Is Fashion Feminist? | The Dialogue Between the Two

19thAug. × ’11


Moshino Fall 2011, Ready to Wear

The idea that fashion and feminism are inherently opposed hasn’t died out in the digital wave. Publications like Bitch and Filament have prided themselves on not being “into fashion”. “No Fashion, No Diets, No Celeb Rubbish.” reads the former’s tagline. Yet the inclination for fashion to oppose feminism seems a bit ironic, considering that in the fashion industry women have long reigned. What’s more interesting to me than the question is fashion feminist is the dialogue between fashion and feminism.

Feminism has affected in trends in fashion. The first wave of Victoria Woodhulls and suffragettes fought for the right for women to own property and to vote, as we begin to see these victories take hold (1920 for the latter) fashions change. Flappers with bare knees and shifty dresses become the image, not of feminists, but of women relishing their newfound  freedom. The successes of the second wavers with Roe v Wade and divorce laws are celebrated with mini skirts. And pro-sex third wavers get Paris Hilton. At least this makes for good party banter.

I discussed these ideas with fashion illustrator and poignant blogger, Danielle Meder. She was more curious about how certain trends in fashion are feminist. She took her ideas to a post, writing:

“One of the initial, most life-improving changes that women fought to claim was literally freedom of movement – the ability to participate in work, sports, and daily activities without being weighed down by long skirts and restrained by corsetry.

Initially, advocates of dress reform were ridiculed. Their efforts lacked style, their models weren’t attractive, and they lacked the ability to sell the public on their ideas. It wasn’t until fashion designers like Poiret and Chanel proposed a corsetless silhouette, with their considerable publicity engines and attractive clientele, that corsetry and long skirts were under serious threat. Even then, the fashions weren’t necessarily feminist – Poiret held women’s mobility under bondage with the hobble skirt. While Chanel’s motivations were more clearly feminist in that she designed for emancipated, active women, Poiret’s were more about novelty and publicity.”

Left: two piece ensemble, 1925, Right: Yves Saint Laurent 1982

What might be worth noting here is the privilege of fashion. While I’ve found some sources that say Chanel began designing for working women in France during World War I (offering men’s pull over sweaters, sailor jackets and plain skirts) most seem to trace Chanel to upscale patrons since the beginning. Regardless, Chanel’s simple designs, her menswear for women was not fashionable when Chanel was accepted by the fashion industry and serving upscale clients. But things that are reserved for the privileged always trickle down to the middle classes, to the mall.

With this trickle-down into the clothing of the  every-day woman, feminism didn’t just passively affect feminism, the right to wear pants (outside of the factory) was hard won, Danielle notes:

“The bifurcated garment has been considered a masculine garment since the middle ages. Co-opting it for women was not at all an insignificant social shift – in fact, vestigial laws are still being revoked, and the subject provokes (confusing) debate in some circles to this day. The leading edge of trouser-clad femininity was celebrity. Amelia Earhart, Katherine Hepburn, and Marlene Dietrich imbued the garment with adventure, charisma and sex.

The early majority was youth – young women who were for the first time, were enjoying the phenomenon of ‘teen years’ in between childhood and adulthood. Youth had an excess of casual down-time and the disposable income to exert influence over their own clothing, it makes sense that the popularity of pants – and that notable unisex garment, denim, began to trend during the 40s and 50s even as feminist goals were backsliding due to The Feminine Mystique.”

It’s interesting though, that with the new rights women gained, fashion saw women trying on male-ness. Is it feminist, if women had to bend what they were wearing in order to fit into the “man’s world’? Whether it’s women bobbing their hair after they get the vote, or Chanel’s pantsuit, or the 1980′s power-suit with it’s pointed masculine edges, worn as women really took hold of the workplace it’s all women taking on male roles. (One of the things the third wave seems to have done is take back traditional feminine fashion, in it’s “ironic” retro silhouettes and crinoline.) And yet playing with gender in fashion can be liberating, and helpful to breaking down gender roles and the binary.

But men have not socially been allowed to try on the accouterments of female-ness in quite the same way. While the last twenty years have seen more androgyny on male models, men in skirts have not sauntered into mainstream.  But as more and more men begin questioning their gender roles and it’s stereotypes, will be see more ripples in male fashion? With designers like Rick Owens and the mall-level phenomenon of metrosexuality, we are already and I think this is just the beginning.


