In the August 19, 1933 issue of Collier’s magazine, Ray Tucker offered a scathing indictment of the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner to the FBI). Such a critical take was unsurprising given Collier’s progressive editorial stance. A weekly magazine of news and culture, Collier’s was one of the most popular periodicals in the United States in 1933 with a circulation of 3.7 million. In the course of lambasting the “boy detectives” of the BOI for their domestic surveillance operations, Collier’s made one of the earliest print references to the oft-debated sexuality of the Bureau’s young director, J. Edgar Hoover.
In appearance, Mr. Hoover looks utterly unlike the story-book sleuth. He is short, fat, businesslike, and walks with a mincing step… He dresses fastidiously, with Eleanor blue as the favorite color for the matched shades of tie, handkerchief and socks.
“Hist, Who’s That?” has proved of lasting interest to historians primarily because of its loaded description of Hoover. Claire Bond Potter and Richard Gid Powers have pointed to the depiction of Hoover’s “mincing steps” as a particularly caustic nod to his supposedly feminine gait. However, a closer look at the article reveals a bolder allusion to Hoover’s femininity and sexuality than the portrayal of his step, albeit a more hidden one. Collier’s noted that Hoover’s wardrobe was dominated by “Eleanor blue,” a term coined by the press to describe the color of the velvet day-dress that Eleanor Roosevelt had worn to her husband’s inauguration in early March. As most readers of Collier’s would have known, “Eleanor blue” was actually more of a lavender, a shade which by 1933 had already become a euphemism for male homosexuals.
Given this context, we might deduce that the description of Hoover’s preferred sartorial shade was a coded reference to the Director’s rumored sexual preferences. Like much of the gossip surrounding Hoover’s sexuality, it was an accusation hidden in plain sight. Though the average reader of Collier’s might miss the insinuation, those “in the know” would be able to connect the dots and comprehend the deeper critique hidden within the account of Hoover’s “fastidious” dress.
In the mainstream press of 1933, discussions about sexuality were rarely obvious and readers were invited to look between the lines. As it was for Collier’s readers in the 1930s, so it is for historians of sexuality of today who must also strive to reconstruct the constellation of culture to which past readers had access. For historians of sexuality, this process involves listening for hairpins dropping, or in this case, looking out for local color.
This post was corrected on 3 September 2015 to show the 1933 day dress worn by Eleanor Roosevelt to her husband’s swearing-in rather than the one she wore to the 1945 inaugural reception.
Christopher Michael Elias is a doctoral candidate in the Department of American Studies at Brown University. He is currently at work on his dissertation, which explores the role of masculinity in shaping the national security state by examining the lives and careers of J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, and Roy Cohn.
Archives of Desire features select primary sources and highlights how historians interpret them. We encourage our readers to share their fascinating archival finds and to engage in critical conversations about the complexity and diversity of sex and sexuality in the past. You can find our guidelines for Archives of Desire here. Interested in submitting a piece for this series? Send an email to NotchesBlog@gmail.com
Get our latest posts on the history of sexuality delivered directly to your inbox. Join our monthly newsletter and we’ll keep you informed about our recent articles, author interviews, conference dispatches, and CFPs. Sign up here.
NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.notchesblog.com.
For permission to publish any NOTCHES post in whole or in part please contact the editors at NotchesBlog@gmail.com