Why Feminism Is Not Just A Fashion Trend And Not All Fashion Statements Are Political
In regards to the world of feminine fashion, it seems you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Women wearing modest clothing get just as much grief for being prudish as women wearing revealing clothes are scolded for looking inappropriate or "slutty." Since we are taught to sexualize women's bodies so much, there is criticism at both ends of the dressing spectrum — to the point of judging everything women do as having something to do with sex or the approval of men.
Our patriarchal society tends to reward — or label it as the norm — for women to dress in all things short and tight. Especially as the summer months come upon us, the parade of booty shorts, low cut tanks, and bathing suits is highly anticipated. So if a woman decides, say, to rock a turtleneck or a wide-leg pant, her actions suddenly get deemed an act of feminism.
My own wardrobe is a mish mash of styles, cuts, and trends, and as a fashion-obsessed person and someone who loves piecing together new ensembles, I don't often take the weather into consideration. I'm too occupied with how a certain silhouette or color combination is going to look to ever be concerned with deciphering what a weather-appropriate outfit would be. However, I love styling things with jackets, so that certainly keeps me warm (even if they may keep me too warm at the height of summer). I like to mix my high waisted shorts, crop tops, and rompers with my creeper platform shoes, button down shirts, high waisted pants, and a velvet turtleneck crop top.
Besides aesthetic purposes, outfits may also be adjusted to fit a certain gender expression. Particular outfits hold a gendered charge for me. For example, dresses and short skirts make me feel very feminine sometimes. However, the clothing I wear is not about gender or politics. Clothing empowers me and helps support my identity, but my feminism and gender expression lie more in how I wear and style these clothes, and how I carry myself. In regards to choosing the clothes themselves, I'm thinking of trends, fashion risks, and functionality. I know what looks good and I know what doesn't. And so do the other fashion interns of Brooklyn.
Last Tuesday, the New York Times published an article about "Women Who Cover Up (Even As the Temperature Climbs)," and the piece was clearly misinformed about all the things I just presented. Interviewing and photographing a few fashionable working girls around Brooklyn turned into an analysis on why these women dress the way they do, clumping all of their very diverse outfits and trends into an assumption that by covering up, they were embodying rebellion. The people included in the story were rocking everything from round rimmed sunglasses, normcore sneakers, platform sandals, wide leg pants, maxi skirts, high waisted jeans, holographic fabrics, and some creative layering. Basically, everything that's hot in street style right now.
The story seemed to revolve around being concerned with the way they're dressing to satisfy the male gaze, since this was one of the only questions asked of each subject. But I'd be willing to argue that the fashion interns writer Amy Sohn chose to profile are the last people to be concerned about what men on the street think of their outfits. They're absorbed in an industry, and the magical world of swirling together the perfect colors, patterns, and fabrics to create something truly cosmic.
These fashion interns, and other fashionistas of Brooklyn pictured in the article's gallery, were made out to be these unicorns — a new breed of woman, who dresses despite what dudes think. Also known as feminism, this is not a new idea! At the same time, it's problematic to assume that every female-identifying person or feminist is living and breathing feminism at all times.
Besides the fact that the weather has been very sporadic in New York City, it's frustrating to have it assumed that these outfit choices are somehow an act of rebellion chalked up to "the rising tide of fourth-wave feminism, a newfound combativeness toward street harassment, (and) the current fluidity of gender."
This is agitating to read as someone who loves both fashion and feminism. Who are we to assume the political beliefs of another human, and how their fashion interacts with and plays a part in that? Perhaps if the story went into more depth about how these people feel about this interaction, it would be less problematic. But much of it seems based in out-of-touch assumptions about feminists, gender, and Millennials.
For me, the point of looking at fashion and beauty through a political lens is that I get to say what that means. No one can prescribe a politic to my body, clothing, or identity. The power of dressing comes in defining yourself, not letting others define you. I may not dress with the male gaze or typical beauty standards in mind, but that does not mean that every fiber of my being is political. Rather, much of what makes me who I am and how I dress is creative and instinctual.
It's been assumed by some that everything I do is for political reasons because of my beliefs and the way I talk about the subjects of fashion and feminism. These issues are of extremely high importance to me, but not everything I do is to make a statement or to shock. I'm not a walking set of politics, and I don't like being framed as such. Just because you don't understand my interpretation of gender, or the weirder fashion trends I take part in, does not mean I fit perfectly into your box of "man-hating androgynous feminist." I have a right to enjoy fashion for the purpose of style, without being interrogated about anything beyond that.
Fashion journalism and coverage should seek to empower feminine people. It should not be asking "is that what you're wearing on your date later?" Or passing judgment on a fashion that you do not personally understand as being appealing. Fashion writing should seek to inform and critically discuss real trends, and not just clump them together and make a broad assumption about what women are wearing these days and why.
Modesty is not a trend. Self empowerment and feminism aren't trends. My gender identity isn't a trend. These are all aspects of person's character and belief system that may or may not inform their clothing choices.