Feminism thrives off the liberation of women and the breakdown of gender binaries. This liberation may be expressed in the form of education on rape prevention, fighting to close the gender pay gap or by addressing slut shaming.
Increasingly, women themselves are critiquing how they practice feminism, through the way they treat other women, and specifically how women dress or generally present themselves. Despite this, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that fashion and feminism has always had a synergetic link.Image: wikimediacommons. “Marching costume Chicago suffrage parade.”
Lauren Sherman, fashion-business writer, said: “What we wear is an expression of who we are: Wardrobe is an aesthetic language. One uses it to communicate things.”
The question here is: what are we communicating through our choice of style?
Fashion publications wrestle with this on a daily basis, as they try to understand what women want to see.
These publications may understand the need for a feminism/fashion interaction, but if they do there’s a danger that this comes from a white female POV, which disregards the fact that feminism means different things to people experiencing inequality differently.
Also, western fashion cannot ignore the slave labour conditions that women in the third world are working under to produce our clothes in the first place.
Yet it seems 2016 is the year of progression; for self-confidence, regardless of how you dress or look. The future is becoming much more inclusive, a place where every gender and identity is accepted, and fashion is a vessel for this change to board.
Emerging designers, outspoken celebrities and an increasingly diverse fashion landscape are beginning to challenge how was see fashion and gender.
Fashion is gender neutral
The bold, unabashed yet often ignored fact is that fashion isn’t gender constricted. Why else would we have tons of Men’s fashion magazines, or high fashion menswear collections?
As Lauren says:
“Taking an interest in clothing is not a male or female phenomenon. Fashion is not a female thing, so any feminist who derides it is accepting false social constructs.”
Gypsy Sport is a great example of how fashion can be gender fluid or neutral.
Rio Uribe’s Spring/Summer 16 campaign features powerful and highly original images of people of colour and styled in a way where gender is not defined nor relevant. It’s a pure, fresh take on equality in fashion.
Even high street brand Zara have recently come out with a gender-neutral brand, dubbed “Ungender” and featuring jeans, shorts jumpers and sweatshirts in a range of neutrals.Image: Zara.com
However, social constructs often tell women they should or shouldn’t shave, how long their skirt should be, and generally dictates the “correct” way of dressing.
Yet, the issue doesn’t lie in how a woman wants to style herself, whether she’s a fashion devotee or couldn’t care less. The issue lies in the meanings we place on these decisions.
Erin Mckelle, founder of @PerfectFeminist and writer, said:
“We see that women still aren’t given agency to make their own choices, as they’re being told what to do with their bodies by someone else.”
This granting of agency is crucial to the development of feminism, and Erin questions whether the lack of cohesion with fashion is due to patriarchal ideals or expectations of women.
It’s an interesting point.
In an article for The Guardian, entitled “Oscars red carpet fashion: a retrograde year for Hollywood feminism” , Jess Cartner-Morely analysed the lady’s looks of the night, and, whilst using language akin to playground bullying, insulted the majority of their fashion choices.
She associated this so-called “infantile” and “tweeny, princess aesthetic”, displayed in dresses of sugary tones, with a retrograde in feminism. The only women who flew the gender equality flag, according to the article, were women such as Jennifer Lawrence in black lace.Image: “Jennifer Lawrence Films” Flickr.
A woman can be dressed head to toe in pastel pink, have her hair in pigtails and eyes shimmering with glitter and still want gender equality to be a reality.
In the same way as dressing in leather, fishnets and platform boots doesn’t define their moral compass.
Feminism is the pursuit of halting the objectification of women, yet shallow fashion articles like this one reinforce such objectification.
So why women are so harshly judged on how they dress? Erin thinks: “Our culture has decided that the ways in which we choose to dress say something about our worth. This creates inequality, since some people become more worthy than others.”
Yet there seems to be a changing tide wherein women are challenging this narrative, uninspired by the critical and constricted ideals placed on them
Erin continues: “I see feminism influencing fashion in what styles women are gravitating towards and inspiring more creativity and playing with gender roles. I see fashion influencing feminism in what aesthetic topics feminists choose to take on in their work.”
A great example of this is Leandra Medine, and her blog; “Manrepeller”. A name inspired by a style of dressing which includes ‘overalls, boyfriend jeans and full length jumpsuits.’ By using this name she’s addressing the way some women’s clothes are defined by the purpose of pleasing men, and has created a brand name for herself. She has impeccable style, humour and talks about feminism a lot.Image: EventsPhotosNYC – Flickr
Some brands are continuing to challenge the lack of diversity in the industry. These brands are often young, fresh and very social media savvy; stocking satirical and sassy clothes. The garms are used to provoke the norm and make a statement; an ideal which runs as far back as the suffragettes and today manifests itself in brands such as O-mighty, and Shopjeen.
O-mighty stocks figure hugging, flattering clothes with a range of slogans to empower women.
They are not “radical” or insulting comments. They promote equality of the sexes and also choice, power and autonomy, coupled with a definitive brand and aesthetic.
This brand is giving women the right to own their own sexuality again, and taking power away from others. Clothes with writing such as “I have no tits” worn by a diverse range of women are these are evidence of a new era.
Take Tunnel Vision (shoptunnelvision.com), a vintage and new mixed designer which uses a range of models, all often in “one-size-fits-many” clothes; a wide leap from the very contrived white-centric choice of models who are usually industry approved cookie-cutter shapes.
The issue with Slogans
These statements may sometimes not be enough, however.
Many will remember the “this is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts which were worn by a multitude of celebrities and the public.Image: Bruin – Flickr
What seemed like a straight-to-the-point political campaign using a fashion platform, turned sour when allegations came out that the clothes had been made in a Mauritian sweatshop.
The allegation was made by Rosie Boycott, a Mail on Sunday journalist, who felt appalled that so little of the £45 price tag went towards the wages of female garment workers. The Fawcett Society who headed the campaign hit back, with a statement saying they had relied on company Whistles’ word, who claimed the conditions met the Society’s high standards.
Whilst we won’t ever know the whole truth, the notion of western, privileged people strolling around with feminist messages scrawled across a shirt made by a woman working in inhumane conditions for pennies, is enough to rock the foundations of how feminism truly can exist in fashion.Image: Matt – Flickr
Yet whilst fashion and feminism are at odds in the third world, and 85 per cent of garment workers in Bangladesh are women, can we truly sit from a western perspective and claim that the two can happily coincide?
Erin believes so.
“We live in a world filled with gender inequality, racism, classism, and all kinds of oppression, so naturally almost every industry still maintains the white hetero-patriarchal status quo. But ethically sourced fashion is extremely important to the feminism debate.”