GEORGINA WONG questions how feminists dress in a world obsessed with the sexualisation of the body
Feminism’s place in fashion is questionable, and at times can be lost amongst the multiple trends that sexualize the female body.
Take the miniskirt for example, a trend that arose in the sixties. Although seen as a clothing item that has empowered women to own their bodies and to be proud of their sexuality, it can also be viewed as a mechanism through which men can define the female body. Most obviously, the miniskirt has contributed to the sexualisation of legs and the male visualization of the female body over recent decades.
This raises the question of whether fashion is a feminist tool. Fashion has always been seen as a tool of empowerment, allowing people to express themselves through clothing. But whether the trends dictated at Fashion Week (which inevitably leak down to all high-street stores and thus are propagated by both the media and society) project a feminist message or buy into the male sexualisation of the body is questionable.
Olivier Rousteing, creative designer of Balmain, is known for his bold and sensualized designs, and has previously claimed that he designs to empower women: “The women I dress are powerful, they are strong, they are women who are going to change the world.” Yet, as a male designer, is it inevitable that he will only view the female body with a masculine eye?
This begs the eternal question over whether tight fitting (and therefore sensual clothing) such as bodycon dresses are worn to give women a sense of empowerment or to attract the male eye. Most probably, it is a mixture of the two: most girls will not consciously dress to attract men, but they will follow the rules and trends dictated by society; these in turn promote clothing that sexualises the female body and also dictates what the ‘ideal female body’ is supposed to look like; this has coincided with the rise of the porn industry, the spread of social media, and the sexualisation of the music industry in recent years.
So where exactly is the feminist’s place in fashion? With the recent surge of interest in feminism over the past decade, there has been a notable shift in fashion trends. Leading the pack is Phoebe Philo, creative director at Celine, whose loosely-fitting designs and ‘ugly’ Birstenstock-style shoes are dictating a new style of dressing for women. Leandra Medine, the creator of the blog Man Repeller, is of the same philosophy that women should dress for themselves, even in a manner that can be ‘man-repelling.’ (Medine, who is happily married, is testament to the fact that women can have it all).
Personally, I dress for myself. I do not consciously dress to repel men, (once and for all, feminism does not equal man-hating), but I choose my clothes based on my own preferences rather than for the male gaze. On formal occasions, I will just as much choose to wear a jumpsuit or a tailored suit than a dress, and you can find me wearing clunky creepers, Birkenstocks, and dungarees on a daily basis. But sometimes, I will choose to wear a tight fitting bodycon dress. However, those occasions will be if and when it suits me, and not when I think society demands it of me.