Gay 1950s Fashion Show in London



The YouTube channel Vintage Fashions has just uploaded this video of a mens beachwear show from 1951. The outrageous and daring display contains leopard print thongs, geometric design high-rise trunks that reveal part of the buttocks, as well as other flambuoyant designs that are both progressive for a post-war era and ahead of their time by a good ten years.

As equally alarming as the clothes is the setting and the attitude of the models. Looking like Tarzan-esque gigolos the models parade around a very intimate "closet" style catwalk whilst stiff upper-lipped spectators sit only inches away, making the whole affair not unlike a hen night style male strip show:



Taken from the British Pathe film archive, you can watch the video here:



The narrator hands over his commentary to the fashion designer who he says is called Dale Cavanagh. I've done a little bit of online research and cannot find any reference to this designer, but instead only one called John Cavanagh. I'm not sure if this is therefore a mistake in the newsreel?

I can't find any documentation of John Cavanagh designing forward-thinking gay fashion items like this though, only more refined pieces and high society womenswear. Of course many fashion designers fluctuate between making fun collections that are close to their heart and more serious collections that pull in cash from haute couture clients.

Also in the video is a humorous piece that says "Battersea Park" on the front of the crotch and "South Bank" across the arse. A predecessor to the tongue-in-cheek slogans and text-play of contemporary gay designers John Galliano, Jeremy Scott and Henry Holland.

John Cavanagh designed a collection of clothes for the Queen's Coronation in 1953, whilst the gay collection in this video is clearly tied into the 1951 Festival of Britain (which is probably the reason British Pathe got away with filming such an eye-raising little fashion show!). This is perhaps further evidence then that the designer Dale Cavanagh who is showcased here is in fact John Cavanagh?

I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who knows their mens fashion history? In the meantime I'll keep my eye on the YouTube comments. Watch the video in full on YouTube here.

Visit British Pathe's free fashion video archive here: The British Pathe Fashion Archive

2 comments:

  1. Hello ! I know you posted this a long time ago, however there is no mistake in the designer. This is Dale Cavana a gay menswear designer, catering mostly to only gay clientele. However fashionable straight men did also shop there. He ran a menswear shop in Kinnerton St. in this period I believe, I think he moved closer to Carnaby St. later in the 50s. The joke that went around London was that Cavana was the only shop that would still measure your upper thigh even if you were only buying a pair of shoes ! It was shops like Cavana that sold the Neo-Edwardian look, which was an exclusively homosexual style before the Teddy Boys adopted it, as a result figure hugging Italian suits became popular which in a iteration were adopted by the mods.

    Dale Cavana is completely unrelated to the queens John Cavanagh!

    You are right about the Southbank tongue in cheek prints. That was designed to explicitly reference the wearers sexual role. This would be useful in places like Brighton where homosexuals were quite visible, as well as at private pool parties etc. Queer dressing at this time was all about showing off your assets while not actually showing them till when, well you get the idea.....

    I've been reading quite a bit about the history of queer fashion at an academic level for quite sometime as part of my degree, so I thought I would share this information with you as I have always been fascinated by this video :) I hope other people find this info interesting as well !

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  2. You won't find information on these shops outside of books at an academic level as these shops are really only remembered through word of mouth records and are kept a record of in queer history books which is a shame. Shops like this played a big part in mens fashion and pushing new styles. You might like to check 'Don We Now Our Gay Apparel by Shaun Cole. Great book ! Cavana is mentioned in that book, as well as a number of other queer shops. It is a fantastic history of queer dressing and really helps you understand how queer fashion has evolved into how it is today !

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