Fashion’s Influence on Voguing: the Famous Harlem Ballroom Dance

For ages, the LGBTQ community has been intrinsically a part of fashion. With openly gay designers, trans models, and queer photographers, the fashion industry owes a lot to the community. But one can say this relationship has been a two-way street. The famous art of voguing and drag culture is evidence of fashion’s influence on the LGBTQ community.

Voguing is a form of dance that originated in Harlem in New York City in the 1980s. It came from the ballroom culture, which saw a subculture of gay men parade and dance in flamboyant, often sequined outfits. These balls earned a spot in gay history, thanks to the famous documentary Paris is Burning.

It follows a specific style of hand movements, walking, and the quintessential ‘pop dip and spin.’ Voguing served as an essential part of the ballroom routine, with fashion being the main criteria, at least to some extent. These weren’t just some parties; these balls were fierce competitions where winners walked away with prizes. For many gay youths, these balls were everything.

Dominated mostly by men of colour, the Harlem ballrooms provided a platform for them to be their authentic selves. And somewhere along the line came voguing, which was made even more famous when recording artist Madonna adopted the routine for her video of ‘Vogue.’

Fashion and the Ballroom Culture

The Harlem balls, as depicted in Paris is Burning, were all about fashion, theater, and dance. It was a multi-genre talent show in many ways, where the best dressed won the race. Of course, to be the best dressed, you had to stand out. And where else could these men find inspiration but fashion?

They were inspired by the designers of the time like Thierry Mugler, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, and Azzedine Alaia. For most people participating in these balls, inspiration came from the runways in Europe. Taking their spin on haute couture, the ballroom participants created outfits that complemented their routine, made of fast-paced walks, dramatic poses, and fluid movements.

But more importantly, fashion played a vital role in the gender non-conformity and performativity in these balls. From butch queens to skinny transwomen, fashion served as a way for them to unapologetically express themselves on the runway, surrounded by a crowd that cheered them on rather than belittle them. These kids were trailblazers of their day, influenced by the best of the best in fashion.

Voguing and Fashion Today

Not so surprisingly, voguing and balls are still interconnected with the fashion world. In 2014, the Mugler Ball held in Queens, New York, saw some A-listers in attendance. The creative designer of Balmain, Olivier Rousteing, was in the front row. Rihanna walked the runway, and FKA Twig performed in a routine not so dissimilar from the original voguing.

The label Hood by Air has featured voguing on its runways many times, as the founder himself, Shayne Oliver, is a professional voguing dancer.

It’s clear that voguing, as an art form, was a product of LGBTQ ballroom culture and fashion, and it still is to this day!



La Jolie

Foe Elemntz