Return to rainbow flagwear

A little while back, I looked at some rainbow flags, specifically gay rainbow flags.

(Rainbow images are, of course, used in many different contexts to convey many different messages, often of inclusiveness, sometimes delight or joy, and much more. Like linguistic features, visual symbols are “just stuff”, without a single intrinsic social meaning, and are capable of being used for any number of sociocultural purposes, some of them with “natural” associations to the stuff, some of them with conventional associations set up by accidents of history, many with a bit of each in their past — points I’ll return to when I finally get to writing up my thoughts on “gay colors”.)

You can be “flying the gay flag” by wearing underwear in a rainbow pattern (stripes reproducing those on the gay flag), dressing your teddy bear in a rainbow sweater, sporting buttons or displaying stickers with rainbow stripes on them, and so on.

But it turns out there are several versions of the gay rainbow, in rainbow flags and objects that allude to these flags, differing (at least) in how many discrete stripes there are (the actual rainbow is continuous, but cultural objects with “rainbows” on them have distinct stripes, arranged in some kind of pattern), what the colors of the stripes are, what pattern they’re arranged in (parallel strips arranged horizontally or vertically, in arcs, or in circles, or strips in fans), and what sequence the strips come in: going top to bottom, left to right, outside in, which colors — the “hot” ones like red and orange, or the “cool” ones like blue and purple — come first. (As far as I know, the sequencing of the strips is always one that accords with a natural ordering, by frequency or wavelength, though “mixed” orderings are in principle possible.) For stripes arranged vertically, as in actual rainbow flags, or in arcs or circles, the custom is very heavily to go from hot to cool, but stripes arranged horizontally, as in parallel strips or fans, can go either way.

In any case, all of this started here with a set of ad shots for FreeMen rainbow underwear in an Undergear catalog.

The ad display, reproduced here from my earlier posting

What struck me at the time was these garments all had only three stripes, rather than the expected six: red yellow blue, going from hot to cool, top to bottom. They looked the same even when significantly embiggened. Maybe it was a space thing, or a contrast thing, or something.

I got the e-mail ad from Undergear before the hard-copy catalog arrived in the mail. When it did, it showed a different picture. Here are scanned-in large versions of two of the four items (the jockstrap and the trunk briefs, the two that I have reason to want to talk about later on my X blog):

Aha! The garments really do have six stripes — and the sixth stripe is even a satisfyingly gay lavender — an observation I have now verified by looking at some of the items (the ordinary briefs and the thong) in actual fabric, things that you can handle and wear.

Apparently the three-stripe effect is some artifact of the photo reproduction process interacting with our perceptual processes.

But now go back and compare these two images from the catalog with the corresponding two images from the e-ad display: the model’s poses are carried over exactly (complete with smile and armpit display), but the color of the underwear (the pouch, panels, and straps) has changed: from yellow to red for Smile Twink in the jock, red to white for Pit Twink in the trunks. This is achieved  by the same little miracle of photo editing that allows you to go to a clothing site and see the very same model in the very same pose for each of the colors that a garment is offered in; you don’t have to imagine what the model would look like in a different color from the one first displayed, the way you usually do with a printed catalog.

Enough for Undergear Twink in rainbow underwear. For my finale, another way of displaying the rainbow flag on a jockstrap: on the pouch, with the waistband and straps in a solid color. From International Jock, who carry more types of jockstrap than you can shake a dick at: an ActiveMan Rainbow Pride jock, which comes in two colors (black and white) and two styles (ordinary jockstrap, with a wide waistband and billed as simply a “jockstrap”, that is, as the default jockstrap or “jockstrap jockstrap”; and swimmer jockstrap, with a narrow waistband), seen here in white swimmer:

You’ll see that the stripes go from hot on the wearer’s left to cool on the wearer’s right (which means that from the observer’s viewpoint, they’re reversed). What’s notable is that the sixth color seems to be black rather than purple, a fact I commented on in my X blog.

But it turns out that this is again an effect of color reproduction interacting with color perception. If you look at enlarged images of the four Rainbow Pride jocks, you’ll see that stripe #6 is actually a very dark violet, hard to distinguish from black unless it’s juxtaposed to something genuinely black. The rainbow — gay or not — is saved. (As I noted in my earlier posting on this blog, the gay rainbow is nothing but an ordinary six-color rainbow, unless the sixth color is some shade of purple/violet that’s notably “gay”, like lavender. It gets to be a “gay rainbow” because we declare that it is, and because it doesn’t have seven stripes, with Isaac Newton Indigo as one of them.)

3 Responses to “Return to rainbow flagwear”

  1. Underwear gods « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] AZBlog, 8/21/10: Return to rainbow flagwear (link) […]

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