Rock Owens  Spring 2012 Menswear

But that nagging question — can fashion can be feminist– does have it’s arguing points. Fashion is an industry that promotes unrealistic standards of beauty– via underweight models who are overwhelmingly white. Fashion also promotes a culture of consumerism. The logic here often is fashion = corporatism = bad. But as illustrated in the “Slow Fashion” movement of designers hand-making all of their wares, fashion can embody feminist values.

Feminism today is not the feminism of Chanel’s or Friedan’s. In it’s digital incarnation is far more effort toward inclusivity than we’ve ever seen before, and as we align our support with women around the globe, what is the affect? Through it all, there will be a dialogue between the two, whether that conversation is: No, I disagree, I reject you or Yes, yes, yes!

Where do you think feminism influences fashion? Where do fashion and feminism agree– or disagree?

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27 Comments

  1. Posted 2011-08-19 at 12:57 | Permalink

    While I appreciate the ties between fashion and feminism historically, I have a very difficult time seeing that tie in present-day fashion, for exactly the reasons cited in your second to last paragraph. Can it really be feminism if it’s inspiring us to do decidedly unhealthy things to our bodies in the pursuit of what I consider the consumerist ideal female figure?

  2. Posted 2011-08-19 at 13:08 | Permalink

    Great point for discussion, NSC.

    I am interested to know if anyone knows much about the history of modeling, and can share. For certain the last 50 years or so have seen underage, underweight models as the only working girls in the industry. I’ve heard poor excuses for this like: we need the sample sizes to be small, to use as little fabric as possible, and just as horrifying things from the other side like: “it’s because gay men run the fashion industry and they want the women to look like boys”

    This is not really a new trend, and changing the thin-obsession of the fashion industry will be slow-going. However, I think we have already seen a shift in the celebration of plus sized models like Crystal Renn and others, plus size models gaining ground in shoots for other less-fashion based mags (Vice comes to mind) and even in Karl Lagerfield’s very public friendship with Beth Ditto. I think this has shift has happened because of Internet feminism, no it has been DEMANDED from internet feminism. Feminism comments on fashion, and fashion responds.

    In this case, for the first time I think we are seeing more of that response from fashion as: “you are right”.

    But I think we are far off from seeing much more than a size 0 on the runway. For instance, take a look at the number of black models on the runway and in magazines, certainly it’s a lot better than it was 20 years ago when Naomi Campbell who was the first Black woman on the cover of French Vogue, but still it’s a struggle.

  3. Posted 2011-08-19 at 14:21 | Permalink

    I think one of the most interesting things I read while researching the article was this study of corsetry’s decline: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2005/is_2_33/ai_58675450/?tag=content;col1

    The idea that skinny models are “inspiring” the vast mainstream is something of a media red herring in my opinion – it’s an easy, lurid story. The use of skinny models tends to be by designers and media outlets that are considerably niche – the mainstream tends to favour actresses… and more and more, online media tends to favour bloggers, both groups are far more aspirational and interesting than the current crop of ciphers you see on the runways. If anything, the backlash against skinny models is having an effect – and like the discarding of corsets, it’s a consumer-led backlash. The proof is in the pudding – fashion trends are not always top-down dictations. The industry more and more has to follow the money – which means consumers are often leading fashion.

    Also, a point in retrospect I wish I had included in the post – it is lame how fashion is dismissed both by other creative industries – and the capital F feminists. It is an industry dominated by females and gay males with a predominantly female consumer base, and as a result it’s historically treated as if it is a lesser industry. Why should it be considered less relevant or “serious” than music, film, architecture, publishing, or other creative industries? The condescension is a bit “fashist”, pardon the awful pun.

  4. Posted 2011-08-19 at 14:35 | Permalink

    Yes! Excellent comment, Danielle! Thanks for engaging. I agree that it is sad and strange to see fashion not celebrated as an art-form, not to mention not even as a creative industry! I hadn’t actually seen couture up close and personal until the McQueen show in NYC this summer, and I was shocked by how moving and emotional I found it. After leaving the show I had no desire to look at the post modern paintings the museum also held– fashion felt like such a rich and interesting artform in comparison!

    I do wonder if this distaste for the industry is actually holdovers of sexism– that it is taken less seriously because it is an industry populated by gay men and women. Which makes it all the more strange that feminism has not embraced it.

