Fashion and the Feminist Agenda

Fashion and Feminism

By Jessica Lupton

We currently live in a feminist friendly society. Women can vote, work and, theoretically, live like their male counterparts. But does fashion follow suit? The ideal of beauty has seemingly embraced the idea of feminism, but it seems as if this is just to placate female consumers. Publications will embrace “real beauty” and curves for a few months and then revert back to the stereotypical blonde, starving, Russian orphan. Whilst we seem to be offered more choice than ever in terms of the way we dress is it really so?

On the surface it seems that fashion companies are embracing the feminist ideal. Karl Lagerfeld was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon with a feminist protest staged on the Chanel catwalk in 2014, when a parade of models marched with banners and megaphones on a recreated Parisian boulevard inside the Grand Palais.

Karl Lagerfeld Chanel 2014

Many editors hailed the show as ground-breaking and “the fashion industry’s feminist battle cry”. It was praised as a tribute to Coco Chanel’s trail blazing, feminist ideals and a mirror of Emma Watson’s highly publicised UN speech on Gender Equality.

But in 2015 – a time when many of us are comfortably wearing trousers – watching a parade of very skinny, very white young women in ridiculously priced outfits chanting irrelevant slogans does not feel very feminist at all. As expressed by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett of The Guardian, “The slogans (Ladies First, Feminist But Feminine, Boys Should Get Pregnant Too and Make Fashion Not War) are laughable. If you were to devise a talking feminist Barbie doll, this might be its inner script.”

Capitalist consumerism is inherently exploitative, which would inhibit fashion from having any real commitment to feminism. It is the fate of any counter-cultural movement to be adopted into popular culture. In the 90’s, grunge was cool. Right now feminism is cool.

The fashion industry is all about creating illusions, especially the one of choice. If fashion individualism really did exist, trends would not. If feminism really was a popular ideal, how could it co-exist with hooker heels, booty shorts and underwire? As Virginia Woolf famously observed, clothes have ‘more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us’. Would we want the ideal of a woman to be a white, ridiculously thin and unearthly beautiful and dressed in Chanel? Now that the idea of feminism has been hijacked by fashion we are once again forced into a box of what is considered beautiful and desirable.

Justine Picardie of Harper’s Bazaar wrote, “Feminism is not a fashion trend. Obviously. It’s also not a pop culture trend. It’s not any kind of trend. Feminism is the idea that, or, more accurately, the embrace of the fact that women of all races, backgrounds, and socioeconomic standings deserve the same rights and respect as everyone else. It’s the understanding that women deserve equal pay, respect, and simply, to be treated as human beings.” It feels as if women are word vomiting all over the place about feminism and their belief in feminist ideals. Saying and doing are two completely different things. Yes we all LOVE the idea of feminism (being able to vote and work is pretty cool), but living the ideals is something very different.

To the women of Sierra Leone stamping down a runway with ridiculous placards has nothing to do with upliftment. They have to deal with being sold into marriage, extreme poverty and teenage pregnancy. Read more about their plight, here.

Yes, you are correct that feminism gives you the right to choose to wear those designer shoes if you want to. But we need to be careful that having that choice doesn’t move us backwards in terms of freedom. Fashion is about making money not about the upliftment of women.

Jess Lupton is the Fashion Director for Gaschette Magazine (the sickest digital fashion editorial). She also has the uncanny ability to look good in absolutely everything. Jess is an advocate for local fashion and puts her money where her mouth is by only purchasing threads made by local designers. You can follow Jess’ amazing Instagram feed, at @JessGaschette.

Jessica Lupton

What to help the women of Sierra Leone? Check out One Girl Ball, A South African event aimed at educating women in need.