According to a perception that clings to popular culture like a sparkly barnacle, a visit to a predominantly gay neighborhood should yield style enlightenment. Going to the West Side enclave of Chelsea in New York should be like strolling the via Montenapoleone, in Milan. Fashion-challenged men and women should flock to these places and take notes.

Tracing the roots of this myth is easy. The Stylish Gay Man is at least as old as the Magical Negro, and older than the Nerdy Asian. Since time began, homosexuality has been associated with aesthetic acumen. It's a reasonable generalization—one that Edward II, Quentin Crisp, Liberace, and others did little to weaken, and one that understandably sashayed into the late 20th century and the early 21st; most of the openly gay men American society first accepted as public figures were clothing designers.

"This idea comes from how awareness of homosexuals grew over the last 40 or 50 years," says designer Isaac Mizrahi. "To someone who only knew of three gay people, it looked like all gay men were stylish."

In movies and on TV in the eighties and nineties, gay sidekicks gave sartorial and grooming advice to their messy-haired, mannish girlfriends. The Verdis and the Cojocarus of the world emerged in their wake, and on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Carson Kressley and company began gussying up men. As long as the tip was offered with a cock of the hip and a Mary Lou Retton grin, it was fabulous.