If you’re a forward-thinking individual, then you would never question whether a feminist is able to wear a cute dress whilst taking to the streets to advocate for gender equality. Fashion and feminism’s love affair runs deep and strong. But there has been a contentious debate of feminism and fashion being two separate entities. So, is it possible to be a self-defined-feminist and a have a passion for fashion at the same time?
What is Feminism?
To understand the conversation around feminism and fashion, we have to look at the definition of feminism for context.
Feminism is the belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Many institutions represent feminism and are committed to act on behalf of women’s rights. A feminist can be female, male or non-binary.
There are many stereotypes about feminists being angry, anti-male women who choose not to shave their legs or wear makeup and spend their free time burning bras. But that is not what feminism is only about.
The Suffragettes marched to give women the agency of choice – they marched for the ideal world where men and women have the power to choose to live their lives in any way they want without social consequences. Adding on, not all feminists walk around bra-less and hairy-legged.
Actually, feminists appear in a variety of ways, whether that be as a person who dresses androgynously, a man with a football obsession or women wearing a mini skirt. With this in mind, it is hard to see how fashion could have any sort of conflict with believing in equality and fighting for it.
How has Fashion and Feminism’s love affair has impacted each other?
Fashion and Feminism are both about liberation, whether that means sexual liberation or the freedom of style. A feminist’s prerogative is being able to determine your own aesthetic without fear of judgement.
Mary Quant’s creation of the thigh-grazing mini skirt in 1964 has gone on to be a staple in everyone’s wardrobes. The young women of Chelsea at the time, inspired the design revolution. The skirt sent ruffles through society with widespread disgust at the high hemline. Chanel even criticised the design, questioning: “Have they all gone mad?”.
However, times have changed and now the once outrageous design has been used as a political statement. Germaine Greer, one of the many faces of feminism, donned the miniskirt, making it a symbol of the women’s movement.
Sadly, women are still being judge for their fashion choices. A female Member of Parliament was recently judged for her outfit choices instead of the policies she was advocating for.
Tracy Brabin vs Shoulder-Gate
Tracy Brabin’s dress slipped down her shoulder whilst speaking in parliament. The media criticised her and lead Brabin to auction her dress on eBay, raising more than £20,000 for Girlguiding UK. She tweeted that “young girls’ lives will be changed because of this money”.
Women are constantly told how they should and should not dress. But men are not taught the same lessons. Their only critique is how they dress for clubbing and not being able to wear trainers.
Women are sill being slut-shamed for wearing a little black dresses. They are questioned about whether their skirt length was them asking to be sexually assaulted.
Feminism and fashion are intertwined an will cure these sexist ideologies. Clothing has the ability to stand against social attitudes and make fight to stop women’s bodies being policed.
Encouraging women to wear what they want whether that’s a short-shorts or a hijab, embracing style choices without judgement is a major part of feminism. The one thing that shows the true relationship between fashion and feminism, is their love child: Femininity.
Fashion and Feminism’s love affair has birthed Femininity
When it comes to discussing fashion, femininity is the first thing that springs to mind. They go hand in hand as does the red warning sign of a Louboutin’s sole that feminists should avoid this cultural belief.
Women are pressured into being a self-proclaimed “fashionistas”. The capital F in fashion is often said to stand for female. But it isn’t just a “girl thing”. Men can be fashionable too, the assumption that fashion is a women’s trait only reinforces the gender divide.
Gender norms are society’s beliefs that a person should act or behave according to their gender. This ideology traps everyone into neat boxes which goes against the goal of feminism. Feminists can only exist if they fit into two boxes: masculine-presenting or androgynous. This only conforms to the gender divide we are fighting.
There is an assumption that anything deemed feminine is inherently sexist and created as part of the patriarchal cycle. However, femininity is feminist because it is about women and embracing womanhood through style is a feminist act. It is fitting that the outcome of fashion and feminism’s love affair is femininity.
Zooey Deschanel said: “I want to be a f*cking feminist and wear a f*cking Peter Pan collar. So f*cking what?”.
Fashion is the Freedom of Choice
Fashion doesn’t have to be a patriarchal event despite the top designers across the globe being male. We can wear clothing that shows off the parts of our bodies that we choose to show off, we can choose to cover up and we can choose to dress feminine, masculine or none of the above.
The idea that women only wear clothing to please and attract men is completely against the feminist mind-set anyway. Femininity should not be considered as anti-feminist. Embracing one’s femininity is considered a political act.
Society devalues femininity by linking it to vanity and shallowness whilst disregarding the power that a tube of lip-gloss holds. Wearing dresses, sporting a fresh manicure or creating makeup looks are all deemed as feminine ways of presenting. By showcasing this, it allows you to give the middle finger to the patriarchy and say you love being a woman which will always look stylish on you.
Fashion has birthed new avenues for people to explore their identity and encapsulate their personal expression. Women, and men, with an eye for style are now using fashion blogging to enter a career in the fashion world and making names for themselves.
One thing to take from this debate is what Minh-Ha T. Pham wrote in Ms. Magazine: “If feminists ignore fashion, we are ceding our power to influence it.”
Feminists should be making their mark using fashion and not neglecting the power of the pantsuit. Remember: and if the shoe fits, bloody put it on Cinderella.