Fashion Vs Feminism: Can You Like Both? We Break It Down

fashion-vs-feminism

By Tatiana Kombo

Any stereotypical definition of what a feminist is goes directly against the liberating message and promise of feminism. That is why I believe that the intersection of feminism and fashion, though a somewhat uncomfortable topic, is of paramount importance. Fashion has become a way of expressing yourself and displaying your unique creativity. Does caring about our looks mean that we reject the idea of equality between genders and the advancement of women?

As a feminist who works in the fashion industry and has always cared about design aesthetics, some people see my persona as being oxymoronic, perhaps even hypocritical. Fashion and feminism tend to be seen as polar opposites, sometimes due to perceived notions shaped by erroneous misconceptions and stereotypes. In my opinion, the validity of my principles should not be judged by whether I am wearing heels or pumped-up kicks, nor by whether I own as many feminist books as I do issues of Vogue.

This may be seen as a reductive explanation, and it is in many ways. My point is simply the following: fashion and feminism must be seen as multidimensional instead of oppositional. Thankfully, society has begun to realize that by equating intellect and feminist theory with a rejection of the sartorial arts, we are hurting women’s cause. Why argue that a young woman who really enjoys clothes and accessories is anti-feminist because she freely complies with ideals of femininity that happen to be traditional? Would this type of anti-feminine rhetoric not be considered misogynistic, and, quite frankly, deeply ironic?

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I am not supposing that women ought to dress in conventionally feminine attires (my personal style involves quite a bit of menswear) nor am I suggesting that those who care about fashion are necessarily feminine, but I am indeed suggesting that as we fight to empower women and allow them the freedom to express themselves, no judgment should be placed on those who choose to value dress, just like none should be placed on those who do not place much importance on it.

Some certainly argue that fashion is merely a desire to assimilate through a process of imitation, a form of hegemonic oppression exerting an obligation to conform. Some view it as incorporating masculine standards for female beauty. Even sartorial differentiation might be seen as a superficial societal impulse to physically stand out.  I would suggest looking at fashion’s ambivalence and ambiguity, historical value and cultural diversity.

In fashion theorist Carol Tulloch’s words, style narratives can be “part of the process of self-telling, that is, to expound an aspect of autobiography of oneself through the clothing choices an individual makes.” How can self-expression be seen as a contradiction to feminist thought?

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In an essay entitled “The Professor Wore Prada”, Princeton University professor Elaine Showalter posed the following question: “If fashion is free speech, why do we feminists get stuck with such a pitifully small vocabulary?” Feminist criticism of traditional standards of feminine beauty in the 1960s and 1970s is well documented. The 1968 Miss America pageant, which was seen as the epitome of oppression and objectification, was a particularly noteworthy event during this movement.

The politicization of dress and presentation has since become central to cultural politics of women’s rights and feminist beliefs. I respect and understand these beliefs, but I feel very strongly about fashion and clothing being tools of resistance and change, as opposed to proof of mainstream and patriarchal assimilation. I would argue that at the heart of the feminist narrative, one finds not only the quest for equality with men, but also a desire for liberation from social constraints.

Of course, being a feminist means acknowledging that we live in a world where bodies and actions that are coded “female” or “feminine” are subjected to abuse and harassment. I simply believe that I can take a stance against inequality and fight for what I believe in while wearing my eyeliner and blazer.  Feminism does not and should not equate to joyless Puritanism. If you’re familiar with the “This is what a Feminist looks like” campaign, you’ll understand my point: diversity is what makes feminism stronger.

Let’s allow each other to proudly wear our convictions!

Tatiana-Kombo

Tatiana Kombo is a marketing, social media and management consultant. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, and passionate about sharing her thoughts on feminism and female empowerment. You can follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.

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