Fashion and feminism do not always come hand in hand; scores of women view fashion to be an oppressive sphere that attempts to convince women that the only way to be considered ‘beautiful’ is to conform to standards laid out by the dictators of the fashion industry, who are often men. Plenty of women regard Vogue Magazine, considered the fashion bible, as a beacon of sexism that undermines a woman’s worth. And let us not disregard the lack of diversification of the female body as plastered in magazines and seen strutting down runways in nothing larger than a size 2 mini-skirt. It is far from perfect or positive, and the fashion industry appears to exude a certain unattainable exclusivity thanks to celebrity endorsements and high fashion magazines. It is clear that the industry has plenty to work towards, and as someone who wants to work in the industry, it is an unsettling reality. Although it is necessary to acknowledge the negative aspects of the fashion industry, fashion itself is not a rigid and institution. For me, it is the most liberating medium I can use in order to express myself.
Fashion has been a facilitator of my exploration through feminism. In a world where women have historically had a lack of means to express themselves and communicate their thoughts, fashion has been used as defiance to their oppression. Some of the most iconic and outspoken women paved the way for change using the clothes they wore, setting aside cultural and societal conventions to make way for female empowerment. Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker and Audrey Hepburn are just a handful of women who each showcased unique and controversial styles, proving to women all over the world that being yourself and staying true to your values is a wonderful thing. Thanks to these women, others were inspired to push against their limitations and explore their capabilities in a way that led to cultural revolutions and the success of the feminist movement. It is remarkable that such power stems from style, which is essentially comprised of clothes, individuality and a hint of courage.
I’m not planning on instigating any cultural revolutions anytime soon, but I think I will start with using fashion as a way to summon confidence within myself. In the end, personal style showcases your individuality and is not indicative of what you can achieve. I would hope that when I choose to dress in a feminine way that I am not considered to be naïve or less capable, and if I want to dress in a way that is considered sexy, that my value as a person is not undermined and I am treated with the respect I deserve. It is most empowering when people can make decisions about the way they look without concerning themselves with the opinions of others or the stereotypes of gender, sexuality, age and ethnicity. And this is a message that must be relayed by the fashion industry.
There is no doubt that there have been notable changes in the industry. The androgynous look is on the rise, there is a growing response to the call for a greater variety of body shapes and skin colours on show, and there has been outward support for feminism by designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Maria Grazia Chiuri, who is the first female creative director of Dior. Despite being long overdue, these acts are crucial as they give people the confidence to embrace who they are and to explore that through fashion. Although I don’t need affirmation from high profile designers that the feminist movement is important and necessary, it does raise awareness of the fight for gender equality and garners acceptance. And supporting the movement for gender equality is something I will continue to do through self-expression as conveyed by my fashion choices.
NOTE: Care must be taken to ensure that the clothes you’re putting on your back to proclaim your feminism or self-identity is not contributing to the exploitation of children and women in the textiles industry, which is something I have learnt recently. Being a feminist means supporting other women and preventing their mistreatment, and one sure way you can do that is through shopping ethically. Click here for a list of how top fashion brands rank in worker welfare.