In the ’90s and ’00s gay and lesbian t-shirts were plentiful but a shirt with the word bisexual on it was difficult to find, while out shopping. The next best thing was a t-shirt with an inclusive spirit. Although these weren’t easy to find either, they were definitely more plentiful.
PrideFests and LGBT tourist districts, were likely places to look. That is where Sheela Lambert found most of the inclusive t-shirts in her collection, newly donated to the LGBT Community Center National History Archive in New York City.
The t-shirt designs in this article’s slideshow may not have been specifically made for a bisexual wardrobe, however, there is a reason why bi+ people would want to wear them.
The first t-shirt in the slideshow, found at PrideFest, sports three combinations of gender symbols, in rainbow colors on a black shirt; under that is an equals sign; then under that is the slogan, “Unity through diversity.” The combination of symbols and slogan indicates acceptance of all couples, regardless of orientation, skin colors and other diversities. However, since it shows three types of couples frequently seen in the bi community, this could easily be seen as representing bisexual and bi+ people.
The next shirt, procured at a PrideFest booth after the 2000 Pride March, has interlocking embroidered gender symbols, cleverly incorporated as the zeros in the year 2000, superimposed over an embroidered pink triangle on a purple shirt. This design could represent a bisexual poly triad relationship. Or acceptance of all relationships. Or queer unity. Take your pick.
The next design, “Original Pride”, features a block of back to back triangles (a queer symbol most popular in the ’80s and ’90s) in rainbow colors; designed and sold by a member of the bi community. It was inspired by the “original pride” flag, which contains stripes of hot pink and turquoise in the rainbow (which were part of the bisexual color palette in the popular bi symbol at the time: the double triangle which featured a hot pink triangle overlapping a blue turquoise one, making lavender in the middle.) The huge rainbow flag flying over the Castro in San Francisco and the very large rainbow flag flying from the LGBT Center in New York City both contain the pink and turquoise stripes, to make an eight colored rainbow, instead of just six. But six colors is cheaper, so the pink and turquoise were cut out of rainbow flags and merchandise when it became popularized. At the time this t-shirt was sold in New York, it was the first time the restored “original rainbow” that included bisexual colors was seen here.
“Closets are for Clothes”, a Don’t Panic! design (copyrighted 1990 as you can see in the closeup, and overdyed green by Lambert), was wearable by anyone in the LGBT community but especially potent for bi people, since we were constantly accused of being closet cases by gays & lesbians, as an excuse for excluding us: ironically, an act of forcing us into the closet. Bi community: we’d like you to put bisexual in the name of your organization/group. Gay and Lesbian organization/group: you don’t deserve it because you’re a bunch of dilettantes and closet cases and you’re trying to ride on the coattails of our movement. Bi community: we’re queer, we’ve been here, we want to be out, but you’re trying to keep us in!
“You’ve been a bad girl…now go to my room!”, features a cartoonish drawing of a vintage-looking woman. This t-shirt design works for bi women and lesbians alike. The stains prove this one was often worn and much loved for its saucy, out humor. Another Don’t Panic! fun find.
“New York: Where the women are strong and the men are pretty.” Another shirt that works especially well for bi people since we are the ones most likely to have a strong girlfriend and a pretty boyfriend. A Don’t Panic! design copyrighted in 1991, as you can see in the closeup photo. The Don’t Panic! store on Christopher Street was great place for queer t-shirt shopping, while it existed.
The next shirt in the slideshow features two of the bisexual colors (pink and blue), couples of various genders, plus the slogan, “whatever makes you happy”. What could be more bisexual? However, this shirt could also work for people of all orientations. (Yes, this design, found on Cafe Press, was also in the previous slideshow, but this shirt has a different sleeve length and color.)
The next article in this series will be a history of organizations’ progress from exclusively gay and lesbian t-shirt designs to t-shirts whose designs are bi and trans inclusive.
The five-part series of articles on bisexual t-shirt designs from the Sheela Lambert collection includes:
- Bisexual Organization Designs
- Bisexual Commercial Designs
- Inclusive Designs
- Inclusive Designs Part 2
- History of LGBT Organizations’ Bi-Inclusive Designs
Thanks to Bureau of General Services: Queer Division (BGSQD) for letting us use their LGBT bookstore space for our photoshoot.