Ok, I know, I’ve ranted about this before. But this blog post on Confessions of a Fashion Editor got me thinking about it all over again, and an extended comment became an essay and veered off in an entirely unexpected direction… So I thought perhaps turning it into a blog post might be a better option. Here we go again!
So: Can a fashionista be a feminist?
The crux of this debate seems to lie in the idea that women wear clothes for the sake of attracting men, thereby employing the classic “wiles” technique to get what they want. It suggests that to take an interest in what you’re wearing is traditionally feminine and therefore anti-femininst, that to be traditionally feminine somehow undermines your human-ness, that femininity, indeed is a lesser trait than masculinity. In short, the entire notion of feminism in this model is flawed, in that it is confirms the idea that femininity is the lesser humanity.
As I commented on the post itself, I subscribe to a different brand of feminism. For me, feminism is about celebrating womanhood, making choices to live my life in the way that makes me happiest and not being judged or short-changed by either sex for making those choices. If my choices include fashion, crafting, motherhood – any of the traits deemed traditionally feminine, this should not detract from the fact that I have the power to choose them!
In case you hadn’t grasped the notion from the above paragraph, my brand of feminism is about CHOICE. It is about realising the power held within some traditionally feminine roles. And increasingly, I see the same brand championed by women everywhere.
Fashion vs creativity
I think fashion blogging, in particular daily outfit blogging, has started to break down the suggestion that women dress to impress men already. Afterall, the majority of both bloggers and blog readers in this arena are individual, independent women with their own take on fashion and style that demonstrates creativity and individuality. These are the women I dress to impress on a daily basis. And these, in my opinion, are the traits that the fashion industry wishes to curtail.
Historically speaking, haute couture began to lose some of its power in the late 1940s, when a post-war Europe, determined to regain a sense of feminine style lost to munitions factories and the Women’s Land Army, saw Dior’s 1947 New Look and decided that they wanted a piece of it. Yes, a few department stores had rights to recreate the designs, but Britain, at least, was still entrenched in clothes rationing, and few women across Europe had the funds for new clothes. The achieve-anything attitude of the previous eight years had taught women that nothing was out of their reach. Vogue patterns, which had been available since 1899 and seen their first surge of success during World War 1, were eagerly snatched up by those desperate to recreate the New Look on a budget. Creativity and individuality were the buzzwords of the day – how else were we to create that perfect dress within the constraints of the limited fabrics and notions available?
Feminism vs creativity
Sewing and crafting have always been women’s work, and creativity is often linked to femininity. In stifling our femininity over the last 30 years, we have perpetuated a marked decline in those who know how to cut patterns or tailor dresses, or even simply embellish or alter existing clothing. The high street has flourished, forcing tailors out of business and bringing us identikit outfits in every size and colour, but if we want something individual and of a decent quality and fit, our only options are boutique or haute couture. High fashion and the high street alike profit from our quashed femininity, as they provide us with something we can no longer provide for ourselves.
Which is why we’re seeing the current thriving interest in handicrafts from women who are recognising the old ways as their means to independence. Dressmaking used to give us a means of expression and an outlet for our creativity, alongside the means to impress our girlfriends while sticking two fingers up at the fashion houses. When post-70s bra-burning feminism embraced the 80s power-dressing, closely followed by the rise of 90s androgyny, we shook off the shackles of enforced feminine crafts, but with it lost some of their attached empowerment. We’re only now rerealising how empowering femininity can be.
I am aware that there are uncountable other reasons why fashion is an anti-feminist industry, but from where my vintage heels are standing, it is impossible to deny that femininity, creativity and fashion are interlinked.