The girly and hyper feminine, soft aesthetic is something I obviously have undying love for as my years of fashion exploits have taught me, but how do I combine that with my feminism? It is something I have really struggled with and only recently settled with one and only answer: I cannot infantilize and over-sexualise myself, the only one responsible for viewing my fashion choices as such is the one doing the ogling and choosing to view it as that. Can I repeat and bold this? It took me such a long while to realise it and I am now currently wallowing in my love for pigtails and overly short skirts no matter how much of my underwear passerby will see, because I won’t allow myself to care. Not any more.
I don’t know if I’m going to make sense here, but I’m going to try.
The butch Tank Girl-ish chick wearing combat boots to kick in some guy’s balls if there’s even just a rude stare and some baggy clothing to mask any kind of traditional sex appeal is the well known stereotype of a feminist, preferably hairy, loud and angry. Fashion and feminism seem contradictive in that way: in simple terms fashion is by definition a way to adorn your body and consequently also to attract, feminism in regards to fashion on the other hand fights the rigid rules (of attraction) that fashion seems to constrict us to. This is the stereotype and it is completely misinformed. Firstly, does adorning yourself necessarily mean attracting others, on that note is adorning yourself wrong, is attracting others somehow objectifying yourself, by which I mean, does it mean you hide your true self? Is there such a thing as a ‘true self’ and can it be expressed sartorially? Is wearing baggy clothing and combat boots really some kind of non-fashion? Etc.
Fashion has always been a signifier of one’s class and wealth but now that retailers have dissipated that gap somewhat and the majority of people (lowest and highest class excluded) can be seen wearing H&M (mixed with something or other) what does that mean now? What is fashion a signifier of, has it become superfluous? One takes a quick glance on the streets to know that what you wear is still of importance. One puts on a polo with an alligator to align oneself with snobs (or a less derogatory name I can’t quite think of), the other wears fishnet stockings and combat boots with heavy eyeliner and align with goths. Etc. etc. Most people have an inherent urge to group together and fashion is a big signifier of that to say the least. So what does that mean for feminists?
For a large group (read: the most visible, the most stereotyped) of feminists it has meant to refrain from needless embellishments in one’s dress, not to adorn yourself, not to attract men. Because dress of middle class women used to physically constrain, and consequentially also mentally stifle. (No need to say that feminism has for a long time been a household name only for those women of the middle class and above. An aside question: is that why non-restrictive garments were a signifier of women’s freedom? Lower class women wore looser fitting clothing due to work circumstances, and they were not included in the first few waves of feminism. What does that mean now? Does the insistence of wearing non-frilly non-restrictive garments and forcing that ideology upon everyone show an underlying very old fashioned feminism?) So, what if fashion isn’t to attract men? (Do we have to shape our visual identities continually thinking about it in relation to men?) A revolutionary idea, I’m sure.
But whether you like it or not: you get judged on a day to day basis on how you look, not on what ideology you have in your beautifully adorned head, and fashion is a pretty big element in that. White cis-gendered straight people are the norm and they have a uniform: largely it consists of jeans and a t-shirt in neutral colours. How many of the population fit in that tiny little space? A lot of people don’t even fit this template even if they wear its uniform. People who do not look this part often get scolded and beaten; they get treated inhumane. So to step outside of the norm is a small and sometimes big act of subversion. (Can I just note I am not talking about myself here? More on that sometime or other.)
When feminists claim that wearing a frilly dress is conforming to a patriarchal beauty standard and that one hurts the women’s movement by acting/being ‘girly’ then these feminists are setting an equally suffocating standard that exclude so many of us. Besides, by that logic isn’t wearing the uniform of a white, straight cis-gendered person equally hurting the women’s movement? By that logic, shouldn’t there be a feminist uniform that subverts that rigid template? Should we dye our leg and armpit hair a bright colour to show our feminist side, should we tattoo a riot grrrl lyric on our forehead? What makes a feminist to me (in the context of fashion) is doing what you want to do, encouraging others to do the same, unlearning our own misogyny together and thinking critically; this mindset goes well beyond fashion, outfits are can be(come) an outer signifier of one’s ideologies.
Feminism in regards to fashion is dressing for yourself, it is finding your own definition of feminism, your own fashion, your own beauty or even reveling in your ugliness; it’s doing what you damn well want and try not to get beaten down by outwards negative forces that tell you to conform to their norm. It is lolita, it is Tank Girl, it is you and me. It’s about accepting ourselves, accepting others, encouraging others to do the same, and above all listen to each other and learn from it..
I think this is stream of thoughts is also very appropriate for Meadham Kirchhoff’s latest collection. The designers created a persona that, to me (I may be projecting here but who cares), is a full-grown woman who choses this bright, playful child-like look. It reminds us of little girls but this persona makes this look her own. The forcefulness she reclaims the childish look with is kind of creepy that way, and it’s a little frightening to see all those bold colours and patterns come together in an explosion of the (fashion) senses. I’m going to damn well ignore Mr. Meadham, make myself a dress out of fluff and call it my own personal feminist uniform.