Fashion and Feminism

by Intern Kerishma

At a recent dinner hosted by publishing company Penguin Books and clothing brand Whistles, Whistles CEO Jane Shepherdson stated that it was time for the fashion industry to “reclaim feminism.” Her point is well taken: the fashion industry is one of the few that is dominated by women, yet it is rarely regarded as a feminist industry.

This idea got me thinking about the nature of the fashion industry and women’s interest in clothing in general. Fashion is also one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men. There are a whole slew of reasons for this, some of them not so great. The most obvious one is that as women, we are more valued for our physical appearance, therefore placing emphasis on fashion and personal presentation. Women can wear traditionally feminine items of clothing (skirts, dresses, heels) as well as traditionally masculine ones (pants), while men are much more limited in what is socially acceptable clothing (of course, this is because of sexist reasons, but just bear with me).

To summarize: fashion is very much identified with women. But it’s also identified with frivolity, vanity, and artifice. And I personally don’t think that it’s a random coincidence.

Women who show an active interest in things like shopping, makeup, or their appearances are quickly regarded as shallow clotheshorses – an ironic (and unfair) stereotype, given the pressure put on women to look beautiful or presentable (whatever that means). To paraphrase blogger Greta Christina, fashion – a woman-dominated business – is looked at as trivial because women and traditional femininity are looked at as trivial.

So, going back to the Penguin and Whistles dinner, there’s a lot of validity to Shepherdson’s statement of the fashion industry needing to present itself as more feminist. There also needs to be recognition of fashion as a legitimate industry – it’s more than just clothing, it’s a business. Rosie Arnold, Deputy Executive Creative Director of BBH, described herself as a sort of “Don Draper,” pointing out the many other sides of the fashion industry.

(Image by Angie Wang, via Ms. Magazine)

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