As part of the group Feminist Fashion Bloggers, we've been asked to give our take on:
"How do you express your feminism in the way you dress?"
I think this is a hard one, because there is an idea that if you dress nicely or wear heels and lipstick, somehow you are in cahoots with the "Ideal female image" of what femininity should look like in the western world — an image that is primarily about the male gaze — so how can you dress like you actually like wearing your heels and short skirt, and call your self a feminist?
I beg to disagree(to an extent). This is all about choice, and I mean real choice not the fake choices you are told - like you can choose to look like a prostitute because that's what free sexy women want to do after the sexual liberation. No I 'm talking about the choice we that have today, primarily in the West (but there are of course pressures), as women, to pretty much choose our appearance the way we wish it to be, pretty much, if you ignore all the media and adverts shouting at you. Second wave feminism has allowed women to move away from dress being about your social and moral status as a wife, or a mother. In rigid 19th century society, your attire signified your husband's wealth; the expensive imported muslin of your dress, your inability to move freely whilst being tightly laced, meant you did very little physical or menial tasks therefore inferring you had a lot of money for lots of servants. If you were a servant, you would aspire to wear a corset like your mistress, as it gave you status, because of this very reason. Women may have followed fashions voraciously, (which still happens) partly to look good, but because of the way society (a patriarchal one at that) dictated on how women should look, behave, and present themselves as women, meant their clothing was perhaps one of the only ways they had a chance to visibly communicate - wearing the right dress code suddenly gave you the better chance to nab a husband, your future literally depended on it. Women on the whole had little input or say in the outside world, therefore your social status, your life and your respectability depended on the correct and proper way of dressing.
This constraint on women's appearance, and the notion of their looks equalling their worth to society, carried on in mainstream society, pretty much - apart from sub cultures - until second wave feminism, with a few dips and peaks in conservatism along the way(classic example of women with new freedoms, starting to wear trousers during the war, and then the quick flip to conservative values then asserted itself back into traditional female and male roles).
In modern day society, identity is prepackaged, bundled up and re sold back to you. Telling and dictating to women about what they should or shouldn't wear is not something that's been left in the past, it happens today on a very regular basis, but instead of women being told what to wear in fear of not having the security that social status, and a wedding ring would give you, we are told that we must wear what we are told to, because we need to, or we want to, or because if you do - it will change your life. It's all geared towards buying and selling and reselling, and making sure people still have the desire to clothe themselves in a way that makes them feel part of that package.
But of course, with all that shouting about what we should and should not wear, there are many many people (men and women) who wish to dress how they please, to simply wear clothes that make you feel a certain way — clothes do have the power to suggest and shape and free you — and to use clothing as an extension of what you want to say to the world with your own voice, quiet or loud. And without being pretentious, and without the prepackaged boxed ticking of trends, but with your own natural desire to mark yourself as being you, whoever that is, whether you wear heels or wear lipstick, the important factor is to not let anyone tell you what you should wear, or cannot wear.
Women more than ever, are being bombarded with images and messages of what constitutes being a woman. From colouring your hair, to the fear that your body isn't right, that you don't have the right shoes, to that disconcerting feeling that whatever you buy or do, you will always be short of some perfect version of yourself. THIS IS THE PROBLEM, this is all designed to instil fear, and insecurity in people, so they consume more goods to make themselves feel better. The corset only lasted so long, despite so many dress reformers campaigning against the use of them, because the corset manufacturers repeatedly told women they would get fat if they stopped wearing them, that they were a symbol of being a white middle class woman and going without a corset would be savage like, that their bodies were weak and could not withstand being without a corset. Basically selling them any old clap trap that would scare monger women to carry on buying their corsets, otherwise the companies would lose serious money.
If you truly want a take on feminist fashion, then we have to talk about celebrating who you are inside out, wearing what you please, and not because you are sold it, or told to look a certain way, but because this is you and this is how you do it and most importantly ignoring the all consuming trend to consume a swallowed identity. Clothing and fashion can certainly empower you, and speak volumes, if you use it as your tool, as your weapon, and not because a fashion magazine said you must wear this, and you must buy it in the next three months!! because that is just playing into the wallets of the patriarch who are laughing at how trends make the world go round and make them lots of money. Make your own rules.
(1) source: Textiles, a world tour - Catherine Legrand