High fashion’s new take on feminism

Jana Ismail
Senior Staff Writer

Fashion has long been regarded as a trivial and superficial industry. However, that isn’t entirely accurate since clothing has often been used to take political stances and transmit messages.

In this age of political instability, designers have mobilized the platform their brands provide to take a stand against injustice. In recent months, feminist slogans and references have been appearing on runways all around the world.

Some believe that Dior’s first-ever female creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, triggered the wave with a simple $710 white t-shirt which had the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous speech “We Should All Be Feminists” adorned on the front. She debuted the t-shirt during her first ever collection for the label in September 2016 and received raving reviews. Social media were then filled with pictures of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Chiara Ferragni, and Demi Lovato wearing it. However, it was Karl Lagerfeld who was the first to merge fashion and feminism in his Chanel show during Paris fashion week in September 2014. At the end of the show, models marched down the runway holding placards with various feminist sayings on them.

It wasn’t until the Autumn/Winter 2017 collections came out in February that the trend really boomed. Feminism took center stage during the Fashion Month following the record-breaking women’s rights demonstrations that took place in the United States and around the world in January. Feminist t-shirts became the hottest new trend.

Designers such as Prabal Gurung and Jonathan Simkhai also jumped on the feminist bandwagon. Gurung showcased t-shirts with various slogans such as “The Future is Female” and “Nevertheless She Persisted” while Simkhai gave his front-row guests “Female AF” t-shirts.

Months after feminist fashion first became trendy, brands of every price range now include a certain version of a feminist t-shirt. This contributed to the democratization of feminist fashion by allowing people of all classes to express their stance.

T-shirts weren’t the only way brands highlighted feminism on their runways. For example, Missoni decided to include hats identical to the ones worn during the Women’s March. Others decided to take part of the Fashion Stands with Planned Parenthood campaign by including the pink “CFDA x Planned Parenthood” pins that were created to help raise funds for the NGO.

Designers’ feminist agenda went beyond the aesthetic and profit appeal. Brands such as Dior and Prabal Gurung donated some of the profits made from these t-shirts to organizations including Planned Parenthood and Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation that benefits impoverished communities.

While the feminist movement in the fashion world proved to be successful, not everyone was convinced. The positivity of the movement didn’t protect the fashion industry from backlash.

Feminists have often criticized the fashion industry for its lack of inclusion of plus-size models. They have complained about the beauty standards that these runways portray to young girls by only employing models who are extremely tall, skinny and beautiful.

The mental and physical stress that models are put under has also come under fire. There have been multiple accounts of models, such as Cara Delevingne, who have left the industry as a result of the working conditions. The standards these models have to fit in have often led them to develop mental illnesses and eating disorders. The seriousness of this issue has led leading fashion companies LVMH and Kering to set up hotlines for mistreated models. Therefore, this corruption presents a contradiction with the egalitarian message these brands are trying to send.

Unfortunately, printing feminist slogans on t-shirts doesn’t automatically erase the decidedly un-feminist history of the fashion world.

Designers were also accused of using feminism as a marketing strategy which entails using the people’s demand for social justice and their need for change to sell them products. A few people perceived their jump on the feminist bandwagon as a ploy to increase profits as opposed to them actually joining the people’s movement and demanding equality.

The purity of the fashion industry’s intentions can never be fully and accurately assessed. But, one can only hope that this proves to be a step in the right direction for the fashion industry and feminism at large.

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