In the early part of the 20th century, the strangest thing happened. A woman called Luisa Capetillo was arrested and tried in court for wearing a pair of trousers in public. While this sounds ridiculous, the construct of society at the time was very restrictive. It set expectations for the way women groomed and dressed themselves.
A Silent Revolution
For decades, fashion has been connected to the rising empowerment of women. During the 1800s women began to resist being choked up in corsets, stiff petticoats and ground-dragging skirts. This resistance has continued.
Powerful women brought about a revolution through clothing as a form of silent protest. Some notable designers in history have played an integral role in changing the way women dressed. Designers such as Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Diane Von Furstenberg to name a few. They constantly proved fashion wasn’t just reflective of change, but constituted it.
The Liberation Look
Feminist style has evolved over the years and hasn’t been limited to clothing. In the 1920s women adopted the ‘bob’ haircut instead of wearing their hair long. Parts of society found this new look totally unacceptable. Because of it, some women were refused jobs and others considered ‘circus riders’. However, women continued to prove this wasn’t just a fad and instead it became a powerful symbol of allegiance. It paved the way for what came to be seen as the thoroughly modern woman.
In the past, when comparing their clothing to that worn by men, no wonder women felt uncomfortable and restricted. The act of physically removing hinderance in movement by wearing trousers, metaphorically represented their liberation in a patriarchal society.
The facilitation of the feminist movement through fashion can be especially attributed to some women who created the modern look. A look that told a woman she was free to wear whatever she wanted. They include…
Coco Chanel who became the face of the iconic two piece women’s suit. She redefined power dressing and made history. Her suit was favored by celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy.
Yves Saint Laurent whose ‘Le Smoking’ look went on to become highly popular after its introduction in 1966. The tailored tuxedo with a satin lapel began as a popular evening look for women. Initially, however, it was largely criticized. Women wearing it were refused entry into several restaurants
At a time when other couturiers were busy making padded shoulders and layered Victorian inspired garments, Claire McCardell created a wardrobe for women that emphasized a sense of freedom. She used casual fabrics and accessories such as belts instead of the exaggerated waist clasps that hinted at an independent, out-of the house kind of women.
Diane Von Furstenberg came up with the idea of the wrap around dress. This has now become an iconic fashion piece designed to take its wearer from coffee to cocktails.
The change in fashion has acted as a catalyst in the feminist movement through the years. It has enabled women across the world to make strong political statements and fight for their rights in a largely patriarchal society. Today, the world has moved on to define and show support of other minority communities through gender fluid fashion. It has proved to be a significant medium of revolutionizing and changing age old social constructs.