While we’re still on the subject of renewal (and easing into the Spring 2013 fashion season), let’s take a look at the evolution and cyclical nature of women’s fashion. Because apparel involves the most visible aspect of a person, his or her anatomy, it is inextricably linked to human sexuality and identity and provides reinforcement for both. I think it behooves every industry professional to consider this and adopt the role of scientist, philosopher, and psychologist when interpreting trends. How have changing gender roles and social climates affected modern fashion? Find out in my guest post for The Better Bombshell and check back soon for my review of the book.
Fashion: A Feminist Pursuit?
POSTED BY SIOLO ON MAR – 14 – 2013
Can fashion — the industry of waif-like models, rampant eating disorders, and hyper-sexualized imagery — be a feminist pursuit? In this original collaboration with artist Michelle Anderst, Jordan Compton argues in favor of her favorite art form.
On the surface, fashion can appear vacuous. It’s a young, sexy, money-driven industry, right?
Maybe — but that’s not everything there is to the industry. For some people, fashion can be the gateway to an intelligent discourse, involving human sexuality, identity, and self-expression. In the words of stylist Rachel Zoe, “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” And for the modern woman — especially the modern bombshell — the key element is the freedom of choice.
On one end of the sartorial spectrum is the ultra-feminine. Long before Dior’s advent of the New Look (with the narrow waist, high bust, and mile-wide hips), fashion idealized the buxom beauty. We all know the Victorian story: Early 20th-century clothiers viewed the female body as a sort of decorative and erotic object—the ideal trophy—and adorned this female flower in restrictive corsets, girdles, and bustiers.
Popular silhouettes have varied widely since then, but the hourglass has had many a resurgence. The Fall 2010 Marc Jacobs collection for Louis Vuitton, for example, was named “And God Created Woman” — and it recalled the ample curves of the Mad Men era. It makes sense: that fecund hourglass shape is biologically designed to trigger a primal response in men. (Ironically, though, these hyper-sexualized styles prevailed at a time when women had very little sexual freedom.)
Recent years have seen a massive shift in women’s fashion to accompany the new wave of feminism: Enter the push for gender equality (and, sometimes, ambiguity). What began in the ‘60s with Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic women’s smoking jacket and Rei Kawakubo’s line Comme des Garҫons (literally “like boys”) has given rise to an entire generation of designers challenging conventional ideas of beauty, sexuality, and femininity. Said the late Alexander McQueen:
“I want to empower women. [...] When you see a woman wearing McQueen, there’s a certain hardness to the clothes that makes her look powerful. It [...] fends people off. It’s almost like putting armor on a woman. It’s a very psychological way of dressing.”
Does McQueen’s statement disregard what is inherently feminine? I’d argue to the contrary. Rather than being an uber-masculine compensation, it embraces the wide range of female qualities, paying special attention to a woman’s capacity for strength, resolve, and versatility.
Drawing on this versatility, fashions for modern women combine what were previously viewed as opposing characteristics: gentility and aggression, power and vulnerability, toughness and delicacy. In doing so, they emphasize what many women instinctively know: that such traits aren’t mutually exclusive.
This new movement — as all do — comes with poster girls. Leandra Medine, a fashion blogger who coined the term “Man Repelling,” is anything but. Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, dresses purely for herself. Designer J.W. Anderson says, “[Salander] dresses like a tomboy, but she’s also in love. She can tie a guy down one minute and [have her heart broken] the next.” She’s both fiercely protective of and empowered by her emotions, and she knows that the ability to forge close connections is a source of strength. But she’s not one to walk away from a fight.
Personally, I try to employ a fluid style ethos by favoring pieces that are minimalist, structured, and authoritative. It’s fitting, as I was raised in the world of ballet — an art pioneered by men but dominated by women — that dance instilled a certain confidence in me. Rather than choosing a style that’s purely masculine or feminine, I do my best to avoid restrictions of gender stereotypes. I’m open to disagreement. I prefer a sleek black dress to a floral sundress. I’ll wear pants if there’s a chance of an impromptu race. Granted, I also love a well-made bustier — but when and why is entirely my choice.
Jordan Compton is an emerging writer, artist, and ballerina who lives and works in Seattle, Washington. After nearly a decade of training and performing with schools and companies in the Pacific Northwest, she made the transition to fashion. Clothing, she feels, is as much a form of creative expression as dance. She is the founder of Addo Forma, where she shares fashion insights through an artistic lens.
Original images courtesy of Michelle Anderst.