Feminism seems to be a topic on everyones lips at the moment, with lots of debates and opinions on what it means to be a feminist or what feminism means for different women. It also seems like fashion brands are increasingly embracing women rights and shining a light on the issue. Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist statement at her debut at Dior seemed to reinvigorate the conversation within the fashion industry. It also had me thinking about an issue I wrote about a while ago that I finally decided to share on this blog. Despite designers using the women empowerment rhetoric as an accessory or a trend, it’s important to remember that feminism is not a trend and it is also important to examine the fashion industry and whether it could be considered anti-feminist.
I have been part of numerous debates or listened to people dismiss fashion as frivolous or anti-feminist due to its relationship with dictating impossibly high standard of beauty that women ought to live upon to. I understand that there are so many dimensions that this conversation could take, there are different topics concerning the fashion industry such as ethical fashion and how women are paid and treated in factories or the inequality within the fashion industry. However, for the purpose of this blog post, I will be discussing fashion in terms of women’s choice to embrace trends and follow fashion. On that note, I do not believe that fashion itself is anti-feminist, nor do I believe that liking and following fashion makes you any less of a feminist. However, It is accurate to say that of all the areas where women have attained independence, the topic of appearance is still an issue that women have arguably not broken free from.
The fashion and beauty industry spends a lot of time defining and redefining femininity and masculinity as well as changing and interchanging the boundaries between them. “Fashion is symbolic, expressive, creative and coercive. It is a powerful way to convey politics, personalities, and preferences” therefore a powerful and significant concept. Feminists are also well known for their concerns regarding women’s standards of beauty and feminine attractiveness. It could be argued that clothing, makeup, and dieting appear to be personal matters and individual choices, however, some things that seem like personal matters do have political significance.
So is Fashion compatible with Feminism?
The typical premonition is that fashion is not compatible with feminism. The feminist views on fashion have ranged from governing dress codes as a political tactic, to rejecting fashion as oppressive and patriarchal, to seeing fashion as something that can be selectively incorporated and empowering. Different feminists have embraced or used fashion in different ways. The stereotype that fashion and feminism can’t be compatible, is based on viewing feminists as braless, frumpily dressed and hairy women.
For a long time, women have had to struggle with and fit in with an ever-changing archetype of beauty and perfection. The fashion industry has always promoted that there is always work to be done to make women more attractive and sexier. However, women of every culture and throughout history have groomed and decorated themselves, and they have done this for a complex variety of reasons and not just sexual attraction, or male approval.
The issue of fashion and appearance obviously has political importance and should be a topic of interest for feminists but not in terms of dictating the way in which women should dress. When we criticise personal behaviour such as language, fashion or sexual mores, this is not helpful to anyone and actually does more harm than good. Personally, I believe there is a power that fashion possesses where you look in the mirror and instantly feel empowered and invincible.
There is nothing intrinsically anti-feminist about fashion, the fashion industry has allowed for self-expression and can no longer be viewed as a basis of oppression; women’s fashion is more liberated than it has ever been in the past. However, the fashion industry exists in a society that views what is female as weak and it is perhaps time to stop attaching such symbolisms and dictating personal issues but instead stop trivialising women’s fashion and beauty practices.
What are your thoughts? Do you think fashion is inherently anti-feminist? or is it a tool of empowerment? Or does it mean something else entirely to you?
**This is a very abbreviated version of the paper I wrote on Fashion & Feminism. If you’ve enjoyed this I might release the rest in parts or I can release the full paper**