    I like the fact that fashion can also comment on feminism, as feminism can on fashion–and that it is mostly women providing that commentary. Too often, feminism is an ideology that doesn’t support looking at it’s flaws (and I suppose, what ideology does?) So it’s interesting to look at fashion as a critique of feminism, as well as something influenced by it. And I think we can say this about all art, but only fashion is a creative industry run by women!

    Also curious on what anyone thinks about the femme third wave bit, because I totally threw it in at the lat minute: “It’s interesting though, that with the new rights women gained, fashion saw women trying on male-ness. Is it feminist, if women had to bend what they were wearing in order to fit into the “man’s world’? …One of the things the third wave seems to have done is take back traditional feminine fashion, in it’s “ironic” retro silhouettes and crinoline.”

    I think this is true, that as women before had to fit into male-ness to be taken seriously, part of the influence of the third wave on fashion (or is it vice versa) is that women can be women and be taken seriously, without needing to bend. I thought of this because of an eyeroll worthy post by a HuffPo blogger (of course) demeaning women for being “girly”. Read at your own risk, here:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peg-aloi/tough-gals-do-they-still-_b_924507.html

  5. Posted 2011-08-20 at 07:32 | Permalink

    Interesting piece, especially Danielle’s input.

    This is my post on metrosexuality and fashion recently:

    http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/model-metrosexual/

    I am not a feminist and am not interested in whether or not fashion is feminist. But I am interested in how fashion, as a key consumer and image-making industry, changes and or reinforces gender identities.

  6. Posted 2011-08-20 at 09:56 | Permalink

    QRG, Love, loved your post! (http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/model-metrosexual/)

    I hadn’t really been following the whole Andrej Pejic thing, and I’m not sure why. Something about it struck me as particularly dusty, and reading the excerpts from the Times I get it. The obsession with Pejic is the obsession with his gender fucking, it’s the clutching of pearls over someone who doesn’t fit into the binary. Which, as you point out with the pretty longstanding tradition of skinny male models and metrosexuality, doesn’t exactly feel new.

    However, I do think Pejic is of a newer school of male-ness. He’s the hipster androgynous male. He’s the boys I see in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, thin and (at first glance) either male or female, fashionable, hip, of course androgynous. These boys *sometimes* surprise me with their sexuality by hitting on me, when I assume gay. It’s I suppose very “gender queer” only I have no idea if they would self identify that way… it’s very queer and right now and reminds me of the late 70s with glam rock and Bowie, only much slicker and modernized.

    I think I-D magazine really nails it: http://i-donline.com/ I’m flipping through a copy right now that very much takes on this look in it’s shoots.

    Curious, QRG, if you’ve thought about the rise of this new hipster androgynous male.

    Also QRG, what I think you might find interesting about the dialogue between fashion and feminism are the places where fashion does not agree with feminism, and seems to comment on it negatively or go in an entirely other direction. I think that to an extent, the knee baring flappers and miniskirts are an example of this but I think we also see recent examples. Over and over blogs like Jezebel and Feministing, etc. call out angry when fashion designers use another culture as inspiration– when we see bindis on the runway ala 90s or “Afrika” trends as more recently. While I agree with Danielle that fashion is actually taking on the criticism of it’s obsession with thin-ness, I do not see fashion taking the cultural appropriation criticism seriously at all. Also, feminists have repeatedly called out American Apparel for “sexist advertising” and AA responds with laying it on thicker, with being like: you guys don’t get it. Just a few examples, but I find that flow between the two powerhouses interesting.

