This article was originally published on a UK-based women’s lifestyle site called Six Hot Chicks, which has unfortunately shun down.
Girl Power Suits
Fashion and feminism are often seen as clashing concepts, a well-dressed lady would never wear both at the same time. But like all things ladylike the modern woman has no time for tired rules like that. We clash prints and proudly consider the impact that both fashion and feminism have on our lives.
With the resurgence of girl power we are confident in expressing ourselves with our clothing and overall style, but there is one fundamental question left to answer:
Is it better to dress however you’d like, societal perceptions be damned, or, as a modern feminist, should you dress more modestly, to further the cause of women being taken seriously?
At first the answer seems so simple. Of course we should be able to wear what we want! We are not responsible for how other people react to our personal style. No matter what we’re wearing, or not wearing, we deserve to be seen as humans and not as sexual objects. Each wave of feminism has fought for women’s bodily autonomy, and we continue to fight for our right to wear whatever the f*ck we want.
Women are strong, capable, creative, intelligent, independent and we have fantastic personal style. For the feminists that came before us, and for the challenges we face every day, we should wear whatever makes our hearts sing, and let the misogynist haters hate.
This must be the answer to that question, because all of this is true!
Reality Gets In
However, there is a harsher truth: we still live in a patriarchal system that judges us based on what we’re wearing. (And the harshest truth is that thin, able-bodied, cisgendered white women have the privilege to be judged on clothes and makeup alone – women of colour, women in larger bodies, trans, non-binary, disabled, and other marginalised women deal with intense judgement of their very existence as well as their clothing.)
No matter what we are saying with our personal style, it would be wrong to ignore that it speaks to other people too. People’s assessment of your appearance affects how they assess your capability, your opinions, your work. In a survey of 2,000 British workers 35 per cent of the women surveyed had been reprimanded at work for their appearance being “distracting” to their colleagues.
Is wearing something that might be deemed “distracting” or even “slutty” worth the negative judgement? And if you’re advocating for the equality of women and other marginalised groups, are you helping the cause by drawing attention to your body instead of your message?
We know there is nothing wrong with loving your body and expressing that with revealing clothes, but we also aware of the vexing, negative stereotype that goes with that kind of style.
And now we’re back to the beginning of what seemed like such a simple question: can we represent girl power while in a mini skirt? Perhaps if we zoom in we’ll find a more coherent answer. Instead of considering the global fashion system and the entire feminist movement, let’s consider how we practice our personal feminist views and our personal style.
In this article from the New York Times Style Magazine, Tavi Gevinson talks about changing the shape of her clothing to suit different occasions. She is aware of how she is perceived and, working within her personal style, she finds a way to harmonise her message and her outfit to the tone of the situation.
Tavi seems to have found a good compromise between honoring her feminist roots and showing off her incredible style. And this is perhaps the best answer we’ll find to our conundrum.