Feminism and Fashion
Anyone who knows me knows I love clothes. I view fashion, particularly haute couture, as art. I view it as a cultural phenomenon, have you ever heard of the hemline index of economic success? It’s a thing. We are all in a muddle right now and hemlines are all over the shop like they were at a point in the seventies when skirts were midi mini and maxi.
I have a Joint Honours degree in creative writing and contemporary culture (or cultural studies) which meant I wrote essays on cultural products including one not very highly marked one that suggested female punk fashion was post-feminist in nature. Part of my obsession with films is to do with costumes from Jean Paul Gaultier’s in The Fifth Element to Hitchcock blondes in grey. I love the overblown silly language of fashion as a child I wanted to make up crayon colour names as an adult I wish someone would pay me to do it for lipstick.
I make my own clothes I can sew and design my own patterns and regularly customise clothes I have volunteered in various charity shops and know a lot about fabric content and properties about cuts and construction of garments and which era something is from or emulated or that polka dot dress is probably the eighties rehash of a fifties style. Full disclosure I rock a lot of polka dots it is probably the print I am most known to wear has been since I fell in love with fifties vintage skirt as a teenager I think it’s the cutest thing and comes in so many varieties. I am currently wearing a navy dress with irregular paint splot like dots and a lilac handknitted capelet.
I think clothes should be something everyone should be free to enjoy or not if you have no interest and want to dress in something simple and unflashy go ahead. I am quite keen to try and find ways to maintain my habit in a sustainable way I’m not perfect but I like a lot of handmade (my mother’s dress making skills far outstrip mine and she likes making me dresses) vintage or just charity shop stuff. I also believe a lot of vintage clothes are better and often UK made give me an 80’s C&A shirt over a Primark one any day, take a look at the seams and you may see what I mean.
However one of the biggest issues with being a feminist and enjoying clothes is fashion in general and the policing of women’s bodies it entails. I try not to do this I will say ‘’I wish she had a coat’’ if it is REALLY cold and she’s in hot pants and crop top, I will laugh at the garment (not the body) if I think it is terrible but as long as a woman is warm enough and can do what she needs to do while wearing said outfit I think go ahead. I find ‘’you can’t wear that at your size/shape/etc’’ a really stupid and untrue comment. I am finding myself increasingly drawn towards covering up because I hope to avoid attention. This has not succeeded I got honked and leered at today while wearing a below knee skirt and a jacket that was done all the way up I don’t expect anyone else to and sometimes I like getting my cleavage or my legs out. That’s another matter for another time.
Women in fashion adverts often appear broken, expressionless, in bits, with their mouth open, a vacant gaze. This is just one layer of its problematic nature, now we get to how the models look and what size they are. Models sometimes are thin naturally and are absolutely fine, this is why underage models are quite popular, some things are being done about this certain fashion shows have age limits for example.
It is not the thinness of the models itself that is the issue it is that the only acceptable bodies to be shown on billboards must be thin, very tall and more often than not white. There are many more things I could go on about here but you know most of it already, eating disorders among models, disgusting behaviour towards models from photographers like Terry Richardson (you do not want to know more than these two words ‘’tampon’’ and ‘’tea’’) to people deciding a little blacking up is exactly what that blonde model needs. I am not joking people keep doing this it is grim, see some discussion here. Liking fashion and being a feminist is a seriously hard task and what I wanted this post to be about is all the wonderful things that are out there.
I would say that things are getting a little better in terms of diversity and the popularity of fashion blogs has made some retailers take notice. This lovely woman got her own swimwear line out of it. This happened because she posted this, don’t read the comments on that one.
This is Jillian Mercado a very popular blogger modelling for diesel. She looks beautiful and has an attractive man cosying up to her chair one thing you frequently see is that disabled are de-sexualised. They also recent ran this campaign with androgynous and plus size models.
I would add stop reading any magazine that makes you groan, the only mainstream fashion mag I regularly buy is Elle it has more focus on art and clothes rather than stupid sex tips. Company is also pretty good and features ordinary women wearing clothes which I think more mags should do this it is probably cheaper for them and shows what clothes look on a range of heights and sizes and shapes. This might be a bit embarrassing to admit but I read my mother’s Prima magazines and she has made me dozens of clothes with their free patterns which are some of the best simple trend driven patterns I have ever seen or used.
