Feminists In Fashion: It Isn’t An Oxymoron

[Ed. Note: This is a guest post from Jamee, who describes herself as,  “a senior at the University of Utah, majoring in communication studies and specializing in health communication. I plan on using the internet and my education to connect with radical, like-minded people and talk exhaustively about my three favorite things: fashion, feminism, and veganism. Check out her personal blog here.]

There are a handful of subcultures and ideas that guide my life and act as the motivating factors for how I make decisions. They are my identifiers; the things that make me who I am. Two of those things are feminism and fashion: cultures that historically have been in opposition to one another. I believe they don’t have to be, and I’ll tell you why.

Unfortunately, the way our male-dominated society has framed the word “feminism,” it’s often thought of as a dirty word. It’s portrayed as an exclusive club for those radical women who flip off businessmen, raising their arms to show off their hard-earned inches of armpit hair.

 

charlotte free

Charlotte Free, a self-proclaimed feminist model showing off lipstick AND armpit hair

Now, I know some fucking awesome feminist women who don’t shave their armpits. But I also know some dyed-in-the-wool feminists who wear more makeup than pageant queens. It’s a beautiful thing to see this subculture grow into a more inclusive group of women (and men) who grasp the true idea behind feminism: that every person, regardless of gender or sex, deserve an equal playing field on which they can pursue their goals, and to abolish societal expectations of how that should look.

It’s this idea that I refer back to when I make the case that you can care deeply about both feminism and fashion. Sure, fashion advertisements disproportionately show women in compromising, sexually objectified poses and most fashion magazines make their living off of women who buy the latest issue with the promise of finding jeans that make their ass look rounder and their thighs skinnier. I’m not going to ignore the blatant misogynistic, sizeist, and racist attitudes of the mainstream fashion world. There are plenty of reasons to criticize the industry, and I can completely understand the reaction to boycott it and the things it seemingly stands for.

americanapparel


Contrary to this ad, you CAN shop at American Apparel even if showing off this much skin isn’t your jam.

But to dismiss the entire concept of fashion as a corporate game to get you to feel bad about yourself and buy more materialistic shit to help fill the hole they are trying to dig in your soul would be to let them win. The more average-sized, racially diverse, feminist people retreat from the massive sphere that is the fashion world, the closer the elite hierarchy at the top get to their goal of “other” exclusion.

I say fashion is for everybody. And I mean that not in the inspirational infomercial way, but in the most literal way possible. Let’s take back the meaning of the word “fashion” and turn the definition into the type of clothes, accessories, hairstyles, makeup, or lack-thereof you choose that makes you feel powerful, beautiful, confident and most of all, yourself.

jamee

Hey fashion, you can’t count me out even if I’m broke and only 5’0” tall, nice try though

I’m a radical feminist, and I feel most like myself in cat-eye sunglasses, dark wavy hair, an a-line skirt, and a see-through tank top that shows off my black bra and all the tattoos on my arm. I don’t look like a model, and I have to save up to buy anything more than secondhand, but I participate in the fashion world and therefore publicly reject the idea that because of those things I don’t belong. Because fashion and feminism? They are for everybody!

Comments

  1. Great post, Jamee. I, too, love me some fashion and make-up. Thanks for unpacking this a bit and standing up for what you love.

  2. Be my friend. I have this debate and internal battle all the time! I identify as feminist and find the concept to be empowering; however, finding a balance between fashion, the culture and environment I was brought up in, and feminism is a tricky thing!
    Anyway,great thoughts.

    • Let’s totally be friends. It’s definitely not easy trying to find a good balance between supporting the fashion industry and sticking to feminist ideals. It’s one I work on every day, but I think it’s definitely worth working on.

  3. Oh, hey Jamee.

    I am a student at the U studying Health and Communication as well (did I mention I am starting my senior year?), whoa. I really enjoyed this post since I have struggled in the past with my own definition of the relationship between feminism and my desired appearance–or fashion. This was well said and I hope this line of thinking invites/includes more men, women and others to embrace their self-perceived feminist identity and still feel comfortable being comfortable (and confident and all those other great attributes you mentioned) in their desired appearance. Great stuff, thanks! Hope to see you on campus sometime.

    Best,
    Abby

    • Abby! I am doing communication studies with the health comm certificate, is that what you’re doing? I agree, I hope more people can see that fashion is something they can make their own and combine it with their feminist beliefs. Feel free to add me on Facebook. It would be great to see you on campus, we might even have some classes together this next year!

  4. Merrill Clark says:

    “Style is originality; fashion is fascism. The two are eternally and unalterably opposed.”
    Lester Bangs

    • I totally agree with that, actually. Style is the important part, fashion is the commerce side. But I use the word fashion to symbolize the all-encompassing idea of that world. Style vs. fashion is a huge topic! One that I love reading about.

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