Life & Style

September 29, 2017

Streetwear Talking A Secret Gay Language

Send a sly message with new brand Polari

  • Written by Stuart Brumfitt

“We’re quite knobhead-ish about words,” says Stephen Monaghan, who’s created new streetwear brand Polari with friends Richard Gray and Michael Ellis. “We like how beautiful words can be – even when you don’t know what they mean – how they just fall off the tongue, or how the letters are written in a way that’s appealing.”

It’s this love of words that made Monaghan, Gray and Ellis plunder the language of the lawless for their new range of hoodies and tees. Polari is best known as the secret language of London’s gay community when they had to be undercover because sodomy was considered a sin. But when the trio dug deeper, they found out the language had an even richer history. “It actually started off as an Elizabethan cant for marauders, robbers and the underclass,” Monaghan adds. “It’s a real mongrel language, so things came in and then language tricks stated to evolve. There’s Yiddish in there, there’s Cockney rhyming slang, there’s Romany gypsy.”

grey hood

Fans of Richard Gray’s playful and hilar use of language as a writer at 10 Magazine and Sunday Times Style (as current Editor-at-Large and former Executive Fashion Director respectively) will find it no surprise that his first brand would enjoy being mischievous with meaning. “It’s quite a sexual language, but at the same time, it’s come from violence, travelling, necessity, the need to get by, avoidance,” says Gray (who would most like to see the unisex t-shirts on both Bajan pop/fashion superstar Rihanna and Northern camp cruise boat chanteuse, Jane McDonald).

And what are their own favourite slogans? “I like Ferricadooza a lot,” says Monaghan. “It’s like a knock-out punch that the Irish boxers used to do.” As for Gray, it’s Tsuzj, “because it works very well down the King’s Arms [Soho’s legendary gay bear bar]! And because it almost sounds Mesopotamian!” The first drop is available now, but before you buy, read our glossary below, so you know what words you’re sending out into the world.

ferr white

Polari Glossary

The make fancy, to better, to make the dog’s bollocks

To see or look

A knock down blow, a big old punch

Woman, female

Ogle shades
Sunglasses. Ogle being eye

Nantee pots in the cupboard
No teeth

She’s on the national handbag
She’s on the dole

Polari pipe

Vogue us up, ducky
Give us a light. Vogue being cigarette


Eyelash. Riah being hair backwards and ogle being eye

Riah tsujza
Hairdresser. Riah being hair backwards. Tsujza being someone who makes something fancy

Dilly Boys
Piccadilly boys. Pretty boy boxers who will charge for sex


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