your thoughts on that.
When Queer Eye for the Straight Guy came out in 2003 we could have never imagined the strides we would make as a community. Like marriage equality for example. And, in general, things have progressed very nicely. But homophobia still runs rampant. Just the other day I was crossing a street — in New York City, of all places — and a woman yelled from her car for me to “stop trying to be a drag queen!” This is in New York City for God’s sake! I don’t even know what she meant.
But the bottom line is there still is hate and homophobia out there, and that’s really sad. We have made tremendous progress thanks to a supportive and passionate community who continued then, and now, to fight for equality. This mission continues very much today – especially with issues still looming like the Chechen persecution of gay men, LGBTQ youth homelessness and trans-rights.
How important do you think it is for kids today to have a young, queer icon to look up to, style or not?
I don’t think kids need a gay “style” icon to look up to as much as they just need out and open gay people they can relate to. They need to actually see that you can express yourself through style and that you shouldn’t feel limited in any way. I think someone modeling that sense of confidence and comfort in their own skin is crucial.
When you were growing up, did you have a queer icon?
When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, there really weren’t any gay men who were out on TV (do the Skipper and Gilligan count???). I didn’t really have any role models. But of course, in that pre-Internet world, I was connected via television. I didn’t care if they were gay or straight, but I loved the style of men I would see in movies or television. Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby, Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair and Robert Wagner in Heart to Heart made me sit up and take notice.
Is there anyone you can think of who currently embodies that youthful icon today?
Call me old-fashioned but I think an icon is someone who has been around for more than a minute or two and has stood the test of time. I think people like David Bowie, Prince and Elton John fall into the icon category. Each have or had incredibly powerful personal style. You don’t really see too much of that today.
How is young, queer style different from when you were younger? What do you love most about it, what do you just not get?
I think young style today, queer or not, is incredibly free — and for lack of a better word, open. Kids don’t feel the pressure to look a certain way, which is so liberating, and ultimately leads to a style of one’s own. Art and fashion always mirrors the culture, and I think liberated styles show progress and that’s cool.
What’s your favorite- and least-favorite trend today?
I love that guys are much more into dressing well today than they were when I moved to New York 20 years ago. Ties, suspenders, three-piece suits — even hats have made a comeback! I think that’s great. As a lover and scholar of traditional menswear, this trend really makes me happy.
Now, onto the trend I don’t love… how about the trend of It Girls being nearly nude on the red carpet?! We have seen it from the Jenners to the Hadids at the Met Gala and beyond. I’m certainly not a prude, but I think showing it all (or nearly all) defeats the purpose of getting dressed. You want to create some mystery and some allure. Keep them wanting more. Don’t give it all away at hello.
Below are 3 queer style icons for today’s generation. Thoughts?
I was a kid of the ’80s, so it’s a bit of nostalgia that makes me love Troye’s look. But he does it in a way that is easy and effortless; It doesn’t look vintage or costume-y.
He’s the real fashion plate of the bunch. He clearly enjoys clothes and has been seen in Gucci runway looks that he almost makes into his own creation. He wears clothes with the same kind of exuberance as does Boy George – one of my teen idols.
Confidence is the word that comes mind when I see MNEK. The pink-suit-and-sneaks look is my all-time favorite pairing. It’s cool, and it’s pink. He has no qualms about color or pattern, and he owns it and wears it with utter confidence. That’s pride, people.