In Defense of Fashion: Why Style Isn’t an Obstruction to Feminism

Models make a statement on the Chanel SS15 runway. Credit: Lea Colombo

The world of fashion is ever increasingly valued in expressions of personality and the self. Particularly in the teen world, what you wear slots you into a cold-cut category; basic-bitch, hipster, indie, nerd, goth, the list goes on. But do these segments of the fashion industry help the feminist movement? Do they have a negative impact? Or should we all stop putting so much power in a label?

Fashion is, depending on your angle, an aid and an obstruction to feminism. Fashion has assisted feminism in coming, to an extent, into mainstream culture, via feminist campaigns and the celebration of women in fashion media. It’s common for these campaigns and publications of women to cause media storms and endless twitter debates, which have both positive and negative outcomes. More increasingly women are being represented as the beautiful, diverse, and powerful beings that we are.

We cannot, however, exclude the continuing sexism, sexualisation and criticism of women, particularly for the choices they make about their appearance much more so than men in the fashion sector. The fashion industry has also helped, unintentionally, to establish a stereotype of ‘the’ feminist appearance.

These implications of the fashion world set the scene for controversy within the female community and beyond, regarding questions such as ‘what does a good woman look like?’ and ‘what does a good feminist look like?’. This provides a platform within the topic of fashion to open discussions and debates, hopefully resulting in the spread of the conclusion that women and feminists should wear whatever makes them happy. However, this also sets a base for a critique of women and analysis of their fashion choices when in reality, clothes act as a limited representation of what lies beneath the surface.

However, it’s totally understandable why a link is created between fashion and feminism. After all, don’t feminists want to reject the box society is putting women in? Fashion is seen as such a crucial part of the way in which people, male and female, express themselves and identify with others they believe to share similar inner traits and beliefs.

Fashion often can act as an indicator of someone’s interests, or lifestyle, or beliefs. However, this is a limited view. Fashion is, to put it simply, just trends we humans follow to dress our bodies up. Unnecessary extras. Fashion’s increasingly key role, is to act as an enabler for people to accept and enjoy themselves and their bodies – feminists included.

A feminist, therefore, is free to wear what she wishes. If you chose to wear a bra, or not wear a bra. If you chose to wear a skirt or jeans. If you chose to wear a crop top or jumper. Either way, you are no more or less of a woman or a feminist. You’re not a better woman for exposing your boobs. You’re not a better feminist for refusing to wear make-up. If you want to fake tan, shave, wear hair extensions, get your nails done, or wear fancy knickers – then do!

If you want to let your hair grow free, shave your head and dye your eyebrows green – go for it! Rejecting fashion trends does not increase your levels of feminism and, importantly, following them doesn’t make you any more of a woman. Want to dress like a strong woman and feminist? Then wear what you want and work it.

So, yes, I am a feminist, but yes, I also like wearing a bralette, crop top and short-shorts sometimes (although I do draw the line at heels, shout out to all the masters of stiletto walking). My clothing choices do not reflect me at the deep level in which my feminism, and other beliefs and personality segments, sit. My clothing choices show how I like to dress to be comfortable or confident. I wear what I want, think what I want, and believe what I want, and I respect others for doing the same. Respecting yourself and others for fashion choices makes you a good woman and a good feminist.

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