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The Feminist Fashionista

Feminism and the Fashion Catwalk

By Colette Mansbridge - 2008.

We all like to look good. We want to look professional, look attractive and in some cases, sexy.

When we go to a job interview we dress to impress. We want to look polished and perfect for the job.

If we're going out for a date we want to look attractive, perhaps sexy, but not slutty. Although admittedly some women define sexy and slutty differently.

So for a feminist, fashion can be a tool to finding a better job, to making men understand that you're serious about a relationship (or maybe just looking for some fun).


But this tool is a double-edged sword. Fashion can become an obsession for some women, and anorexia and bulimia a related health concern, but not the main problem with the fashion industry... the central problem of the fashion industry is that it treats women like objects.

Or more specifically the advertising/fashion industry treats women like objects. Most of the ads in fashion magazines feel like they should be in a softcore magazine and you wonder what kind of woman would buy the things they're advertising.

Lets take perfume ads for example. I have no use for perfume. I think perfume is a complete waste of money because its evident that men either don't care, don't notice, or those that do care have developed somekind of fetish for the stuff. The perfume ads however seem to suggest that women are somehow more slutty, desirable and available... supposedly because they wear perfume.

The use of celebrities in the ads don't impress me either. Paris Hilton? Britney Spears? Pamela Anderson? I suppose if you were braindead you might buy that crap. I seriously wonder if perfume fumes cause brain damage.

Fashion photography and advertising in general is weird. The women look stiff, unhappy and sometimes even lifeless and limp. Its like they've lost all hope and you have to wonder if the model in question is two steps away from committing suicide. How can such images be considered attractive?


There's also the fact that it overcharges women... a t-shirt for a woman typically costs 10 to 20% more than a t-shirt for a man.

I think the latter is because the fashion industry knows women enjoy shopping and believe in spending more for quality, whereas men tend to just hunt for lowest price.

As an intelligent young woman I should be able to recognize a deal when I see one, but I admit I will still overspend when I think I am getting something I either need or really want a lot.

Nobody is forcing me to buy them, but when I look at the price differences in menswear I do feel rather jealous and tempted to crossdress a bit.

Afterall, if I'm wearing black socks does it really matter whether the socks were made for a man or a woman? Same goes with a leather belt, running shoes, boots, jeans, t-shirts, jackets, hoodies... heck, would anyone really notice or care if I wore men's underwear?

These days I've become a fan of making my own clothes... sometimes from old t-shirts I don't wear any more. This to me is a lost art and the sign of the true fashionista. Why pay for your clothes when you can make your own?

After all, I am pretty sure those big brand names are making plenty of money anyway, and why exactly should I wear a shirt with their brand name on it? Shouldn't they be paying ME to advertise their product, not me paying more just to wear it?


Fashion is really about passing judgement on people based on how they are dressed. If you see a man with shaggy hair, baggy clothes and ripped jeans you immediately think this man is a slob. If it turns out be a celebrity rockstar, and the shirt/jeans are brand name does your opinion suddenly change?

Therein lies one of the pitfalls of fashion. Things are not always as they appear. Lets take Sex and the City for example... most of the clothes they wear on that show are NOT brand name, but custom made by their wardrobe department.

Being able to dress professionally or look sexy is part of this. You want the manager, HR rep or your date to like how you look and draw conclusions that you are the type of person they want.

Remember that scene from the film "Pretty Woman" starring Julia Roberts, where she walks into the store and the sales staff treat her rudely? (If you haven't seen this film, shame on you!)

The point is who among us hasn't been treated badly because of the way they dressed? For women I think this is a double whammy issue. People treat us differently not just because of the way we are dressed, but simply because we're female.

It also brings in some extra complexitiies because the way a woman dresses can change whether she is perceived as a slut, a bitch, common, boring, snobbish or whatever. Why can't we just be ourselves?

