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Red Lipsticks, Mini Skirts And The Colour Pink: Feminism Through Fashion

Rihanna in vintage Coco Chanel. Photo: Twitter

In the light of fashion’s integral position in our culture and how we’re conscious of appearances, the portrayal of women in clothes has found a place in the arguments for fashion choices. There’s some frenzy over the relationship between a woman’s fashion choices and her fight for liberation and equality. But should fashion even have anything to do with feminism? Do women need to wear clothes with a touch of traditional masculinity to be taken more seriously?

The feminist struggle dating back to the 1920s saw feminist women opting for boyish styles as a resistance to dresses which exaggerated femininity and were considered symbolic of oppression. It is clear how this thought could have easily been true and well valid at the time seeing as femininity as a whole wasn’t given much regard. At this time, female fashion was symbolic of women as domesticated and weak people whose only agency was gained through the men whose attention and love they must attract and keep. It may have seemed as though it would take dressing in the fashion of men for women to make a headway in their struggle to penetrate the male dominated world. Copying the appearance of men was therefore, a way of saying ‘we too can.’ By the 1930s, women like Hollywood’s Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich had completely ditched clothes like skirt suits for clothes that were typically men’s wear.

With the 20th century came pioneer fashion designer, Coco Chanel who followed the consciousness of resistance by creating a skirt suit that used tweed and whose fit had a straighter silhouette to make a woman wearing this look more serious, a pointer to the fact that typical feminine clothes of the time were not intended to present women as serious minded individuals who could offer beyond looking pretty in a dress. Chanel also broke the rule by wearing trousers which would set a pace for many other women. Over the years, women’s fashion has evolved through hair scarves, jeans, slacks and a ditching of the corset for more comfortable clothing among other things.

The 60s and second wave feminism came with women including miniskirts in their fashion choices as a resistance to existing expectations for women, an obvious step towards fully embracing their womanhood and rejecting the objectifying idea of showing skin as a ploy to seduce men. But at this time, more women were also wearing traditionally masculine styles like blazers and button down shirts, probably still an effort to penetrate the world of men by showing a sufficient capacity at masculinity. In all of these, the role of fashion in feminism has remained delicate with opinions ranging from preserving traditionally female fashion to ditching it as an oppressive, limiting culture.

In the current flourishing fourth wave of feminism which relies on the internet and bears the flag for individualism among other things, there is also a wildfire of styles and opinions on style. In arguing against exaggerated femininity in women’s appearance, some styles and even colours have been written off to challenge female stereotyping. More traditionally masculine colours like black and blue have been favoured instead. This may well also be a valid argument seeing as women in a misogynistic society have been boxed into specific dress styles and colours that mostly do not allow for complete comfort and freedom to choose.

Lisa Folawiyo in Pink. Photo: Instagram

And so, on social media, there are feminist women emphasizing how their favourite colour is black so ‘boy, sit your behind down and take your pink dresses off our faces, we don’t do pink.’ But what’s wrong with a feminist woman loving Pink? There’s a complexity: the challenge of unhealthy stereotypes against a near complete rejection of anything that might have been traditionally feminine. Is traditional femininity taking scorn even in feminist circles? Does female fashion have to conform to some level of traditional masculinity to make feminist sense? As I see it, this is an exultation of maleness over femaleness which is the only sense I can make out of necessarily including traditionally male styles in what should be the acceptable fashion for a feminist.

I do not think that the scorn thrown at femininity by the patriarchy should inform a woman’s choices against feminine clothes. If anything, it should cause a solidarity for femininity. I do not think that femininity should be ditched for masculinity on account of the small-mindedness of the patriarchy. Fashion choices should be a reflection of your truest self. And if your truest self is reflected in wearing traditionally feminine clothes then that. Feminism is not dressing in the traditional way of men, it is choosing your style and wearing your choice in stately manners. Miniskirts, bright red lipsticks and floral pink dresses are not a disgrace to feminism, they are fashion choices that anyone, including a feminist, can make.

Now, we can stop boxing women’s fashion choices and spend the time to realize that choosing to be lavishly feminine is an acceptable celebration of womanhood. Fashion, masculine or feminine, is not a representation of anyone’s strength. Everything that is traditionally feminine has, in the patriarchy, been undermined, called weak. But we’re reclaiming our femininities and wearing them like brightly coloured accessories. Feminism is making all these feminine fashion choices, if you will, and knowing still that you’re abundantly equal.

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