Press "Enter" to skip to content

Feminist Fashionistas

Graphic by Malinda Groening

At one point in her lifetime, every woman has asked herself, "What should I wear today?" The answer to this question is influenced by a number of things, especially contemporary feminist thought, body types and individual style.

Fashion has been a contentious topic among feminists who feel that the male-dominated fashion industry is forcing women into a mold that can't possibly be filled. Women keep buying though, maybe because today's trend seems to be multiple options for every shape, size and style; no longer are women limited to single trends like hoop skirts and sweater sets.

"I think the fashion industry exploits women just in general; they create a archetype that's unattainable," said senior Jenn Leier.

Some have argued that women participate in this exploitation by participating in fashion trends. "Feminist writers have consistently argued that a woman's attempt to cultivate her appearance makes her a dupe of fashion, the plaything of men and thus a collaborator in her own oppression," Linda Scott wrote in the introduction to Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism.

Scott released her book in January, attempting to tackle the "antibeauty ideology" that she says has dominated feminist thinking about personal appearance and fashion since the beginning of the feminist movement 150 years ago.

"Fashion is fluid and it is shifted, transformed and influenced by the cultural, political, social, and economic. In the case of feminism many women felt empowered to change their fashion in resistance," said junior Carolina Salazar.

Scott believes that the call for a more "natural," plain appearance among feminists began at the beginning of the movement with the founding group members Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Scott argues that the group's roots in an upper-class Puritan tradition influenced their attitudes toward dress, and that the influence of the Puritans has carried on through the years.

In more recent years, fashion has come to the forefront of feminist arguments; Scott believes that there is a "Third Wave" of feminism with different notions about fashion and how to express themselves through it.

"Many women felt empowered to change their fashion in resistance. I do however feel that this is very specific to the Americas in the 20th and 21st century. It is important to recognize that not everyone has the privilege of changing their fashion," said Salazar.

Last month, designers at Milan Fashion Week opted not to follow a strict trend across the runways, but to offer women a number of different options depending on their tastes. "It's all a game with different rules every season," said Stefano Gabbana during a Fashion Week interview. "What counts is to make women look and feel great," said Gabbana's design partner Domenico Dolce.

This goal is echoed by designer Chloe Dao, who recently won the second season of Project Runway, a reality TV show that tests three finalists at Fashion Week. Her line of women's clothing beat her two male opponents because of her ability to construct apparel for real women's bodies.

In the more affordable, real-world fashion world, women's clothing stores are picking up on the options trend. H&M, which just opened in San Francisco, carries styles appealing to nearly all current fashion trends, from casual to dressy and conservative to punky, offering many different ways for women to express their individual styles. GAP recently introduced their "Jeans for every fit" campaign, boasting more than 15 different cuts and styles for every shape, such as Long & Lean, Curvy Flare and Boy Cut.

As women's options expand, fashion is more than just a way to cover up; it is a means for social and political expression. "I express my politics and emotions through my fashion. But I do not feel that one can understand a person's political views based solely on their fashion," said Salazar. "Fashion and identity coexist but they are not always directly linked."

Many women have struggled with maintaining their femininity while pushing for equality. The options available today allow women to embrace their identities.

"I think my style expresses how I feel on a particular day; maybe punky, sexy, conservative, rebellious, boy-ish, girl-ish, shy, playful…you name it," said junior Luba Reznikova.