  7. Posted 2011-08-20 at 10:38 | Permalink

    C00l post! I’m so glad you guys commented on the industry being run by women, and that being a huge factor in why it is treated as being silly and shallow. I don’t think women get enough credit for taking an industry that everyone pretends is stupid and ridiculous, and making it one of the highest grossing in the nation. It’s stupid to pretend that it is all about consumerism, when every single industry is all about consumerism. You don’t see people freaking out about the car industry, or the construction business, or even the new wave of technology nearly as much as they freak out about fashion, which are all about people wanting to have the newest thing and not wanting to settle for what is old. I seriously think it is just a backlash of sexism.
    Rachel- you asked about the history of models. Twiggy was given a lot of crap for being the first skinny super-model, coming out of a time period when all models were curvy, fuller-figured women. The fifties were all about curves, and then Twiggy comes in with her straight hips and short hair, and really revolutionized the fashion ‘look’. What’s so interesting to me is that while people like to blame the Twiggy phase as the cause for so much thinness and eating disorders and body dismorphia that is permeating fashion, Twiggy was really one of the first rebels against body norms. While the fashion industry was saying all women had to look a certain way, Twiggy came in and turned that notion on its head. She did what people are advocating for now: she changed the face of fashion into something more approachable, into something fresh and new. Sure, the industry could use some new bodies and more interesting shapes, but I think it’s too easy to treat thinness like it’s completely anti-woman. There are tons of women in this world without curves, and their bodies are extremely feminine, too. What the industry really needs is to stop hiring underage girls, and start finding different kinds of women, especially different ethnicities, to wear their clothing.
    And I agree with you, while gender-bending is a great thing in fashion, I don’t always see it as a sign of feminism. Sometimes it’s just more of a gimic than anything else, and sometimes I even find it offensive that the “power woman” image is all about masculinity. However, I think about gender-bending fashion icon Patti Smith, and how in so many ways she took on the role of a man, but how she also still held on strongly to her identity as a woman. I think this cross of gender identity created a really new and powerful brand of sexuality, one I’m still really interested in today. Comme de Garcons plays with this a lot in her work, the covered and less flamboyant women still exhibiting a lot of sexual energy. I really dig it.
    Something else I am really interested in is how quickly and effectively women’s fashion has changed in the last hundred years, and how men’s have stayed pretty constant. This is an obvious antidote to women’s changing roles, and that men’s roles have stayed virtually the same. Isn’t it interesting, how men are just barely starting to hold new places in society, and we are just barely seeing the introduction of the skirt for men.

  8. Posted 2011-08-20 at 11:47 | Permalink

    ah yes I see what you mean about the ‘flow between the two powerhouses’! Great phrase.

    I have thought about that aspect actually. I must write about it. I think that sometimes fashion seems to take on feminist criticisms but it is really just finding ways to profit out of the kinds of ‘trends’ in feminism etc, by reproducing them as kind of memes.

    But I can’t think of any examples I will go and find some!

  9. Posted 2011-08-20 at 14:13 | Permalink

    Hey RW I might do a post on advertising/fashion/ gender-bending/feminism/metrosexuality.

    I’ll try not to make it too long! If I get it done I will send it to you see if you are interested in posting it.

    x

  10. Posted 2011-08-20 at 16:47 | Permalink

    Eliza, excellent comment!!! I love that you point out how the fashion industry is just as about consumerism as other industries, like gadgets/tech/etc. I think you are spot on. Interested to see if Danielle has anything to say on that too.

    And super intriguing on the Twiggy thing. This hits on why I kind of hate that “this is what a real woman looks like” response to thin ideals, aren’t all women’s bodies “real”? Whether they have curves or not? Whether they are thin naturally or that way from disordered eating, dieting or working out?

    I hate the attitude toward thinness (and eating disorders) that it is somehow anti woman, or something to roll your eyes at, or that it’s somehow “giving into the man” as Jeneane Garaffalo once said of Fiona Apple and her admitting to anorexia. Yes, it’s true that the thin body which media puts on a pedestool is one that is unreachable for most women, but that doesn’t mean that women do meet this “ideal” have gotten there in selling out or harming others, or that it isn’t natural, or that it’s anything beyond a psychological problem!

    I was actually looking for images from Rei of Comme de Garcons for this piece but couldn’t find any to identify what I was looking for… do send if you find some good ones!

  11. Posted 2011-08-20 at 16:50 | Permalink

    On consumerism, I think to understand ‘consumerism’ in relation to fashion, self-image etc, we really do need to take on *metrosexual* consumerism. It is imagery/fashion/beauty products for men which are booming as consumer industries. If you think about it women have been consuming these things for ever, but for men it is still relatively ‘new’ so the market has much more room to expand.

    cf: Mark Simpson, Metrosexy!

  12. Posted 2011-08-20 at 16:53 | Permalink

    QRG, I am curious what you think of the Man-Repeller trend as a possible example of profiting from “trends” in feminism. http://jezebel.com/5714237/is-man+repelling-fashion-a-feminist-statement Basically the idea is about dressing for other women, not dressing sexy and definitely not being caught dead in a body con dress or heels.

    Personally, it seems to me that fashion has always to some extent been about “man repelling” as so often, int he fashion world you are dressing for others in the fashion world. And certainly Coco Chanel’s schoolmarmy designs could be considered “man repelling”

    And I would love to run a post on those topics, QRG, I loved your last guest post so please do send away! <3

  13. Posted 2011-08-20 at 17:10 | Permalink

    haha oh yes I remember that ‘man repeller’ thing now. I will try and fit it into a post . Because I think for men, as well , there are motivations to dress ‘to please yourself’ rather than for women.

