Friday, 6 October 2017

a timeline of female empowerment in fashion (part 2 1960-2017)

The 1960s signalled a new chapter for women's liberation. Women's wardrobes reflected this as Carnaby Street buzzed with teenage girls and young women in miniskirts and bright, psychedelic prints. The decade saw the invention of the Pill and teenagers became society's key taste-makers as Beatlemania took hold. 



Perhaps the most famous sartorial event of the 1960s women's liberation movement is the alleged bra burning. Whilst this did not actually happen, it still demonstrates how clothes can be used either to oppress or liberate women. Underwear is still occassionally a point of contention for the feminist movement. Much of the women's lingerie industry is filtered through the male gaze and marketed at men rather than the women who actually wear it. We are currently witnessing an increase in lingerie brands that are created for women and by women. Labels like Marieyet create feminine lingerie that does not fall victim to sexualisation through the male gaze. 

The 1960s was the first time women could publicly take control of their own sexuality. The newfound independence offered by the Pill in the was aestheticised by Mary Quant and the miniskirt. It's now hard to imagine a time when the miniskirt did not exist, but in the '60s in represented a reclaiming of female sexuality. It gave women a new identity, outside of the domestic sphere. Quant famously stated that she did not invent the miniskirt, but that it was invented by teenage girls and young women in London who kept asking for their dresses to be cut shorter and shorter. The fashions of the era indicate how, in certain circles, women and girls were beginning to be taken more seriously. 

By the 1980s women began to take on more senior roles within businesses. This shift led to the rise of the powersuit, which can be seen as both feminist and conforming to patriarchal standards. The fact that women felt the need to dress 'like men' to be taken seriously as professionals shows that women's liberation still had a long way to go. Another, even more insidious, reason for the popularity of the power suit in offices was so that women could avoid sexual harassment in the workplace. 



The toxic idea that a woman could somehow be 'asking for it' by the way she dresses is a discourse we are still battling with in the 21st century. In 2011 a Toronto police officer told a crowd of women that they should, "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised." Women fought back, and Slut Walk was founded; an annual march that now takes place across the world, where women assert statements like, "little black dress does not mean yes" and, "whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no." Fashion is often trivialised simply because it is seen as a feminine interest and everything girls like is silly and needs to be mocked amiright? but women's progress in society can be tracked sartorially. To have come so far then have a crusty old policeman tell us what we can and can't wear in order to not get raped feels massively outdated. 

Fast forward a few years to 2017 and Instagram is revolutionising our worldviews. Whilst the app can be potentially damaging, it is also a tool to promote body positivity and the same anti-slut shaming principles that characterise the Slut Walk movement. As a visual platform, fashion is central to its function. Trends are started by influencers who are paid to sponsor brands. Yet there is still space for individuality; a trait that has been central to female empowerment in fashion throughout history.

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