What is the role of fashion in feminism? Probably the question that us feminist-fashion buffs dread the most. I know I know, fashion is a “patriarchal invention designed to distract women from focusing on serious matters” yadayada- but yet again, those boots are SO CUTE, where did you get them?
If you’re like me, and this conflict has caused you a lot of inner turmoil, then you are in luck. Thanks to some powerful ladies in the industry, this fashion vs. feminism dispute may be starting to go out of style (pun intended!)
Now that a lot of women are starting to occupy the top jobs in retail (i.e. Marigay McKee: president of Saks Fifth Ave, Stacey Cartwrite: chief executive of Harvey Nicholas, and Alannah Weston: deputy chairman of Selfridges), a lot of fashion designers are attempting to create lines that enforce feminist ideals.
One “radical” fashion line that has been gaining a lot of press is Prada’s spring/summer 2014 collection– “based on the multiplicity of guises that women assume in the course of a day, a lifetime.”
Italian designer Miuccia Prada, commissioned a series of artists to create large murals for the exhibition and told Elle that the collection was concerned with, “women and the strength of women.”
“We are here, we are strong, we are visible, we are kind of fighters… I wanted to give encouragement, to be out there,” she said.
While the designs possess a street-sport element, somewhat reminiscent of Riot Grrrls, the murals complementarily echo the political street art of L.A, Mexico, and South America. These designs are characterized by strong bold colors and conflicting patterns that demand to be noticed. To me these garments scream “WE ARE WOMEN, WE ARE BEAUTIFUL, WE ARE STRONG- AND YOU BETTER LISTEN TO WHAT WE HAVE TO SAY!”
full collection can be found here
For once, however, Prada is not the first to infuse fashion with feminism. In October of this year, Elle created a movement to “rebrand feminism.” In this Campaign Elle worked to convince women who do no identify as feminist to reconsider the label. In addition, Eddie Borgo created a spring/summer collection that “celebrates female strength in all forms: the Suffragettes and the women’s movement, feminist art, the Riot Grrrls of the 1990s, and the current rekindling of guerrilla protest in the form of Pussy Riot.”
There are however, many critiques of this amalgamation of fashion and feminism by those who believe that feminism is strictly a political movement. The fear is that this emphasis on fashion may trivialize the campaign- especially since the fashion industry has historically been more hurtful to women than helpful.
I nevertheless, disagree with the sentiment. To me, feminism is about more than equality under the law, it is about changing the societal outlook on women and diminishing antiquated gender roles and expectations that suggest women are “ornamental” (among other things.) I think that fashion (despite its questionable roots) has developed into a way of giving women a voice, a means of self expression, and a sense of empowerment. Essentially, personal style allows for women to gain a sense of ownership over their own identities.
In one of my favorite books, “Deathless” by Catherine M. Velente, one of the characters explains how the ability to control your image and the way people see you is intrinsically powerful:
“Cosmetics are an extension of the will, why do you think all men paint themselves when they go out to fight? When I paint my eyes to match my suit, it’s not because I have nothing better to do than worry over trifles, it says I belong here, and you will not deny me. When I streak my lips as red as fox gloves, I say come here male I am your mate, and you will not deny me. When I pinch my cheeks and dust them with mother of pearl I say death keep off, I am your enemy, and you will not deny me. I say these things and the world listens. Because my magic is as strong as an arm, I am never denied.”