“Fashion is one of the strongest feminist tools women have, both historically and now.” – Caroline Rush
Fashion’s history with Feminism
Fashion’s relationship with feminism is a complicated one.
To some of us, the fashion industry creates unrealistic expectations and objectifies women. It also fails to represent the diversity of society, and is an overwhelmingly male dominated industry. -In fact, in 2019 women made up just 12.5% of CEOs of fashion companies in the fortune 1000.
The power of feminist fashion statements that remain memorable years later is undeniable. Fashion has historically been used as a vehicle for soft power, cultural diplomacy, for communication of identity.
Both congratulated and criticised, fashion has played an integral part in the fight for equality of the sexes. Mindless Mag’s Hanna explores 5 of the top feminist fashion statements throughout history.
1. Bloomers: The beginning of feminist fashion statements
Can you imagine wearing corsets, petticoats and floor length skirts every day for the rest of your life? No? Neither could Amelia Bloomer, editor of the first feminist newspaper and women’s rights advocate.
In the 1850s, Bloomer adopted an outfit consisting of a knee length dress and loose trousers gathered at the ankles- ground breaking at the time. Unfortunately, women who opted for the look which symbolised health and freedom… an inherent element in the demand of political equality, were met with harsh criticism in public.
The ridicule women received for their clothing choices was so high, that bloomers did not live on to become a staple in every woman’s wardrobe. The bloomer did however, become an early symbol both of women’s attempt at change, and of negative reactions to this — to the idea any woman seeking equal rights was challenging men and masculinity.
2. Women wear the trousers now
Whether you’re wearing a pair of jeans, dressed in your work trousers, or sat at home in pyjamas, chances are you gave little thought to the fact that this would have been impossible (and illegal) for women just a couple of decades ago.
The fight for women’s right to wear trousers continued on from the limited but significant effects of the bloomer. Thanks to a young designer in the 1910s who some of you might know by the name of Coco Chanel, sporty, practical styles were made popular. She also helped bring menswear staples into women’s wardrobes, including tailored jackets and trousers.
Though women wearing trousers was gradually on the rise, it wasn’t until WWII that the widespread acceptance of women in trousers came. As women took over the jobs, and uniforms left vacant by men fighting in the war, the issue of a female wearing trousers began to fade.
3. The Rise of Hemlines & Feminist Fashion: The Mini Skirt
Arguably one of the 20th century’s most iconic feminist fashion pieces, the mini skirt represented a new wave of freedom for women. Made available to the masses by designer Mary Quant, she explains, “I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes, in which you could move, in which you could run and jump.”
The miniskirt wasn’t a symbol of just physical freedom. This garment was a sign of the changing times, of the sexual liberation of women. The skirt coincided with the availability of the contraceptive pill, a rise in divorce rates and an increase in working women.
Of course, the miniskirt was met with criticism, particularly from older generations. However, the garment gave women, “a way to move past their traditional roles of wife and mother and instead shape a new identity for themselves.”
4. The Pussyhat: A new Feminist Fashion Icon
A recent addition to the iconic feminist statements made through fashion, the Pussyhat will undeniably be remembered. The pink knitted hat became an instant symbol of solidarity following its appearance at the Women’s March in Washington D.C in 2017.
Following the inauguration of Donald Trump, half a million people gathered, wearing the Pussycat, to protest the president’s policies towards women, Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and other minority groups.
“Providing a powerful visual statement, the pink pussyhat became the unifying symbol of women determined to express their anger and make their voice heard, calling for gender equality and social justice.”
What started out as a symbol of resistance was almost instantly adopted by the fashion industry. The V & A Museum now features the Pussyhat alongside some of the world’s most influential fashion pieces.
5. The ‘We should all be feminists’ T-shirt
Its only fitting that the 2017 collection created by the first female artistic director of Dior included the feminist slogan t-shirt that had everyone talking. The limited edition T-shirt with the famous words from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx Talk on feminism sold out instantly.
As often happens in fashion, the runway look, worn by Rihanna amongst a number of celebrities, was copied and cheaply reproduced around the globe. For Chiuri, this was a positive thing. The T-shirt’s purpose was to spread the message, so the more people buying and displaying the statement was welcomed by the designer. “It shows the message is more important than the label”.
As important as the garment, the significance of a woman achieving the highest regarded position for the first time in the Dior’s 73 year history is a triumph for women and fashion.
With more individuals like Chiuri, “We should all be feminists” can one day become, “We are all feminists”.