Antifeminist frills

Ed Meadham Kirchoff about the SS12 collection of Meadham Kirchhoff: “Something that’s lovely and sweet and antifeminist -about taking all the things that little girls are taught are beautiful and pretty from and early age- and destroying and celebrating them at the same time” (via vogue.com)

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.)


(via egl)
Lolita is such a kick ass example of this. To a lot of people it is a creepy subculture in which young women dress as if they’re little children and intentionally create an image of weakness that reminds many of the stifling fashions of pre-feminist-revolution (and in between waves). Though there are many lolita’s who have a preference for this (aesthetic) “weak” image, it is everything but regressive to the women’s movement as so many feminist claim, not only about lolita but about vintage, femmes… or even fashion in general. According to this article (found here) and other random sources the extreme femininity or girlishness of lolita fashion is found very unattractive (to men) (in Japan), it is, in fact, largely about women and girls, in an aesthetic sense and in a community sense. But that’s not where (all) its subversion lies, it is the unwillingness to fit into social norms, to live in that perfect childhood dream or to wear decidedly nonmodern garb, to express that this current zeitgeist we’re all living them is not for them, it is escapism, it is a sense of community they feel with other lolita’s, etc. Every individual lolita must have a different reason for wearing what they wear, just as every other person has a different story for wearing what they chose to wear but lolita’s subversion lies in courageously pursuing their own taste regardless of the attraction it might beget them, regardless of other’s opinions.

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.

Kavan

Two days in a row I’d recently read Anna Kavan books, and two nights in a row I had wicked nightmares. First it was a feverish dream of brutally killing unreal-dummy people I felt a harsh alienation to, slicing open their neck, blood gushing all over, in a terribly disaffected mood. Then I was pregnant. That should be enough to freak me out, but upon realising there was a person growing inside of me I couldn’t stop envisioning super gore images of the baby ripping me open, blood streaming everywhere etc. etc.

The first story I read, in Julia and the Bazooka, related a woman just released from a hospital, going out, standing in the traffic seemingly intentional and describing the subsequent hit with a car and blood gushing down the streets and drowning people with it. Near the end of this gruesome vision she writes: “Since the universe only exists in my mind, I must have created the place, loathsome, foul as it is.” I knew right then it was love. What could I do but almost obsessively read more?

Sleep Has His House is up to now my favourite, an autobiographical book told in a ‘night-time language, a dialect we have all spoken during our childhood’ with fiercely strong imagery and crazy symbolism which is occasionally too obscure to grasp thoroughly but by which the reader can easily fill in the gaps in his own way, creating his own meaning and symbolism mixed with the writer’s. It tells the story of Kavan’s increasing withdrawal from the world due to a lack of warm human contact, until she’s left in the darkness that she created.

Kavan sometimes writes poetically but always precise, cold and detached which regardless make her stories relatable in a frightening way to those experienced in those certain moods. And I’m just kinda in love.

Or something like this may happen while you are out for a walk in the country: you feel yourself quite alone for an hour you haven’t seen one living creature, not even a dog or a horse in a field, you seem to be miles from anywhere. And then in this solitude, out of the bushes at the side of the road, a sly face looks out at you, the face of an old man with a beard and a big hat such as is seldom worn these days. Just for a second he looks out at you. It’s really surprising to meet anyone in such a lonely place; but instead of saying Good day, he draws back, disappears into the wood, and you don’t see him again. What is it makes you feel this this old man has been watching you, perhaps following you for some time, hidden among the trees: that he has perhaps been sent to that out-of-the-way spot on purpose to see and report afterwards which track you are following, whether you turn to the right or the left at the crossroads at the foot of the hill?
Nobody knows the exact significance of those feelings which all of us have experienced: but that they bear some relation to our close surveillance by the authorities appears certain. if only it were possible to find out something definite. One feels under constant observation. One has the conviction that every trifling act is noted and set down either against one or in one’s favour. And at the same time one hasn’t the faintest clue to the standards by which one is being judged. How is it possible to avoid anxiety and indecision when a move of any kind involves the whole of one’s future status.

From Sleep Has His House

You imagined, you invented.

Shoes: neosens
Socks: asos.com
Everything else: second hand

I’m currently reading Anaïs Nin’s journals and after being a bit sceptic at first, I am becoming increasingly intrigued by Nin. Her writing sometimes seemed overly embellished (though that’s not the right word, maybe ‘pretty’ is?) and occasionally false to me, but after fifty odd pages I started realising that’s exactly what typifies Anaïs Nin’s character, she wants to please so much. She does it by sensuous movements, luscious perfumes and beautiful dresses, gloves, hats, shoes… She seduces and so do her words. Her writing style echoes her person, or rather the persona she has created, which cracks sometimes and shows her unbelievable emotional sensitivity and eventually her own insecurities.

In the book, she meets June Miller who comes up with elaborate lies about everything, Anaïs gets intrigued first by her beauty then why June lies so much. She realises that June lies to veil her extreme sensitivity, she does it because she lives in her own dreams. They bond. They even seem in love, but it’s not a sexual love (though it is sensual) it’s a womanly admiring love (my favourite), an extremely sensitive love. Every touch, a little movement at the corner of their mouth, all little winces they seem to grasp immediately of another. They laugh with Henry Miller’s emotional insensitivity. Reading this, it makes me feel obtuse for not being so sensitive to people’s emotional expression, and ultimately sad for not being like them. It sounds so beautiful. I’m only 100 pages in.

But I guess what makes attracts me so much to Anaïs is that her dream-like state mirrors my own, and this sentiment:

I have always been tormented by the image of multiplicity of selves. Some days I call it richness, and other days I see it as a disease, a proliferation as dangerous as cancer. My first concept about people around me was that all of them were coordinated into a WHOLE, whereas I was made up of a multitude of selves, of fragments.

Regarding clothing I definitely feel the same, I’m unsure whether I feel the same for my personality as well but maybe my doubting of that same sentiment might mean that I maybe I do, but maybe I don’t. Maybe this maybying signifies exactly that I do. Maybe it doesn’t. But it definitely intrigues me.

Anyway, I unconsciously matched my outfit with the book cover (yellow, pink).