Monday, March 7, 2011

Feminist Fashion

Photo courtesy of Flickr user AquaKnitter under Creative Commons 3.0

No one would question New Zealand's understanding of the word feminism.  Women have already infiltrated positions of real power, proving their movement both moves and shakes. 

As the first country to grant women suffrage they lead the world in political equality.  There, women obtained the right to vote in 1893-- more than 20 years before American women.

In 1997 New Zealand saw their first woman Prime Minister; Jenny Shipley.  Two years later, Helen Clark became their second leader contributing to women's representation in government.

Technically belonging to the United Kingdom, New Zealand is claimed by the Queen, but Parliament runs the show. 

Possessing the equivalent of a woman President, the country both preaches and practices women's rights-- which is why I was surprised by a seemingly harmless article in New Zealand's publication The Bay of Plenty Times.

Fashion and style commentator Natalie Bridges made a few observations about this season's looks, which appear to have an agenda beyond just selling clothes.

"We're pleased to see designers turn back the clock and draw inspiration from the feminine 50s," said Bridges.
Trends cycle faster and faster these days and designers are attempting to package the retro items many youth hunt for in second hand stores and flea markets.  Though today's hipster culture attempts to reject globalization, the apathetic appearance and unnecessary layering seems to have an ironic transnational influence.  And capitalists in the worldwide fashion industry want young people back in the mall where they belong.

While investigating vintage appeal, Bridges attached an additional label to this recycling of ideas.  She suggests the items parading the catwalk this spring are also "feminist," which is debatable, to say the least.

"The new feminism of fashion - 50s-themed corsets, cable-knit cardigans, calf-grazing skirts and retro-look accessories - is just what we've been waiting for; fashion that truly embraces and enhances the female form," said Bridges.
Clothing promoting a positive body image could certainly qualify as feminist, yet it's problematic to assume feminism is synonymous with covering up.  Or the notoriously conservative 50's.  Or air-restricting, rib-crushing, breast-enhancing corsets

But more importantly, the appropriation of an ideology meant to liberate women from fixating on their appearances is utterly ridiculous-- especially when it's being used by a promoter of the beauty-industrial-complex.
"The best thing about the new feminism of fashion has to be how easy this trend is to wear this season," said Bridges.

Yes, super easy.  And adopting a new feminist attitude is as simple as putting on a new outfit. 

This isn't the first time "feminist fashion" has been discussed in pop culture.  Specifically, Vag Magazine suggested the incorporation of anchor imagery as empowering.

But back to Bridges' perspective. 

"Cardigans and knitted sweaters create a preppy, schoolgirl look, or invoke your inner femme fatale by pairing with embellished tops with intricate detailing, in an array of textures and softly seductive lace," said Bridges.

Because Ivy League book-learning or murdering your boyfriend are both super feminist.  And nothing conveys either of those personalities like bedazzling yourself or attempting to look like a doily and then covering up with a chunky pullover.

I applaud Bridges' effort to make fashion say something more than "I am a follower," but feminists come in all shapes and sizes.  Ignoring what is popular and wearing whatever you want is feminist.  Or embracing the latest threads while refusing to let them define you is feminist. 

It cannot be reduced to a costume because it's so much more than what you wear. 

There is no official uniform-- unless, of course, it's an adorable sailor suit.

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