It is a common belief that the fashion industry is one which is built for women, but controlled by men. While the patriarchal foundation of the industry confirms this, it does not have to stay this way. It is time we start to look beyond what the fashion industry is, and begin to question its future.
What does the future of fashion mean to us, and how do we get there?
“The Future is Female”
This was the primary slogan for Prabal Gurung’s New York Fashion Week show back in 2017. Gurung stated that feminism is not just a trend, but an ongoing movement to showcase female talents and overcome the patriarchal foundation of our culture. And likewise, many other male fashion influences have exhibited similar messages through their platform. For example, Christian Dior’s 2017 “We Should All Be Feminist” t-shirts designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, but ran by Sidney Toledano, the Dior CEO.
Feminism is neither an expression of male or female-oriented power. Contrary to popular belief, the feminist ethos is embedded in ideas of equality. And so rightly, men, as well as women, should strive for the kind of egalitarian society hoped for under feminist discourse, but this society can only be achieved when women have achieved an even footing with men.
Gurung’s “The Future is Female” message does not seek to put women above men, but seeks to elevate women to a similar position in the predominantly male hierarchy of fashion, and of our culture as a whole. It is however sadly ironic that these messages which seek to uplift and elevate women, have to be presented by men.
Although many top designers are women, and through the likes of Vera Wang, Stella McCartney, Coco Chanel, and Donatella Versace, we can see ourselves at the top of the fashion food chain. The industry does not stop at the end of the catwalk, and the more corporate branded side of fashion is primarily owned by men. Despite fashion being a stereotypically female-centric platform, as an industry, it is inherently male-dominated.
Shattering the glass runway
In a recent study titled The Glass Runway, it was determined that out of 191 participating fashion companies, only 14% were run by a female CEO. And while 100% of the women interviewed agreed that gender inequality is an issue in the industry, only 50% of men viewed the same.
It seems then, that while gender inequality is a problem, the real problem is the lack of awareness from people whom it does not affect. Often, we do not see the prejudices and discrimination that we do not experience, and sadly it is our job to bring awareness to our own experiences of injustice. If we want to change the industry, we must first educate and change it from within.
A feminine industry?
Through the thousands of fashion adverts that are pushed through the media on a daily basis, a large majority of them are aimed at women. This is because women make up a large number of fashion consumers, and is why the industry is commonly known to be a feminine industry. But is this really true?
Whether women are more predisposed to fashion consumerism, or whether this is merely a product of social norms is not important. The important question we need to ask is why women are targeted as consumers, but not looked to as creators, or owners, in the industry we predominantly fund.
A move towards non-conformity
In recent years, however, there has been a movement towards more inclusive, unisex, and androgynous fashion. And, as of 2018, it is now recognised as a category in the New York Fashion Week runway catalogue. While this could easily have become a passing ‘fad’, gender-neutral fashion is a trend that is here to stay.
Brands such as VEEA, Agender, and Telfar are taking a lead on the androgynous clothing front, while well-known companies such as Balenciaga and Tom Ford are following very closely behind. For the first time in contemporary culture, fashion has no gender.
The androgynous clothing style embodies both male and female attributes and gives a new and exciting take on fashion and gender. Fashion is decidedly no longer a ‘women’s industry’, nor does it instigate ideas of gender conformity through the way we dress and the clothes we buy. Fashion is once again a form of art and expression that is not dependent on sexuality or gender.
The patriarchal pyramid
While this movement is a step in the right direction for bridging the masculine, feminine divide in fashion consumerism, it does not bridge the gender division that occurs behind the scenes.
Although around 80% of garment workers are female, and most students enrolled in fashion institutes are female, it remains that most of those at the top of the fashion industry are male. But this does not come entirely as a surprise. Historically men have taken leadership roles, while women have taken more submissive ‘helper’ roles. And as a result of centuries of female submission, the patriarchal pyramid was born and built into businesses everywhere.
In every industry, women are notably paid less, primarily due to our acceptance of a lower wage. As women, we not only expect to be undervalued, but we accept it without complaint. Yet in the cut-throat world of fashion, it seems we need to be more ruthless and self-assured to reach the top.
Do it like a woman, do it like a girl
Confidence in our voices and abilities is something that is often coaxed out of us in a male-dominated society. And for us to be valued in the fashion industry, we must find a way to reinstate this confidence.
It also appears that the more desirable traits of femininity from a patriarchal perspective, are undesirable in a leading role. We have all heard the “emotional women” excuse which dictates why we are unstable in leadership. The excuse that men are far more dominant and suitable for the role.
It appears that to gain standing in the fashion industry, we must renounce our feminine attributes and become more ‘manly’. As a result, we will be more suitable to take on an authoritative role without letting our emotions get in the way.
But strength and power are not exclusive to men. And we, as women, can too be strong and powerful. But we can also be caring, empathetic, loving, and sensitive at the same time if we so choose to be. Women do not need to become ‘like men’ in order to take the lead.
If the future is female, why should we rid ourselves of these ‘feminine’ attributes, simply because they make us weaker in the eyes of men?
The devil wears predetermined gender roles
A good example for this is The Devil Wears Prada. Despite being a fantastically entertaining film, the portrayals of feminine attributes in positions of authority are rather demeaning. And they further perpetuate this idea that you cannot be both feminine and powerful at the same time.
Miranda Priestly is the head of a huge fashion publication. And although she looks fantastic, and assumes the role of a female boss in a man’s world, her ruthless personality and little regard to the needs of others places her in the male attributes category. Not only this, but she attempts to shape Andrea, her prodigy, to fit the same mold.
While there is nothing wrong with being a woman and not conforming to feminine stereotypes, there is also nothing wrong with being a woman and conforming to the stereotypes. Having a compassionate and loving personality should not be that which denies a person the ability to fulfill their potential. And yet for Andrea it is.
The future is feminist
For far too long us women have sat back and let men conquer our world. And if fashion does not engage with gender biases, neither should the industry it lies within. The future is not female, but it is not male either.
The future of fashion is to create with inclusivity, with a mind of equality and acceptance. It is to get ahead based on merit, and the innovative ideas we have for the industry, rather than based on the gender we have, or the stereotypical attributes we hold.