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Fashion and feminism

fem

fash·ion (fshn)

1. The prevailing style or custom, as in dress or behavior: out of fashion.
2. Something, such as a garment, that is in the current mode: a swimsuit that is the latest fashion.
3. The style characteristic of the social elite: a man of fashion.
4. A. Manner or mode; way: Set the table in this fashion.
b. A personal, often idiosyncratic manner: played the violin in his own curious fashion.
5. Kind or variety; sort: people of all fashions.
6. Shape or form

fem·i·nism (fm-nzm)

1. Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
2. The movement organized around this belief.

Feminism seems to be having a bit of a moment, its popping up all over the place, rearing it’s pretty head everywhere from the magazine racks to the catwalk and yet opinion remains divided on the cause and consequences of this development. Is feminism in fashion really a good thing or are the two entirely incompatible?

Let’s start with the topic that was the inspiration for this post, the recently published Elle Feminism issue and the whole t-shirt debacle that followed it. So in a nutshell last year fashion magazine Elle launched it’s reclaiming the f word campaign and further to that and the excellent response it received this year, Elle decided to dedicate it’s December issue to feminism. The cover was graced with Emma Watson, following her fantastic speech to the UN a few weeks ago and I have to confess that I was hugely impressed with the motivational issue.

As part of it’s edition Elle asked famous men to pose wearing the “is this what a feminist looks like’ tshirts that were created in connection with the Fawcett Society. The idea was simple, as inequality affects both sexes and pretty much every human being on the planet (evidence proves that the most equal countries are also the happiest), men can be feminists too and being a feminist has nothing to do with hating men. It is actually the total opposite, it’s not about bringing men down but lifting women up. Anyway, a few famous actors agreed to wear the TShirt, as did Ed Mililband (the Labour Party leader) and Nick Clegg (Deputy PM and Liberal Democrat leader). Yet the observant amongst you might notice a significant politician missing from the above list, a rather important fella (I say begrudgingly) and the leader of the third other major Party in the UK, Mr David Cameron. The Prime Minster.

Now quite rightly there was some anger and controversy over the issue and feel free to tell me if you don’t agree but I personally I would love a Prime Minster that believes in equality (and in May 2015 you will be given that opportunity, slight plug there). This, however, wasn’t the end of the matter because shortly after claims emerged that the tshirts were actually made in Mauritius sweatshop, which paid its mainly female workforce just 62p a hour.

Admittedly this is an atrocious announcement but giving how much of the high streets stock is sourced from overseas, this is hardly surprising, remember this comes only months after the Rana plaza collapse. This is a highly complex issue and while fashion undoubtedly has a role a play, it’s hardly fair to see this as a feminist issue, it’s an ethical one and the solution is extremely difficult. It’s also key to remember where these claims came from, while I’m not disputing their authenticity, we must question the Daily Mail’s a motive. A right-wing paper that would do anything to avoid promoting equality.

The issue of fashion and feminism is a controversial one, with many arguing that fashion only further peddles elements of the sexist culture that is flourishing around us and a part of me can see their point. Fashion still remains suggestively aimed at women, indirectly advocating that only women should worry about their appearance, that women have a DUTY to look their best. This argument unconsciously suggests that women’s role is to attract a partner, an old fashioned sexism in a new and dapper looking form. Further to this, there is the pressure that many of these magazines put upon women, perpetuating a certain type of image. An image that is generally unobtainable for most of us. It was because these reasons that Karl Largerfield was heavily criticised for his feminism inspired catwalk in Paris this year.

But while I have no issue with the media and the fashion industry raising issues of inequality and bringing the topic to an otherwise unreached audience, it must do so in a sympathetic light, remembering that it is part of divisive and at times cruel industry. Don’t get me wrong as someone that loves both feminism and fashion, I have never seen the two as mutually exclusive and I think that in someways that they go hand in hand, but fashion has to remember the powerful influence it has on women and take positive steps to use this in a good light. Perhaps they could start by using real women, women that look like you and me.

Most importantly fashion must remember that Feminism isn’t just a cute, seasonal accessory to be used to sell a few more copies of a magazine, feminism is here for good. Well, until we achieve equality at least.

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