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.

18 Comments

  • I wanted to reply on tumblr, but had to be somewhere so forgot. This reminded me of an article I read a while back written on a popular ‘feminist’ website in which the author complained about women dressing like little girls. It bothered me how little response it got. It made me question why the author cared so much on how someone else chooses to dress. Why shouldn’t this person dress that kind of way if she wants t and likes it? Why is it so damn important for the author that those ladies dress in a more mature style?
    But yeah that quote of the designer was really misplaced. Assuming that his designs are anti-feminist is ridiculous. While this is not my cup of tea (it’s way to colourful for me), I would ttly see you wearing it and it also reminds me of Bubble! I hope the new season of AbFab doesn’t disappoint. I’m so excited. 😀

    • Oh yeah I remember that article! Around the same there was also this article on a tumblr blog that questioned why so many young women chose to tattoo birds on their bodies and then lengthily explained how the bird is a weak symbol and why do women chose to portray themselves as weak blah blah blah. Seriously, what? Firstly, why do these people try to fit women in these rigid templates while they are at the same time trying to fight those templates? (this was also a supposed feminist btw), secondly, you don’t know anything about those women and what those birds mean to them and seriously it’s all kinds of fucked up and I’ve been seeing this shit all over and I just can’t even…

      I think maybe Meadham was actually trying to say that a little girl look is antifeminist and he decided to fuck it up and play with it which would somehow make it antianitfeminist again? I don’t know what the dude was thinking tbh but I’m pretty sure it’s entirely misplaced indeed, especially considering the Courtney Love-ish women that opened the show. But whatever, this is something that’s been bothering me for some time and it’s actually a post that I started writing before that quote appeared but the quote fired me up again I guess :’D (and coffee)

      ME TOO I CAN’T WAIT

      • First off I want to say this response was a refreshing diversion from liberal arts school feminism that I’ve been bombarded with for the past 4 years. You recognize that people doing what the fuck they want despite what men think *is* feminist, even if that means dressing in a “girly” way. For too long I was self conscious about wearing things I thought looked good on me because I was worried what people would think, and worrying what people think ain’t really my style.
        About the Meadham Kirchoff collection – It’s gorgeous and inventive. And the cool thing about art is that no matter what the creator’s intention was, what really matters is how the viewer interprets the signifiers. MK might have done something radical that will have feminist consequences, regardless of what he says. To me it was like a contemporary update for Lolita: childish, but in a way that actually relates to my childhood as someone who grew up in the 90s. It’s more technological – mass produced infantile images combined with sexy carnival shoes that makes us confront uncomfortable things about the line between childhood and adulthood for women.

        tldr; i <3 it. swag.

  • I loved this post! I’m irresistibly drawn to ruffles, bows, frills, florals, and pretty pastels, and I’ve always felt a little guilty about it.
    It also causes some conflict for me, being genderqueer. People (understandably) have difficulty accepting that I’m not a cis female, dressed the way I am. I’m supposed to wear loose pants and button up shirts I guess. Not happening, I’d rather be happy in my tutu and keep being called ‘miss’ (ew).

    • Yay! It seems that whatever we do as women, that we’re constantly being judged and made feel guilty about, by both women and men in both the name of antipatriachy and patriarchy. Frills is something that’s more personal to me so I chose to write it from that perspective especially since I’ve come across a lot of antifrills ideas by a lot of feminists lately. I am so glad it resonates with others as well! FEAK YEAH FRILLS for all genders and nongenders and pets and objects and everything and all of it 😀

  • “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.”
    THIS SO MUCH.

    I agree with your blog entry so much and I hope that you don’t mind if I post this on both my Tumblrs — I think it’s a great read. Whether it be feminists, ogling men, etc, it’s always the labels that ruin everything. I think that was my biggest problem with people who were very radical: they refused to accept things that didn’t fit into their view. This is just me but for me, a feminist is embracing oneself and not letting labels like “being a hairy feminazi” affect them. Honestly, i find women who liked to bake pies, pop out children, and live in suburbia to be feminist as long as they are conscious of their decisions. I don’t think feminism should be grounded in “LET’S GO ALL ANTI-MALE” and I don’t think that was what feminism was every about. It was embracing ourselves for who we are, being aware of the male dominated society, and not giving a fuck and trying to change the world by not letting men dictate our choices. So why should we let other “feminists” dictate our choices? If we are happy in our frilly clothes, isn’t that embracing our freedom of choice? I don’t think I’m making much sense now lol.

    tl;dr: YOU GO ELINE <3

    • Yay I’m very happy you like it 😀

      Yes, my biggest pet peeve about feminism is that it claims to fight labels but unconsciously starts making labels themselves. Of course there’s many different kinds of feminism and one can choose to make their own definition that fits their standards but that is not my feminism.

