Marlon Brando is dead, but his influence on gay fashion is breathing easier than ever. Take a short walk along Oxford Street, or even a long stroll through the edgier areas of queer Sydney, and chances are there’ll be plenty of examples of Brando-inspired queer couture.
Before he got fat and scary, Marlon Brando was Hollywood’s hottest star -“ hot in terms of raising audience temperatures. His death has made the world’s best obituary writers behave like sweaty-palmed teenage girls thrusting autograph books at their idols. But who can blame them? Even to a confirmed, life-long dyke like me, Brando was fully fucking sexy. Both troubled and troubling, he always seemed to be teetering on the edge -“ about to cry, perhaps, or at least rip someone’s clothes off. He married three times, fathered almost a soccer team of kids -“ and probably more, if reports of his infidelities are to be believed -“ and told a film mag in the 70s that he was not ashamed of his homosexual experiences.
Rampant sexuality aside, Brando has been a fashion inspiration for half a decade of gay men. He can take at least partial responsibility for the gay jeans and T-shirt uniform. The dress-up masculinity of the leather scene has its roots in the motorcycle gangs of 1953’s The Wild One. And while Brando is most remembered for his angsty and desperate performance in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, it should be noted that his chunky arms and chest also put on a memorable show.
Brando’s influence can also be seen at any Sydney dyke venue, whether the women realise it or not. Drag kings and butches mimic his swaggering sexuality, while the rest of us just put on his flat-fronted pants, or his loose-ish denim jeans, teamed (at times) with one of his well-fitted T-shirts. The ghost of his 1953 leatherman has regularly turned up in lesbian erotic fiction, and some of the Dykes On Bikes seem to channel Brando’s energy before a run.
By the time a lot of us admirers were born, Brando’s sexiness was long gone. His raspy voice had become scary instead of scary-sexy. And his previously beautiful body had gone beyond seed. But just as the gay community looks younger and more beautiful every year, Marlon’s early 50s hot-as sexuality will live on in our hearts, our minds, our T-shirts and our jeans.