Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Fashion and Feminism

People often ask me - as a feminist - what my feelings on the fickle world of fashion are, probably expecting me to wax lyrical about consumerism and the skinny model debate. Don't get me wrong, I do think there's a murky side to the fashion industry and the impact it has had on global attitudes towards body image is something to be debated. However, like any successful industry the murky is paired with the positive.

I don't think its a bad thing for women to care about what they put on their bodies - in many ways dressing can prove a rewarding exercise in self expression. Women in the 80's adorned themselves in vivid colour and clad their shoulders in armour-like padding...the term "power dressing" was hence coined to describe women's clothing and fashion as a whole being significant of something other than attracting a man.

It's often said that women dress for other women rather than men (your typical man tends to appreciate women taking their clothes off rather than putting them on) and I think that's true. I think its also wrong to assume that if a woman cares about her appearance, it means there is less inside the vessel than within it. Take the Suffragettes and in particular Emmeline Pankhurst. These women were constantly goaded by the press and charicatured as mannish and animalistic. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that the Suffragettes dressed any differently than the average woman of the day, in other words, in an extremely constrictingly feminine manner. Emmeline Pankhurst herself was said to have taken great pride in her appearance and dressed immaculately. And why not?

Surely embracing femininity is about embracing everything about womanhood, outside and in? Michelle Obama's recent inception into the public eye proves that a woman can use her wardrobe to actually help endorse the image she wants and communicate a message. Obama has championed unknown and often mixed race designers as well as favouring low cost stores, solidifying the image of her as a responsible and intelligent human being.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to learn this week that Vivienne Westwood has named Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud as the new "face" of her label. This pleased me because I have often been bemused at Roberts' treatment as the "ginger one" or - more offensively - the "ugly one" - it's nice to see someone who has grown up in the public eye from a teenager hell bent on caking herself in fake tan and dyeing her hair, begin to embrace her natural colouring and blossom with it. In the vein of my last piece on Tilda Swinton, I think we should be encouraging women to embrace their individuality and designers like Westwood - who has always pushed the envelope - should be commended for at least trying to move away from the fashion mould and we should all take note of these new fashion icons.

To that end, I'd like to draw your attention to a friend of mine's new collection of bespoke pieces - a shameless plug if I may! I know that a number of you click through here from my friend Susie's fantastic Style Bubble so you have an interest in all things a la mode anyway and Jane Molloy at Get Clobbered's stuff has always reminded me of Westwood-esque quirk and individuality. Jane makes beautiful one off pieces that she sources the materials for from charity shops and thrift stores...have a peek!


Sydnie said...

I agree with you completely on the whole "girls dress for other girls" point. I hate it when boys think its just for them! Michelle Obama has an amazing sense of style ... thank you for writing about her! Great blog, too!


Susan said...

Agree! Power dressing is about expressing your individuality and nothing to do with men.

softball bat said...

Fashion is always assigned to women and that's a sexist thinking because nowadays many designers are men who are fashion's world and they have made very good work!

Girls clothing said...

I mean are you serious. It is weird how we assume that women don't dress for men, whereas men are making those dresses. How do they come up with such sensational designs and prints? Has anyone ever inquired? Is it a possibility that their mind to wanders to many other dimensions and thinks how would a woman look and feel in this fabric or this design. I guess indirectly they are telling us a lot.

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Mrs Bossa said...

Excellent post - glad to have stumbled across it!

Of course feminism is about choice, and that should be reflected in what we choose to wear. It is also a relief to be beyond the idea of 'dressing for men'. I've been mulling this over for a while, and I would still be interested to read more posts/articles on 'fashion through a feminist lens'...

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