      Post away on you tumblrs <3

  • Oh, there is so much I want to say about this topic! First, great post! Second, I fully agree re: the absurdity of mainstream feminism labeling itself a certain way on the basis of what it sees as right or wrong, strong or weak representations of woman’ness. I am sick and tired of reading about skinny women not being real women, of hearing how real feminists shouldn’t succumb to the framework of fashion, and all this type of nonsense. Third, it all comes down to choice, the individual woman’s right to make choices. The problems arise when we add the second party, be it a fellow female, the gross ogler across the street, or Steven Meisel (that Italian Vogue Curvy editorial still makes me sick). We are looked at, and others form their perceptions of us, and spread them around. The ownership of the individual woman’s choice requires constant reinforcement for it to stay our choice, and even then, someone will always misunderstand us. But oh well, that can’t be helped. All we have are our choices, and we should stick to them and encourage others to make their own choices, too. But is it always easy? No. It takes balls to wear 5-inch-heels in a small town where women who dress up are considered frivolous. It takes balls to have your own pink bra strap peek under your tank top after you just heard one of your best friends call someone who did the same “a whore”. And it takes balls to say out loud that you are a feminist in a town where the very word tends to mean a woman who probably wants to be a man, or in a country where a female presidential candidate talks about her need to succumb to her husband. Ugh, can you tell that I miss “Europe”, if there even is such a thing? It is crazy how the 60s-70s feminist wave originated here in the US, and how backward the attitudes here sometimes are.

    Sorry I’m just rambling on. I think I really needed to read your post today. Thank you for the fuel for the on-going fight that is small-town America!

  • You are so right in everything you have said that I just don’t know if there’s anything left I can add, but I felt the need of commenting, so I’ll try to say something remotely coherent.
    I see feminism as a way of getting rid of the traditional women stereotype, a way of liberating ourselves. So, how can we be free if forcing other girls to do what we want?
    What feminists have to fight against is society telling us what to do. Telling us to be pretty to get a boyfriend, to be popular. I can dress as “sexy” or “pretty” as I like and not want to have a boyfriend or be seeking for one!
    There are so many ideas of fashion as people who like it. Some just want to be “trendy” or “cool” (AKA following what’s popular), but others regard fashion as art, as a way of expressing feelings and thoughts, and I don’t think that view has nothing to do with superficiality.

    GREAT post and, ehrm, sorry if this ended up being an empty comment.

  • hello thank you for writing that
    i obviously didnt artuculate my intentions for this collcetion very well backstage after not having slept for days(and probly wont do much better here)
    what you wrote here in this post expressed what i was thinking much better than i may ever manage
    when i spoke of antifeminisim back stage,i was refering to antifeminist iconography,like beauti queens,show girls,pinup girls ect ect,women who in my mind have been almost ridiculed by traditional feminisim, i have been very interested by what clementine canabal has been doing with her grrrl virus tumblir,and word reclamation, so with this collection i was really trying to get at pointles stereo type relcamation,its very bacic really,my whole ethos is about self expression inspite of social expectations,to me its a very confrontational statement to choese to look like what i have just presented,it is not meant to be an apealing look to men,i wanted to make a show about girls ,to celebrate this girl who enjoys herself,enjoys dressing and enjoys being a girl,i want girls to be enpoweered by whatever means nesseary.
    x

    • Wow no thank you for this comment! I almost can’t believe you would come here but I am just going to assume that you are-

      It’s understandable that you couldn’t articulate your ideology behind your collection well after what must’ve been a long time of very hard work. Your quote makes a lot more sense now after this clarification – I was suspecting this idea behind it but was confused by the wording of the quote. But obviously despite my misinterpretation your goal shined through for me and many others (as I’ve seen on tumblr) which is a really beautiful thing (and makes me very very excited as this collection is pretty much everything I want to be/eat/sleep/dream).

      Thank you for this comment and your past collections!

  • Ah, I wish I had found this earlier! What a great post!!

    Forget tattooing riot grrrl tattoos on our foreheads, I want to tattoo THIS POST to mine! Well, that would be a little long, but this is my sentiments. I love this post so much. You have just expressed the things that I think about often, and I’ve been thinking about them more often recently as I’ve been going through a break up that sadly touched upon many of the issues presented in this post, not so much relating to feminism as relating to the male gaze and what is expected of me and my appearance. Or maybe that really is related to feminism, actually. If I dress in a “hyper-feminine” manner I am viewed on the one hand as pandering to men and on the other hand as being the complete antithesis of what men want. So which is it? Either way, in the end my worth seems to come down to whether or not I am appealing to men and by doing one thing I seem to fail BOTH group’s criteria. There’s no way to “win.” Although I will admit there is a strange comfort in being completely dismissed by both extremes.

