Fashion and Feminism


I have been meaning to write this blog for a while now but the topic felt overwhelming and wide for me to pen down. I had googled these 2 words “feminism and fashion” together while researching this topic and most of the articles were of the opinion that fashion and feminism do not necessarily go hand in hand. The central thought being that the fashion industry objectifies women. However, I am approaching this topic from a different angle where I see how fashion and feminism are interrelated imperceptibly. For me fashion is personal expression of style and creativity. I feel any restriction on personal style is a violation of personal freedom.  Therefore, forming a dress code for any gender through compulsion (rules/codes ) or indoctrination (by cultural influence/accepted by society et al)  is a perpetuation of gender inequality.

It is a fact that there are restrictions on women’s clothing in different parts of the world either explicitly enforced by the state or subtly enforced by society. My tryst with repression through fashion diktats began when I relocated to a new city known for its conservatism. Initially these experiences made me resentful but it made me ponder why it is important for the society to control what is appropriate for a woman to wear.  Let us hear some of the phrases women have to hear about their choice of attire. I wonder if men hear these phrases about their attire –

“Do not wear revealing clothes, it makes you look cheap/vulgar”

I have boobs like 3.5 billion other people on this earth and regular human body parts like 7 billion people and I cannot help it if it appears vulgar to someone.

“Be safe while going out, do not wear tight/short/low neck clothes”

You read newspapers, don’t you? If my clothes give permission to someone to abuse me then women in burqas, nuns and infants will not be getting raped. Do not ask me to wear safe clothes because you failed to create an equal society.

“Ask her not wear red lipstick as she goes home late after work”. On asking why, you are told it’s not safe to wear red lipstick as it can attract unwanted attention. True story, by the way.

“Women should dress according to their age.”

There is not a single day when I do not hear this from men and women. I am still trying to think of ways to express my disagreement politely to my clients. I believe that one should dress according to what they feel and not on which decade they were born in. Plus, I don’t quite hear this statement about men. Are we saying that older women should not be fashionable or are we saying that paying attention to clothes and style does not befit an older woman and she should be occupied with worthier things at her age?

Of course, you are told that these comments come from a place of “good intentions.” I know people will say that I am antagonistic feminist who sees a cause for feminism in anything and everything. It is just that patriarchy is so prevalent and internalised that is often impossible to perceive it. It is not just men but also women who are complicit in repressing women by telling them how they should look, feel and behave. I am sure we have heard the above comments from women at least once in our lifetimes.

Asserting what a woman should and shouldn’t wear is not confined to any country but is a global phenomenon. I was speaking to my friend in France about this topic and she told me of similar conversations she has had with men who were of the opinion that bright red lipstick was a bit too loud and attractive. This is quite surprising given that a bold red lip is a signature French look. Working in the fashion sector in USA, I often get to hear  “my husband/my friends/my daughter did not like my clothes so I changed my mind.” I am baffled because I expect women to be more confident about their choices and sad because it is 2017 and women are still controlled by others’ opinion despite their economic/social freedom. One may argue that choice of clothes is inconsequential for the cause of gender equality. Let me ask you a question in that case, if we do not trust women to make the “right decisions” for their attire then how can we entrust the same women to make the “right decisions” for their families, companies and countries? By showering approval or disapproval, you are placing women on a lower pedestal, who need constant external validation.

I am sure it is not just women but also men who are subject to fashion policing among other things. To all, I say, don’t allow someone else’s opinion of your attire affect you personally. It is difficult not to take it personally as clothing is after all –very personal. It is the language of your mind and soul expressed in fabrics, cuts and colours. If you are not able to express yourself, then you are not comfortable and if you are not comfortable then you cannot exude style. So be true to your inner self and wear whatever you want and do not let some external voice dictate yet another ideal women should aspire to. Of course you will be offending  some people along the way because you are a woman and you should be a certain way.

Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily purport to reflect the opinions or views of Elanstreet.

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