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Edith Windsor was a fashionable woman who understood color, proportion, and the power of a flipped bob. When describing her style, she sounds like a Hollywood actress or a Manhattan socialite, but she was more than just another pretty face. Edith used her fashionable appearance to fight against discrimination towards LGBTQIA Americans and normalize the face of same-sex marriage. She was the epitome of the fashionable American woman who was also a proud lesbian that broke stereotypes.
A Fashionable Lady, A Fashionable Couple
Edith came from a working-class background, attended Temple University, and began a career in computer programing. She found success in the field despite her being in a heavily male industry and worked her way up to the role of Senior Programmer. Early in her adult life, she followed tradition by marrying a man, but the relationship didn’t last due to her accepting her sexuality. She later found a partner in Thea Spyer, a Dutch immigrant who worked as a psychologist.
Edith’s famous relationship began with Thea after an encounter at a party. Their connection was so great that they danced together so intensely that Edith tore a hole in her stockings. As they pursued their relationship, they continued their careers and had the opportunity to travel the world, which they documented their trips through photography. Through this, people viewing the photographs have been able to see the love and joy between the couple. What’s also apparent to the viewer is the couple’s sense of dress. In a famous photograph of the couple sitting in The Cloisters both of the women appear fashionable, but differ in styles. Thea’s look is masculine by way of gray slate colored slacks and jacket with a pair of loafers. Edith’s style is feminine and young. In the photograph, she wears a white turtleneck, a green wool coat, and a pair of highwater jeans that are paired with white chunky socks and tennis shoes. Her hair is full and curled at the ends that frame a bright red lip.
Their opposing yet defined styles continued throughout their relationship until Thea’s death in 2009. Thea favored clean lines and classically male silhouettes, in which she wore suits or button-ups shirts. Edith opted for color and feminine touches, like wrap dresses, strings of pearls, and oversized sunglasses.
First Comes Love and Then Comes Marriage
The expectations of women’s clothing during the mid-19th century were to appear feminine. This related to the social standing of American females at the time, who were expected to be cisgender and straight with a mission in life to marry a man and produce children. Having a career was discouraged and virtually impossible for those who also wanted a family. For lesbians, marriage was not recognized in United States law and was considered suspicious behavior. Because of this, Edith and Thea were forced to hide their engagement in 1967 and resulted in Edith wearing a diamond circular “engagement” brooch that wouldn’t cause attention from her co-workers. The couple eventually married in Canada in 2007.
After years of activism, Edith became an American icon when she won a Supreme Court case that demanded same-sex marriages in the United States to be federally recognized in relation to benefits and rights in 2013. This was inspired by a hefty tax bill that Edith was required to pay shortly after Thea’s death that was caused due to their marriage not being recognized by the United States government.
As a result, Edith made numerous appearances in both gay and mainstream media. She no longer had to hide her identity, rather she was expected to embrace it. She often appeared in a t-shirt with the words “Nobody knows I’m a lesbian” emblazoned across the chest with her signature blonde bob, pearls, and polished nails in a pale iridescent shade.
An American (Style) Icon
Edith lived a fascinating eighty-eight years that was filled with challenging the discriminatory stereotype of lesbians by being her truest self, whether it was through her clothing or her relationships. She was a brave, daring, and smart who happened to be fabulous. For more on Edith’s mission and her life, visit EdithWindsor.com.