Is Fashion Feminist?

Is Fashion Feminist?

There’s quite a bit of debate on whether modern day fashion, especially when it comes to women wearing revealing clothing, is empowering or degrading. No matter your current opinion there’s quite an interesting history when it comes to how feminism and fashion go hand in hand and in order to answer the question of whether modern day fashion is feminist we must understand the history of how fashion came to be what it is today.


19th century: From suffragettes to sluts

personally when I think of the definition of feminism in the classical sense one of the first things that comes to mind are the suffragettes. The women who in many cases were willing to give up their lives in order to improve the future of other women. But would these women be impressed with how far we’ve come or would they think our wardrobes have gone too far? Well, as well as getting us ladies the right to vote, they also got us the right to get out of those massive poofy dresses. Late 19th century women began playing sports such as tennis, hockey and even mountaineering all whilst wearing these 2 metre wide dresses. Although they were determined to not let this slow them down it did lead to a bit of a revolution of fashion. With the need for less restricting clothing on the rise, so we’re the hemlines, although not for everyday use yet, sportswear became acceptable largely thanks to tennis champion and incredible feminist Suzanne Lenglen including slightly shorter, thinner skirts and bloomers which eventually would lead to trousers.

 1920-30’s: the flapper girl and silver screen glamour 

Known for the glitz and glamour the roaring 20’s brought in a new age of fashion and simplicity that had not been seen before. With hemlines reaching an all time high of around the knee many women were celebrating this new found freedom by painting their knees a very cute and almost promiscuous ode to a body part that would have previously been scandalous. I personally believe thus era was one of the first where women began to dress more for themselves in retaliation to the patriarchy. With bobbed hair , boyish figures and loose fitting dresses being ‘all the rage’ women had more time (and space without being covered in miles of fabric) to dance and have fun. A few years later with the introduction of movies so came the introduction of glamour. Not only we’re women beginning to be heard but they were being seen by millions of people across the world, the Art Deco style of the 20s developed into intricately bejewelled gowns and we saw a slight lowering of the hemline in exchange for feminine body and silhouette, the ladies obviously knew that men would loose their minds with both legs and hips visible…


1940s: it’s a womens world

With the men off to war many women were thrown into the careers and work that had previously been reserved for the husbands, many of the women who weren’t helping as medics were not only raising the children left behind, but growing their own food, working and making clothing their from fabric rations. This lead to women simplifying their fashion and picked up a more masculine style more fitting with their now more masculine roles. The jewels of the 30s had been pried off in exchange for ration tokens.

1950s: it’s back to being a man’s world…

with the men returning traumatised from war and wanting their old jobs back women were encouraged to return to the home as a housewife, and with little to no laws to protect women from domestic violence they decided to adhere to this and keep try keep them happy. This lead to a more traditional and conservative style making a comeback, think red spotted swishy dresses and apple pies. Although many of the women didn’t want to let go of the more boyish styles of the 40s with trousers and pencil skirts with blazers becoming more popular for women with designer brands such as Chanel back on the rise as the want to support the economy and spend more money was popularised.

1960’s: help! my daughters in a mini skirt!

although many of the women who raised children through the war were starting to relax with a TV dinner after a hard day of doing anything their husbands told them too, the age of the teenager was being ushered in. With the daughters born into the war remembering the time there mothers did it all and more they weren’t going to settle for a life bound to the house and the grocery store. They were taking to the streets protesting and second wave feminism saw the extreme rise of hemlines and terrifying parents everywhere; the invention of the mini skirt. 

Not only were many women dressing ‘provocatively’ but they were now trying not to get pregnant out of wedlock in scandalous ways… taking birth control pills. GASP! yes this is ridiculous to be upset about now but 60 years ago if you were having sex without being married you were obviously a sex worker. So much so that unmarried women weren’t allowed to even access the pill until 6 years after married women were.

1970’s: Peace, Love, Protests and Prochoice.

The 70s is well known for its hippy fashion of slouchy bell bottoms, loose fitting linen dresses and denim, (plus a bunch of nudity but that’s more to blame on Woodstock) But what made people take such a U-turn from the mod/rocker style of the 60s? Basically war again. Especially in America, with a new generation of men being forced to fight, all the countries money was going towards funding war meaning many people were wearing cheaper materials such as denim and even DIYing their own outfits (you already know I’m talking about the tie dye) 

1980’s: the girlboss was born.

we all know the working girl huge shoulder pads and big hair of the 80s, but did you know this was partially thanks to the 1977 “woman's dress for success” book John T. Molloy, yes of course it was written by a man *eye roll* but quite unlike many of the outfits you may think of under the male gaze, the book suggested stripping away femininity in favour of a more masculine look of broad shoulders, boxy cuts and trousers, this new style quickly became popular with women in business who were sick of not being taken seriously at work and wanted the same respect as men received leading to many politicians such as Hillary Clinton repping the pantsuit as their signature look. Many big designers were also riding this wave such as Chanel popularising the style to many celebs and even royalty such as princess Dianna.

1990’s nirvana vs the spice girls:

For one of the first times in history women were owning their body’s in more than one way, with fashion and runways becoming front page on every magazine, many women began to dream of becoming a supermodel leading to the commodification of women’s bodies and although women were now able to make massive amounts of money from their bodies as well as becoming famous like idols such as Kate Moss, seeing Images of impossibly skinny girls in TV and media caused a massive amount of pressure on young women to fit into their size 0 skinny jeans and crop tops. In 1993 Marc Jacob’s challenged the status quo when he took inspiration from the cultural phenomenon of grunge, brought about by bands such as Nirvana who often found their clothes cheap at thrift stores, and had models walk the stage in beanies, flannels and lots and lots of layers. this however proved to be so controversial it ended up getting Marc Jacob’s fired. Apparently people weren’t happy with the grunge aesthetic such common and low class clothing such as doc martens walking the runway but we’re perfectly happy to push the heroin chic body type on women (being so thin it literally looked like you did heroine and were about to die)

bringing us to present day. I believe we’ve come a long way since the early 90s, the coveted Victoria’s Secret shows I personally once watched and dreamed of one day becoming a part of no matter the cost of my health have since been disbanded for failing to keep up with the times with their one “plus size” model looking much thinner than the average woman showing as a community we are starting to turn against brands that aren’t inclusive although we have kept a lot aspects from history in our fashion. You'd have a hard time going out and not seeing a pair of skinny jeans, padded blazer, or even a modern corset. But is this amalgamation of the decades woman's way of picking the tends we actually like and feel comfortable in or are we still just trying to fit in with society’s beauty standards? We may have come along way from the dangerous heroin chic era but with the Kardashian’s heavy on everyone’s minds (and instagrams) in 2021 alone more than 61,000 women went under the knife for a bigger butt, a 37% increase from the previous year and with an estimated 1 in 3000 women dying from the procedure it’s hard to say that we’ve gotten much further from starving ourselves in the 90s. We claim as feminists to be changing the inclusivity of the fashion world but can we really call ourselves feminists if were still letting so many women die for fashion?  


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