The Guardian does fairly well of course with various fashion writers really just writing well about enjoying clothes and makeup including Lauren Laverne who recently fused feminism and fashion in this article. Good try Lauren but I will not swayed into liking long culottes! They also have all ages fashion shoots regularly.
Plus size models are reaching a level of popularity I did not think I would ever see. Before this debate starts up in this country when you talk about catwalk modelling women below a size ten are considered ‘’straight size’’ and women over twelve are considered ‘’plus size’’ I am not very happy about this categorisation to be honest but that is what the industry standard is.
There is a problem with plus sized models in fashion shoots they are very often naked or just with underwear on and accessories. There are several reasons for this one the haute couture and big labels simply do not make clothes in their size and there is a long history of festishing bigger women every time I see there has been a shoot with plus sized models in a big magazine and they have clothes on I am pleased. Here is the lovely Robyn Lawley and a little discussion around the issues that plus size models face. It also makes mention of Crystal Renn who has defied convention by getting healthy after getting treatment for an eating disorder and becoming famous first as a ‘’plus size’’ model and then managing to maintain a career between the categories she is arguably the most famous plus size model.
Also I love women who take the piss in style. Abercrombie and Fitch has serious problems I have never had any desire to buy their clothes but if I would I’d boycott them. Some of the issues with them are highlighted here. Their policy of refusing to stock XL sizes in women’s clothing got one great response from a plus size fashion blogger.
Another company which is in that category is American apparel while their manufacturing process is to be applauded their company head has been involved in some pretty serious allegations, their imagery is regularly over sexualised. While I was pleased they used a beautiful much older model recently I don’t go out of my way to shop there. They held a rather poorly worded call out for ‘’bootyful’’ etc models on their website here is the woman who actually won the contest but they rejected her entry. She looks lovely and it is hilarious.
I read a few plus size blogs regularly one of my favourites is this one. She was featured in the Guardian she also includes tutorials for making clothes and accessories that are very thorough.
I love old fashion photography and the women are usually a bit different and often older than they are today. I went to retrospective of Norman Parkinson’s work and think his shots are gorgeous.
I actually like going into vintage shops even the ones that are dusty and smell a bit weird. I like scouring racks upon racks of clothes that are all mismatched and different sizes and there is only one of everything. I like going shopping mostly on my own and I have the time and energy to poke about in charity shops and car boots but I understand not everyone does.
We are quite lucky in Manchester that we have places like Afflecks palace and dozens of quite high end vintage shops (the kind that are not dusty and don’t pong) Manchester is known for its love of vintage style. I would also add this website: http://www.rokit.co.uk/ makes it easy and is the one place I will buy vintage from online as they give garment dimensions and detailed descriptions, they also remake new items from old.
Some advice about buying vintage:
- Don’t think it will be perfect there will be wear.
- Always wash it, work out whether a stain is a mark or a stain or if you love it so much you would consider dying it. I often dye things in the washing machine with the dylon washing machine stuff but watch out if you don’t own yours it can stain. I have even dyed a pair of shoes.
- Consider if you have the skills to fix it if something is missing or broken buttons are easy zips are much less so.
- Always change cheap buttons. I have jars and jars of vintage buttons inherited from my family so it is easy for me it makes something look so much more expensive.
- If you want unworn vintage look for the words ‘’dead stock’’ which means it was never sold has sat in a warehouse for twenty or thirty years and will have tags on.
When buying new look for made in the UK it will most likely mean the person who made it was paid a fair wage in a safe environment this may sometimes cost more but some affordable brands like Pink Clove: a newish ‘’plus size’’ brand -as in over a uk 16- yes the plus size thing doesn’t make sense, in clothing shops quite a few stop at 16 so beyond that becomes plus and this company using traditional textiles in modern ways have made in the UK labels too. Marks and Spencers have been voted the most ethical brand on the high street recently.
There are very well regarded brands like people tree and others but I wanted to focus on places and ways of enjoying fashion that were affordable. There are a few high end designers who make clothes for all different sizes and shapes: Jean Paul Gaultier , Vivienne Westwood and the late great much missed Alexander Mcqueen.
Fashion will always be a difficult area but I like to think things are getting better and one day we will all feel able to enjoy our bodies in clothes and out.