Men you will notice don't worry about these things. They go out in public dressed like slobs and don't seem to care. They even go on dates without remembering to shave, wear deodorant or brushing their teeth for that matter.

Some people will argue that we should just accept people for who they are and it shouldn't matter how they dress or hygiene issues... but it does matter. It tells you whether a person is active about caring for their body, and that in turn gives a suggestion as to how they will behave in general in work or in a relationship.

The problem is that some people take this judgement thing too far. They made additional assumptions about a person's appearance and personality.

A relative of mine, a basketball player with a shaved head, was hanging out with some friends one time when a white woman approached him and called him a racist (somehow she missed the fact that he was wearing a Malcolm X t-shirt, or if she did notice, apparently didn't know who Malcolm X was).

Over zealous fashion police perhaps? Some people just need to take a chill pill.


Remember the fuss over Sarah Palin's wardrobe expenses during the McCain/Palin Republican election campaign? She apparently spent between $150,000 and $200,000 on brand name clothes (including quite a bit of clothes she bought for her kids and husband)... that was campaign money spent in an effort to make her look presentable, and that is to be expected in an election.

Hillary Clinton also spent a fortune on clothes during her nomination bid, but she used her own money. Sarah Palin used money from Republican donations, money normally spent on advertising campaigns/etc. Nobody however seems to care what Hillary Clinton spends on clothes because she's always wearing the same suits/etc. and you rarely see her in anything else.

Clothing can be empowering. With the right haircut and a dose of sensibility it can make a person look professional, and in this case, voteworthy. Sarah Palin's failure was that despite all her spending on wardrobe she still ended up looking "like a hick". I personally think her hairstyle was a problem...

Think back on the history of women in politics and their hair. Hillary Clinton has a look similar to Jackie Kennedy, the wife of the great JFK. Its a respectable look. Sarah Palin's hair looks like you'd see it in a trailer park.

Looks do matter, even if we don't like the fact that they are superficial.

Consider for example Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. They look fabulous, dress impeccably even when doing sports/whatever and LOOK presidential. Same goes with George W. BUsh and his wife Laura. Even though I personally don't care for them, they still dress well.

As do names. When I first heard that Bush's son wanted to run for president back in 1999 I KNEW he was going to win because of his name alone... People are sentimental and there is a vague sense of logic voting for someone who has the same name.

Lets take Chelsea Clinton for example? I don't know much about her, but I'd seriously be tempted to vote for her if she decided to run for election in 2020.


Some women even go out of their way to turn their fashion into some kind of feminist statement (like the image to the right).

There are a lot more issues I could talk about, like fashion sweatshops that use women like slaves to make Nike, GAP or clothes for Wal-Mart... to say nothing of bras, bikinis, lingerie, corsets, etc. Some women even claim lingerie is empowering because it allows them to control the time and place they have sex.

There's also the matter of temperature. The closer to the equator you are the more acceptable it is to show a lot of skin.

Some of us may not agree with the fashion industry or how they do business, but we may still end up wearing their clothes in an effort to look good or look professional.

What it all really comes down to is CHOICE.

Women have a choice on how to dress. Some of us like to dress very conservatively and others like to show a lot of skin, but it really boils down to personal choice.

Lastly, and this is an unusual thought, but I actually believe men are more restricted fashion wise than women are. Think about it. Men have so few options when it comes to clothes its more like an uniform. They don't really have a lot of choice whereas women not only have choice we have a huge selection to choose from.

So is fashion just a girl thing? No, men are effected by society's fashion rules too and it just wouldn't be acceptable for a man to show up to a job interview wearing a skirt and a blouse.

Nope, its a suit and tie world, whether we like it or not.

Other Topics Concerning Fashion & Feminism:

  • Beauty & Fashion Vs Feminism
  • Body Image
  • Diet Grrl
  • Feminine Feminists
  • Pretty Vacant
  • Subverting the Pimp
  • The Beauty Myth
  • Under the Knife
  • Women's Handbags
  • Women's T-Shirts

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