  14. Posted 2011-08-20 at 22:19 | Permalink

    I think the man repeller trend is offensive in that it says that any other way a woman dresses is for men. Because I wear something girly or something really simple now means I dress that way because I want men to love me. Or that there is something wrong with me for wanting my clothing to attract a man, that that means I am less of a feminist. It also amuses me because the men repeller blog is as much about men as any other, but instead of saying this is how to get man, they say this is how not to get a man. It still always comes back to a man’s reaction.
    I agree with you, Rachel, that it’s really just more harmful to demean anorexic bodies. There’s so much shame involved in eating disorders, it just makes it worse to tell women not to talk about it. I think more women should really come out about it, and not just the women who have gotten passed it and moved on. I feel like it would be a really powerful statement, sort of like when Gloria Steinem and others wore the “I Got an Abortion” shirts.
    I also am intrigued by how fashion becomes so much about sexuality, no matter the article of clothing or how it is worn. I like that the men repeller look is trying to separate the body from constantly being a sexual object, but I wish they did it in a way that was less man-centric.
    You should also look more into the clothing of different political movements, I think they have a lot to say about women and their roles. I have been most especially intrigued lately by the clothing of Germans before and after the Berlin wall, and how clothing became such a big part of propaganda. I feel like feminists really need more symbology and color references to show signs of solidarity (I find the use of the standard women sign sort of lame, though. Could we think of something cooler?). Religion stays because of great iconography, wouldn’t it be neat if feminism started to utilize these same principles?

  15. Posted 2011-08-22 at 12:31 | Permalink

    Most of my blog is basically about this! So I want to comment, but it is SO HARD SINCE IT IS ALL I TALK ABOUT EVER.

    My starting comment is usually that I don’t see anything INHERENTLY feminist or anti-feminist about “fashion” as a concept — rather that it’s impossible for me to think about one without the other. How can I talk about clothes without talking about femininity? How can I talk about my place, visually, in this world as a woman — and a queer one, but a femme one — without talking about fashion? How can I talk about ‘androgyny’ in fashion without talking about my sexuality and perceptions of women?

    Here’s only the very beginning of some of my thoughts on the subject:

    http://morningmidnight.com/post/1520039780/queer-feminist-fashion
    http://morningmidnight.com/post/570994709/modesty-street-harassment-and-public-space
    http://morningmidnight.com/post/655126570/hating-satc
    http://morningmidnight.com/post/394946568/why-fashion-is-worth-blogging-about
    linkspam! sorry! aah! love all this though and just have way too much to say about it.

  16. Posted 2011-08-22 at 12:59 | Permalink

    Really enjoyed reading this post, all the links, and all the comments again.

    Two more things to add:
    I was thinking about the relative social weight of fashion models versus other pop culture figures – and the thing is, they’re not even close. Kate Moss is a pretty significant cultural indicator, but not even close to delivering the type of mainstream impact of a Gaga or a Beyonce or an Oprah. To flesh out my comment on the influence of fashion models as a “media red herring”, I’d like to compare it to the paranoid inflation of the perils of video games – another industry that, while mainstream, is still comparatively niche – the famous titles and characters of video games aren’t *universally* recognized, and neither are fashion’s. Fashion’s moment as a cultural heavyweight happened about 20 years ago – its never been at the same level since.

    Second, on the subject of male fashion – it used to be that the division was based more on class than on gender. Before the democratic revolutions, 18th century aristocratic males made the same types of visual displays and leisured lifestyles we only associate with women now. You could say that (rich) men had their own sartorial revolution at the time when it became respectable and proper for all men to WORK, and the response was to adopt clothing that was practical and sober, as opposed to, frankly, exaggerated and silly.

    This suggests that the division between “sexualized” clothing may historically be more of a class thing. The adoption of exaggerated, impractical clothing & artifice like high heels, wigs, etc. are more about flaunting a leisured lifestyle – which is why they are anathema with the idea of a “serious, working” woman OR man.

  17. Posted 2011-08-22 at 17:36 | Permalink

    interesting Danielle on class.

    I think men of all classes, nowadays, though, are still caught in some of those ‘Victorian’ for want of a better word ‘protestant/work’ type attitudes to men’s dress. It is changing though.

