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Why is Fashion so Important to Feminism?

When I was a child, I thought feminism just meant equal pay for men and women. A close male relative had mentioned he wasn’t a feminist because the movement was too ‘radical’ and aggressive, so I asked if he thought men and women should be paid the same amount for the same job. He said that if they produced the same quality of work then they would be. I was a child and had no other arguments, and that was the end of the conversation. Thankfully, we both now see beyond the simplicity of these ideas, but that was the first time I ever remember standing up for my right to be seen as a man’s equal.

What is feminism?

I have found myself surrounded by feminist ideology since that moment, whether in books, TV, music or social movements, such as #MeToo, and it has influenced many relationships and conversations. At its core, feminism is the belief that women deserve equal rights, opportunity and respect as men.

Historically this has not been the case, and from this advocacy of women's rights there is a misconception that feminists hate men. This isn’t true of course. We would just like to be considered worthy enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with men, rather than be in their shadows.

How does it exist within fashion?

Fashion has an interesting history with feminism. The Suffragette movement of the 20th Century allowed for some of the earliest examples of fashion-led female resistance against male dominance. Colour was used to signify core beliefs of the suffrage movement, a way of protesting that wasn’t too obvious. At the same time, Amelia Bloomer traded in her bone-crushing corset for a loose tunic over trousers, and a new fashion of comfort over conformity was born. Clothing could suddenly demonstrate a woman’s strength rather than her passivity, and a shift in society values caused a shift in fashion.

Today, using fashion as a feminist act is commonly seen. In the 2017 book-turned-movie Moxie, the protagonist started an anonymous zine that called out sexism in her school, taking inspiration from the '90s punk movement Riot Grrrls. Slowly, ideology and standards started to change. One student got sent home for wearing a vest and showing too much skin that could "Distract the boys," despite a male student wearing essentially the same thing. In retaliation, a large percentage of female students decided to wear vests too, showing how ridiculous and sexist the dress code was. The school couldn’t send them all home, so the dress code was changed.

“The word feminism is a really scary, weird word to people… I’d rather just say I’m for, you know, equality.” “But isn’t that what feminism is?” I say. “Equality?” Moxie- 2017

Vests are not the only clothing item that has been used as an act of rebellion; Recent years has seen the resurrection of the corset. Worn as day wear or dressed up for an evening on the town, women have taken an item of historic oppression and turned it into liberation.

However, standing up for equal rights to men is not the only form of feminism. A focus on the movement’s intersectionality means that we want to achieve equality between cultural groups within the sexes too.

Feminism is for everyone

In 2017, Nike saw that Muslim female athletes were struggling to excel in their sports because there were no sport-specific Hijabs. They would have to wear children’s ones, or tuck the ends of regular Hijabs into their sport bra. This caused an issue in their performance, and hindered their progress. In response, Nike decided to make one of the first sport hijabs, so the only thing standing in the way of an athlete was their ability. This highlighted the need for equality across different social groups within the female sex, and used developments in fashion to form a solution.

Innovation can also be seen in the world of the menstrual cycle. In my lifetime, the conversation about an inherently cisgender female experience of periods has significantly changed. I used to feel shame talking about that time of the month, and when I was 12 the only products available to me were tampons and pads. Now, after demanding our bodily functions be taken seriously, the game has changed. The commonly known Tampon Tax’ was scrapped in early 2021, and new, more sustainable products such as period underwear, menstrual cups and economically friendly pads have been created. Using fashion to create solutions to women’s problems, and increasing exposure on the topic by doing so, has made a feminine experience less taboo, which is one step closer to equality.

Feminism isn’t just about money

When I was a child, I thought feminism was about equal pay for men and women but now, I know it’s so much more. It’s about unapologetically taking back the space we’ve always been denied, demanding open communication about topics that have always been avoided, and reclaiming fashion that women have been forced to wear, or shamed for doing so. Fashion is integrated with feminism, and been a force of change by starting conversations about inclusivity and equality. There is still a long way to go, but we’re on the right path, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.


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