The Vagenda

Fashion and Feminism


I’m extremely bad at judging weather, so I always layer up. This sounds clever and sensible, as if I have a multitude of outfits on, like a fashionable onion, but it really just means I end up lugging three jumpers and a pair of thick tights around in an overstuffed satchel as soon as the weather gets above tepid. Sometimes the thick tights can’t even come off, because I’m pretty lax about how often I remove leg and armpit hairs, so I wind up sweaty behind the knees and hairy and my satchel is still heavy.
But, on this particular occasion (last Friday), I haddone my legs and it was really hot.
Unfortunately, the skirt I was wearing was extremely short. It’s the sort of skirt that reminds us that thick tights are a perfectly good substitute for jeans, the sort of skirt that’s really only worn for decoration. Without the tights, it becomes obvious that my thighs, side on, curve forwards like a banana.
“Stop checking yourself out in shop windows,” my boyfriend muttered, as we were walking in my suddenly indecent skirt to get lunch.
“I’m not,” I muttered back. “I’m just – have you seen my thighs? I look like a Love and Rockets character.” I don’t have a problem with having really muscular legs. I’d just never noticed how much like an alternative comic book extra I looked.
Other people were noticing too. We were getting lunch from a vegan food truck which, hear me out, does really good chips. All around us, people with lo-fi haircuts were wearing hoodies and black jeans, even in direct sunlight. There were some vintage skirt concessions to the weather, but they were all calf length. That was fine. I don’t really care what people wear, unless it is a) something I covet or b) something I am also wearing at the same time.
Some of them definitely had a problem with me though. We sat down to eat our excellent chips, and some sort of worthy but delicious chickpea fritter, opposite another couple. The girl’s face started doing mad semaphore eyebrow things. She can see my knickers, I thought. Oh lordy.
Paranoid eavesdropping revealed that she couldn’t see my knickers, but did think I looked really cheap and girly-girly. “I look like I’m motherfucking sweaty,” I completely failed to shout. “I look like I didn’t want to get an overheated, thrushy crotch. Stop judging me.”
The bad thing is, I would have twitched at the sight of a girl in this short a skirt too. What was she thinking? I would have asked myself. What’s all that bare leg for? (In the end I dealt with my problem by going to a big vintage shop nearby and buying a ridiculous, knee-length, dress. Haha! Camouflage! Now can I eat my chips in peace?)
BUST magazine recently ran an article about a woman who, moving from relaxed Hawaii to Los Angeles, found herself doing previously unthinkable things, like dieting and counting carbs, in order to get thin, fit in and not get stared at. So far, so obviously awful. But she subsequently moved to Portland, OR, and the same thing happened. During the warm weather, she went out in a denim miniskirt and a tube top, and she got some seriously askance looks from the easy-going slogan tshirt wearers. (Apparently even using an umbrella in the rain is sort of poseur-y in Portland, you have to use a beanie hat and run.) In a panic, she found herself forced to change aesthetic again.
I was pretty upset when I finished reading this. It hadn’t occurred to me that liberal sub-communities might have their own restrictions and limitations. (I thought that girl was just jealous of my wicked Sailor Moon kung-fu thighs.) Okay, so they might be judging for a different reason – less, “EWWW that bitch is SO UGLY in those HUGE GLASSES,” and more, “God, it’s just so fucked up that that girl is too stupid to realise that displaying her cleavage like that is a commodification of her flesh, reinforcing her falsely constructed femininity – she’s basically punting for the patriarchy.” The second criticism feels like when vegetarians refuse to share a fridge with me because I keep putting bits of delicious dead things on my shelves. It’s rubbish that our tits-out heroine hasn’t read The Female Eunuch, and it’s dreadful she’s putting herself through actual physical discomfort to look appealing, but will sneering at her encourage her to wear suffragette colours? Some people just like flashing a lot of flesh. It’s not necessary to like them, but it’s a bit crap and hypocritical to actively hate on them.
There are some that believe fashion and feminism are incompatible. This is silly. If anything, it’s fashion reporting that we’ve all got beef with. Clothes are not inherently evil, but ‘fashion’ as a concept has been absorbed into a wider beauty-manufacturing industry that patrols body shapes as well as trends. It can’t be changed by ignoring fashion, we have to engage with it. Let’s not dick about, we like looking really good. But, well, people have different ideas about what looks ‘good’, and neither body-shaming or lack-of-fight-against-the-homogenised-consumerist-standards-shaming is going to help us on our way to sartorial confidence.
No, this article does not have an answer to the problem I have just posed. I think we are still working out the critical language that deals with fashion in a way that isn’t judgemental about the bodies under it. Let’s put it this way: I have just had a glance at Cosmo’s first four articles to come up under ‘Red Carpet Fashion’ (subsection: Celebs) and every single one of them talk about ‘sexiness’, which is now a word I only use to describe food because it is being so appallingly overused. By contrast, feminist fashion blog à l’allure garçonnière talks about dresses, fabrics and aesthetics, anddeals interestingly with how different body shapes will take on trends. The ‘garçonnière’ also recently wrote a post about dressing up nicely to basically delight yourself with how great you look, laying emphasis on not needing to be complimented, or, for that matter, not needing to worry about criticism.
So anyway, I wore a short skirt again today, and I feel fine about it.

4 thoughts on “Fashion and Feminism

  1. ‘Dressing up nicely to basically delight yourself with how great you look’ basically sums up my attitude to clothes. (And some people still don’t believe that I dress for myself first and foremost) Fuck everyone else. You look great.

  2. the bit about the BUST article and the girl who felt like she had to change was interesting to me – I recently went to NYC (first time in US) and I only stayed a few days, but I somehow came back with the idea that I should be running everyday especially if I wanted to be socially acceptable and walking through central park felt like a rebellion, surely I should be running/cycling/skating instead.

  3. awww thanks so much for linking to my article! how wonderful.

    i hear you on so much of this – i’ve been reflecting how lately, now that i’m a bit older, i’m wearing things that years ago i might have shamed other women for wearing. i laugh when people tell me i’m “not allowed” to wear heels because i’m already tall. not allowed to wear short skirts because they are even shorter on my larger body. fuck that.

    i also find it baffling how often we have to defend that fashion can be feminist. so few young feminists understand that part of fighting for access to higher education, the right to vote, and the right to work were fought alongside battles to chose what, and what not, to wear. to no longer be forced to wear corsets, long skirts, and cumbersome layers. how women dressed marked a huge shift in how women were perceived and respected!

    also, do you remember what issue of BUST or who the writer was? i don’t really read that magazine anymore but would love to read that article.

  4. Hey ladybro, it appears the article was ‘Home Plate’ by Jessica Machado in the Apr / May 2012 issue of BUST. Many, many, many loves for your blog btw.