    But mainly, I think it is men’s *bodies* that are becoming more ‘exaggerated’ and ‘flaunting’ of their sex(ualities). The clothes most young fit men wear these days are really to show off their torsos and butts. :D

  18. Posted 2011-08-22 at 19:28 | Permalink

    Eliza, ooh very interesting insights on the clothing of political movements. I recently came across a New York Times photo essay that was on the “clothing of riots + upheaval” with what people were wearing during the London riots (also covered was Cairo and Tokyo.)

    Slideshow: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/08/15/t-magazine/21streetstyle-t.html

    accompanying article: http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/youth-quake-london/

    Not surprisingly these articles were targeted by pubs like Adbusters for being insensitive and ignorant. I was a bit shocked when they came up in my feed, myself, but I think it’s an interesting idea. After-all fashion is a language, and what are we communicating by what we wear in these times of upheaval, when we are at the center of them is a curious inquiry. All that said, I was disappointed by the surface-ness of the actual articles.

    Anyone else have a reaction on those articles?

    Also Eliza, Interesting on the “Man Repeller” thing being a bit offensive. You are right, it begs the question: Are femme lesbians in sexy frocks dressing for men? I dressed up today for a date, aiming to impress in a floral floofy dress and bunny ears for a picnic with, clutch your pearls, a lady! Who was also wearing a dress.

    Thanks for the links, Meg! Love that you are writing about this stuff. I love that you point out with fashion & feminism, how could they not be related? Curious if you’ve had much pushback from people for looking stereo-typically femme (ie: straight) rather than (from what i can tell in your photos) really pushing yourself into the queer-femme peg.

    I get that pushback and feel like sometimes it would be easier if I shaved the side of my head and got a few piercings, y’know? At least then I could pick up women without questions, and on the aforementioned picnic, when my fellow frock-wearing ladyfriend and I start canoodling, we don’t get mega stares.

  19. Posted 2011-08-22 at 19:34 | Permalink

    Oooh, Danielle and QRG, these are juicy ideas, fantastic comments. It makes sense Danielle, since the corsetry and boning and hoops and all came off once women had to work. But I am also curious what to make of what QRG points out, that in the last few decades men have been more sexualized in their clothing, whether it’s American Apparel’s “deep v” revealing man cleavage/tattoos or the pants falling off the ass, or the super tight skinny jeans. I wonder if it has to do with women more heavily populating the workplace, and perhaps even women becoming more higher earners in straight relationships than men. Then men become the trophies. Curious!

  20. Posted 2011-08-22 at 20:06 | Permalink

    Rachel — I totally do get that femme pushback kind of thing, I think I tweeted at you once about it but Have Way Too Many Feelings For Twitter or Comments. I think I underline the queer thing too much on my blog and in comments because like — chrissake! I’m a really girly girl! Hi! I am evidence that heels and lipstick are not Asking For A Man To Sweep Me Off My Feet! Let me be living proof that fashion is not about impressing boys! Why is this so complicated! But it’s also of course also the usual paradox of sacrificing that queer visibility — I’ve honestly gone into gay bars with my very queer-looking partner and had people sneer at me or make comments about what am I doing there, and as for the nasty emails I get (from both girls who tell me I’m can’t really be queer and from men who accuse me of leading them on by being girly), we’re not even going to start. I’ve had the short hair, I’ve done the American Apparel v-necks and carabeaners and whatever — this is who I am though, miniskirts and long hair and all.

    I also don’t really identify as “queer femme” in that stereotype that people usually think that means — I don’t look for “butch” partners to “be the man” or have some concept about how my relationships should work because I like makeup, and I don’t really have that rockabilly pinup chic style. I don’t feel like “femme” is part of my “identity” — more just how people see me and the fastest way to say “look I’m not straight, but I have long hair and when I talk about my girlfriend I have to explain that I mean, like, my GIRLFRIEND-GIRLFRIEND, not my girl friend.” Nor am I like one of those self-identified lipstick-lesbians who have these weird unsexy notions about “if I want to date a girl I want her to look like a girl” — my partner is really not girly, and I love it, but I’ve dated way girly girls too. I feel like it would be easier if I identified as both A Lesbian and A Femme — but I don’t, and both straight people and queer people alike seem to have problems with that sometimes. I get really, really frustrated by it so often because it seems like my sexuality and my clothes are constantly under scrutiny, as if one is going to explain the other, and I don’t really fit into any of the little boxes that girls-who-wear-lipstick-and-work-in-fashion are supposed to fit into.