    I also read the one tumblr post by the women who decried the birds, cupcakes, and rainbows, calling for women to be “more mature” in order to be taken more seriously by men. I am so tired of this attitude! I am sick of it because it is nearly always an attack mounted against women, when if you really look you will see that the same sort of “childish behavior” among men. From video games to cartoons to “jackass” competitions, men have just as many things that would be deemed “childish,” but these things are not coded in the same way as they are for women. Why does it suddenly become (somewhat) acceptable to proclaim a love of My Little Pony simply because of the “brony” movement?

    In reality both genders have prolonged their childhoods. If people are going to call it a problem then it is a societal problem, but too often the blame seems to be put on women with the criticism of femininity. Feminine things are seen as childish wiles that should be cast off upon adulthood, and while men are also encouraged to put down the video game controller a bit more, I just do not see the same sort of stigma attached to traditionally masculine childhood pastimes. Men are more readily allowed to bring these childhood hobbies and ideas into adulthood because these things are already seen as adult. Men’s pastimes evolve, women’s pastimes are to be left behind, and if you as a woman wish to “cling” to those pastimes then so help you because you are just doing what the patriarchy wants! While of course there are problems with traditional femininity, I think that the answer is to be aware of those problems and confront them, not bury our heads in the sand and discredit the entire idea of being feminine.

    Ahhh I should probably stop now; I feel that I’ve gone off the point you’re making. But it is making the wheels in my head turn. I’ll probably continue my train of thought in my own blog. Do you mind if I link this post to show what spurred my thoughts when I do? Thanks again for this great post!

    • UGH YES the part about to damn bronies and how suddenly watching cartoons with awesome ponies is acceptable? SUCH A GOOD POINT. And basically YES to all of this!

      • I mean don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the whole bronies thing. I probably wouldn’t have watched the new MLP series if it hadn’t been for the popularity they brought to it. But if they hadn’t latched onto it it would still be seen as girly and childish. Now it’s girly and childish in that subversive, ironic way, and that has a lot to do with it becoming “acceptable” among guys. Sure, maybe they can’t go and talk about their love of ponies on the job, but the internet is a big place and it’s doing pretty OK on here.

        I think that fashion also adds another dimension to this. When you dress in a childish or feminine manner, you are wearing your preferences on your sleeve quite literally, and it leaves you open to public attack. You don’t get the same sort of reaction from doing something in the privacy of your own home. It takes a lot of guts to buck the system in such a public space. Sometimes I also feel myself bending to pressure but I don’t want to do that, I really don’t, so I force myself past it and try to wear what I want, but it’s hard. It’s hard when you feel like you’re being attacked on all sides. Even if you understand something about societal pressure that doesn’t make you immune to its influences. You can’t just sit there and say “well now, I am being perceived as deviant by society and that it why people are making judgments of me,” and ignore them. We’re just not that kind of creature.

        Also maybe it’s just because I run in mostly female-dominated communities online, but most of the criticism seems to come from other women. The need to be “taken seriously,” not just as an individual but as a collective gender seems to be pretty strong. That’s why we get articles admonishing women for “regressing” to childish interests and dress. That’s why we get girls turning up their noses at each other and calling other girls “freaks” for dressing in a non-mainstream manner. That’s why we get threats, THREATS, of violence and sexual assault (I mean really, how many times have you heard people call lolita some pedo fetish pandering?). I mean, I get it. I do. We aren’t living in some kind of post-sexist utopia, just like we’re not in some kind of post-racial world. In fact I think it’s actually getting worse on many counts. But we accomplish nothing by attacking each other. We accomplish nothing by turning this into some kind of competition to be the “most mature,” to “gain respect” in the eyes of men. Because that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? Sorry, I think I’ll pass. Sure, I can’t ignore the male gaze, and it seems that every fashion decision I make bears the subtle reminder of the male gaze. But if I really have to choose one then I’ll choose to go against the male gaze, and I’ll do it in my own way, wearing the things that I like. If people don’t want to take me seriously because of that or call me “anti-feminist” then that’s their problem. I refuse to apologize for my decisions.

        Ah crap, I went on a tangent again. Whoops! Hah, I’ll get to making my own post on this and try to stop spamming your comments section.

        • Yes, I love it too! (And I love the new MLP for that matter.)

          Yeah, I sometimes think ‘oh maybe i shouldn’t be wearing this because I will get stared at blah blah’, I’m trying very hard to ignore that voice but there’s days when I do not add that fifth bow in my hair or whatnot just to be left alone a little less. You can’t entirely place yourself out of that zeitgeist but in trying to do so once in a while or every day, that can be a big deal. Not only for you, but for others who see you and think they can do the same or others who will be left little more open-minded regarding fashion as that.

          Internalised misogyny is awful.

          I would love to read that post though I don’t mind you taking up my comment section at all with this 😀

  • […] traditionally feminine things (most notably frills), something much needed and awesome but also something that still lives strong in today’s feminism, and something that points out internalized misogyny in my eyes. I really love this quote on tumblr […]

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