Last week, Betabrand announced its line of “Gay Jeans.” These jeans look just like regular jeans, but after months of wear, the indigo dye fades away to reveal rainbow thread stitched into the pants.
Another denim brand, Naked & Famous, did the exact same thing a few years ago — without feeling the need to put a sexual orientation on the product. If an edgy, albeit gimmicky, designer clothing company didn’t feel the need to market the rainbow jeans with the word gay included, then why did Betabrand?
Why exactly these jeans needed to be labeled as “gay” is still unclear.
Frankly, the label of “gay” has no real bearing on these jeans and is a tasteless marketing strategy. Calling them “gay” doesn’t add any value and doesn’t really help market the product.
First of all, rainbows are little more than patronizing. There are a few people in the LTGBQ community who are against the rainbow as the universal sign for the community, and many of them have good reasons. The only thing that distinguishes these jeans from other pairs of raw denim is the fact the rainbow pattern is stitched in.
While it is awesome that the proceeds from the jeans go to the SF LGBT Center, there is really no apparent reason, aside from gimmick factor, to label these jeans as “gay.” Simply stating that the proceeds go to the center is enough, and people would have gotten the message and probably purchased the pants.
The “gay” label is borderline appropriation. The only quality really preventing that is charitable aspect. Honestly, it is disappointing that in this day and age that these jeans even exist. After all of the progress the western world has made toward equality for everyone, some people still think it is a good idea to label a pair of jeans.
These jeans reinforce the stereotypes that LGBTQ people struggled to shed for years. The “gay jeans” label is powerful because it implies through the use of language that some people are different and merit a different type of identity based in their sexual orientation as opposed to who they are. It reinforces the “us v. them” mentality that causes cultural and structural violence.
While it is obvious that Betabrand is trying to spread goodwill, their methodology is at best questionable. By putting a label the jeans, Betabrand is undermining the very equality that they are trying to promote. Labels like “gay” reinforce the idea that homosexuals are somehow different from straight people.
Intentional or not, labels promote a culture where equality can never be achieved. The sheer acknowledgement of differences is enough to provoke disparate treatment.
Whether or not Betabrand thought of this when coming up with copy for its webpage and advertisements is unclear — but the fact of the matter is that three letters can undo all the good brought about by the jeans and the funds they raise.
To Betabrand’s credit, its thoughts are in the right place — the marketing campaign for these jeans, as patronizing as it is, is centered on equality and love. Other companies should take note of Betabrand’s noble attempt at promoting equality in a creative way. However, they should ultimately avoid committing the same error.
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Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this column misstated the type of orientation that Betabrand labels gay jeans as. It is a sexual orientation placed upon the product by the marketing firm.