    Obviously I have a lot of feelings about this! It does not end here! I should stop because this is a major can of worms! Aah!

    Jumping into another part of this conversation — I also have qualms about the ‘man repeller’ too but largely because everyone has somehow hailed her as the Great Queen of Inherently Feminist Fashion, when I don’t think that’s the case at all — I like that idea of illustrating a dialogue that’s about fashion for fun, performativity, expression, whatever, but I don’t actually think she’s the best example of badass lady bloggers that do that. I guess it makes me uneasy sometimes that she’s gotten so much attention for something that I think tons of other ladies (but who might not be as rich, white, straight, upper-east-side dwelling, pretty, etc) do way better and have been doing for years — and they don’t have to make it all some silly joke about how “ha, ha, my boyfriend will never understand!” and are totally just as fabulous.

  21. Posted 2011-08-22 at 20:58 | Permalink

    Rachel: While the article was shockingly bad, I think the “riot fashion” photos themselves are really interesting, and the topic, if handled with any degree of sensitivity or thoughtful critique, could be really amazing. I agree with you on the article, too bad it was so blatantly classist and boring.

  22. Posted 2011-08-23 at 05:21 | Permalink

    I know it seems like a fairly obvious point after so many in-depth and deeply analytical ones have been made on this post – brilliant discussion and starting post btw Rachel and Danielle!

    Is not the ultimate emancipation the freedom to wear whatever you like and express yourself in however way you like? After the battles of women rising up in the world, gaining higher positions in companies, living in a ‘man’s’ world, is it not a feminist expression to take that breadwinning power and channel it into whatever they so please and if fashion is that chosen medium, then what exactly is wrong with that?

    I don’t see fashion as a privilege in so much that there is this massive choice/variety in fashion now (freed by the internet, by cheaper travel and a ‘smaller’ world…). When it becomes something at women (and men’s) disposal, it’s a tool of freedom that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shackled to the chains of consumerism but instead you are more in control. I feel that sites like Etsy (where many female artisans/hand-crafters get to showcase their work?) and female vintage entrepreneurs on eBay are contributing to this ‘fashion emancipation’. Must we confine fashion to the shows shown just in the four capitals? In this day and age when every crevice of the internet are throwing up gems for worldwide discovery, I don’t think this is the case….

    On the Man Repeller note, I find her blog amusing but the joke starts to wear thin when taken literally just because it’s equally offensive to men…. that they are these duh-brain meanie characters that don’t ‘get’ high fashion or deride everything a girl wears…. that said, it’s a good ‘schtick’ to have in the blogosphere when so many replicate each other….

  23. Posted 2011-08-23 at 05:58 | Permalink

    Rachel – that Times magazine slideshow – I remember seeing the link for it and thinking, “oh, this is gonna be gnarly”, and then seeing the article & pictures and thinking “huh? This makes no sense.” The fact that all of the pictures from London and Tokyo aren’t of rioters but just shoppers or partiers… it doesn’t seem to draw out any revelatory patterns or epiphanies for me. I bet there is a story there (tho totally tangential to the subject at hand), but this article missed it.

    Eliza – so interested in the idea of message t-shirts & logo iconography. I was thinking about this as I had a commenter on my site share this story on the Bra Burning meme – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94240375 – which has no basis in reality but is still an incredibly sticky mental image, and PHRASE because it is alliterative. These kind of soundbites are so lasting and indelible, and when chosen well, powerful. I have a theory that one of the reasons why Chanel’s legacy is so rock-solid is because she was brilliantly quotable.

    QRG – on the physicality of men, that is definitely not just a recent but a late 20th century trend, starting with the hippies, Bowie, etc. I haven’t thought that much about it, but I think it would make a rad post – hope you write it.

  24. Posted 2011-08-23 at 09:29 | Permalink

    On the male fashion/metrosexual note, interesting point Danielle that it started earlier than what we consider the peak of “metrosexuality” in mainstream, television/mall standards. I’d love to ask Mark Simpson himself about it (the man who coined the term metrosexual, and who uses this term to talk about modern masculinity.)

