‘Oh, you’re a feminist?’ I’m asked, while their eyes dance from my heels up to my pink pressed shirt with a look of disbelief. Once again, the question as to why the stereotype of the butch, frumpy feminist exists pops into my head. And I wonder why it is that I sometimes feel guilty for indulging in those oh-so-pretty princess shoes, or that pink tutu dress, as if by doing so I’m betraying the feminist plight.
So let’s try and answer that question. Feminism is about equality. It’s about enabling women to act how they want, say what they want, and yes, wear what they want. The fact that I enjoy shopping, love fashion and want to work in the industry should not, therefore, be an indicator that I’m conforming to the oppression of a patriarchal society. Quite the contrary, in fact.
My own love of fashion comes from my grandmother, who effectively raised my father alone and did so through her ability to sew, stitch and knit clothes that allowed her to make a small income. After losing her husband, sometimes her sewing abilities were exchanged for favours around the house, such as a bit of DIY.
Some women may argue that she is denying feminist principles by conforming to a set stereotype. Yet from where I stand I see a woman who was able to use her talents, and something she loved, to help stand on her own two feet in life. She wasn’t afraid to wear the trousers, and I mean that quite literally. Not only that, but she made her own, at a time when a woman in trousers was something quite controversial.
The emergence of trousers in the fashion world allowed women that bit more freedom to be able to perform more practical tasks at a greater ease. Similarly, the emergence of the women’s suit allowed women to be seen on a more equal level in the work place, competing for the same jobs as their male counterparts. The development in female fashion correlates directly with feminist development.
Fashion has given us the ability to dress like our male counter-parts, yes – but that doesn’t mean it demands it. It shouldn’t be surprising that I can enjoy wearing make up and a dress and still support wholeheartedly the principles of gender equality. Equality is the ability to choose what to do without scrutiny, and this extends to what we wear. I am thankful that, if I want to, I can rock a trouser suit and brogues one day, and a pink peplum the next.
All too often we confuse the problems of society and the world we live in with the latest trend-word. I read an article recently that said that a woman making a comment on another woman’s clothes is completely counter to the principles of feminism. But this is such a limiting interpretation of this action – I’ve heard men do this about other men and women do it about men and vice versa. It’s less a sign of the ‘anti-feminist’ fashion industry than it is of the materialistic, conformist society we live in. We don’t just see almost-unattainable female figures on catwalks and in the pages of magazines – for every girl looking to Miranda Kerr for body inspiration, there’s surely a man looking to David Gandy.
I would like to see the positives of fashion and feminism working together to create a sphere where I’m not subjected to scrutiny about whether my clothes affirm or deny my feminist status. The very fact that I make the executive decision over what clothes I put on my body affirms them.
Fashion empowers me to wear the trousers…and the skirt.
Esther is a student at the University of Leeds and current fashion editor of their newspaper ‘The Gryphon’. Often found questioning the meaning of life in her studies of Politics and Philosophy, she turns to baking Pavlova as an outlet. She also has a love of travelling and sporadic holidays wherever possible.
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