    My gut tells me it might have to with do gay culture becoming more accepted– especially in the case of Bowie! Perhaps things began to change for men fashion-wise post Stonewall. If this is true though, I wonder what effect the AIDS crisis of the 80s had on metrosexuality and male fashion…

    If we look at the glam rock Bowie/Jagger thing, there was more of an experimentation with male bisexuality, and that was somewhat culturally accepted. Today, male bisexuality seems MORE taboo, among rock stars, among swingers and, well, most everyone. Yet in these same arenas (music, swinging clubs) female bisexual is encouraged, and sometimes expected. With swingers and rock stars like Bowie, this male bi taboo wasn’t *exactly* always there– it does seem to be a post AIDS reaction– to an extent.

    So if the first idea is correct, that male metrosexual fashion came with accepting gay culture…surely AIDS had it’s own impact on male fashion.

    Am I too out on a limb with this one?

  25. Posted 2011-08-23 at 09:42 | Permalink

    Susie, interesting points about fashion and privilege. I think this is where we get into the idea that feminism must oppose fashion because fashion is consumerist in nature. (And here too we get into the fact that for many feminists, feminist = socialist.) But I don’t think that feminist ideals need to oppose consumerism (or capitalism for that mater) and I think this shows in what you point out — the Etsy movements, the Ebay vintage entrepreneurs– women selling their wares directly to other women. It’s kind of shocking it’s taken us so long to get to this idea, but I suppose it could not have happened without the internet.

    To me though, the Ebay and Etsy movements still have some privilege, after-all you’ve got to have time to make all these finnicky little things and sell them, and while the prices are minuscule compared to shopping at Barney’s or the like, it’s still a pretty upper middle class – middle class endeavor.

    However, that said, I think those same movements have opened the door much more widely to get creative with fashion and to get creative in whatever your price-range is. Alternative movements have long been supporting thrift store shopping (Madonna wore thriftstore clothes pre-fame, when she danced for Puerto Rican kids on the roof of her cheap NYC apartment, it seems hippie culture also thrifted, and we totally associated grunge with thrift.) But the Etsy and Ebay girls have made thrift okay for the office, for the mainstream. And that, I think, helps everyone.

  26. Posted 2011-08-26 at 00:23 | Permalink

    Fashion is inherently both exempt from feminist influence and feminist within itself, because feminism was created to solve and address a problem, whereas fashion originally existed as a declaration of human theology, regardless of any world religion or philosophy. Fashion came about long before feminism did, and it still trumps feminism as a primary priority for primal human instinct. By this, I mean people are wired for sex, but never compelled by it entirely. They refuse to resist distractions, because they have animal bodies. Clothes are neither the cause nor the effect thereof. The rift between feminism and fashion arises from the instinct of the critical thinker–humans are minds and bodies–who must return to his or her origins to find a veritable herstory, so to speak, from which he or she can bear witness to the truths of symbolic fertility.

  27. Angelika
    Posted 2011-08-28 at 18:59 | Permalink

    wow, what a lovely badass-question and food-for-thought post

    you know i always read your blog/posts and admit i have a huge crush on you and your “attitude/blog” *iBlush

    fashion can be anything.
    applied psychology says “labelling is disabelling.”
    hence, i do not wish to be dis-abled (even as a feminist).

    methinks “life is what you make it” – whether “fashionably” or “non-fashionably” and sidenote : we as humans need/ed to “dress” ourselves somehow.

    i prefer to do so “fashionably” = read “know/learn what suits me” and on my-terms (lipstick included when i feel and like it)

    hence, dear feminists (or however you wish to label yourself) : learn from the past, live in the present. evolve and enjoy life.

    imho “style” is timeless and has nothing to do with mainstream or money or whatever.
    “nit-it, re-purpose-it, style-it, invent-it, imagine-yourself, feel-yourself-it” …

    Rachel, please rock-on ;)

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  1. By Lovely Links: 8/19/11 on 2011-08-19 at 16:46

    [...] always insightful Rabbit Write gives her two cents on the question: Is fashion feminist? Copyright © 2011 AlreadyPretty.com. All rights reserved. Cancel [...]

  2. [...] Is Fashion Feminist? – Rachel Rabbit White’s excellent response to my post on the same subject. The comments are also brilliant – Rachel is a model moderator, able to foster truly fantastic discussion among her erudite readers. [...]

  3. [...] Ever since this post, I’ve been questioning whether there is such a thing as feminist fashion, and whether I can demonstrate that fashion is indeed an indicator and an instigator of feminist ideals. Rachel Rabbit White inspired me to take that thought and run with it. UPDATE: Rachel wrote an ace response: Is Fashion Feminist? [...]