Surviving fashion week as a feminist is no small task. Often, the only thing potentially lower than your self esteem is your blood sugar, having had very little time to eat as you run around London from casting to fitting to show. It is physically and (somewhat surprisingly) mentally draining, not to mention more politically confusing than a dinner party of exes and more incestuous than a fen-land family Christmas. With myriad stereotypes populating the media as to what models do and therefore are; maintaining an identity as a young graduate who models to pay rent rather than just ‘a model’ is a fine runway to tread.
Everyone has their own impression as to what fashion week might be like for the models and it tends to sit into two main categories: the cocaine riddled, fur clad, sunglass wearing (even when its fucking raining) deities who float from car to show; or the starving Latvian teenager who fights her way through the cattle market with minimal English. There is definitely sufficient fuel for the stereotype fire, but fashion week for most models is a particularly subjective experience. It changes from city to city, season to season, and from girl to girl, so this is a riot grrrl’s attempt at explaining fashion weeks, while tentatively suggesting that fashion and feminism are not mutually exclusive.
So. Fashion week actually starts in August for those of us women with hips and ‘need’ to start exercising. This brings us to a huge and complicated issue of WEIGHT. Fuck. I’ve dealt with a lot of shit about living off cocaine and apples which is both boring and untrue (not least because my boyfriend is allergic to apples) and it’s far too big an issue to deal with here. Body prescriptivism aside, I exercised a bit more because it made me feel more confident about being examined like a bit of meat. In general I seem to spend a lot of time justifying my existence as a ‘real’ woman, (thanks to Dove and ‘Colleen’s Real Women’) so the next person who tells me that there are no ‘real’ people/feminists on the runways, I will shout at. I am a real person, I eat real food, read real books and play real (bad) guitar. Cogito ergo sum, bitch.
After I’ve pinched myself repeatedly to check that I exist, (even if only by naive realism), it’s September and the castings have actually started, leading to much running around like a crazy woman while singing bikini kill on the tube to keep up morale. This is the part where it gets a bit more mentally tough. There is A LOT of rejection. Obviously, no one is defined by how they look, nor should they be, but after a few days of brutality, subject to the whims of a homosexual body facist and a sour faced woman in an unhappy marriage, it can be hard to separate how you look from who you are.
One important thing to me as a feminist in fashion week was how I chose to dress. Woolf wrote about sartorial signifiers of rank for women in Three Guineas, and there is definitely a hierarchy for models during the shows. The basic uniform is tight back jeans, a vest/tank top, leather jacket and very large bag. Cue the tedious military metaphor: your basic privates can be seen changing their shoes from flats to heels on the street in Hackney; whilst the lieutenants (the girls with drivers) only have to walk in and out, barely scuffing the soles of the designer shoes they were probably given rather than bought. You probably won’t even see a General or Major til the shows actually start as they are probably walking Calvin Klein and London is pretty small fry comparatively. Besides, no one has ever seen an Hermes bag IN REAL LIFE (NB, can a handbag that costs more than a deposit on a house actually exist?).
I chose DMs and a kilt from Camden, not only because I have an over developed love of the 90s and an underdeveloped adult dress sense, but because in a sea of photographers and bloggers, the way you dress communicates immediately. My best friend made her immediate communication with a lovingly made ‘Suck my Cervix’ t-shirt for the occasion. If your job is based on how you look, I’d like to make my exterior to be an accurate representation of my interior and my interior definitely has a self-respecting vagina.
On and off the catwalk, models are slave to the gaze, and to the gays; and whilst I can’t control what I’m paid to wear, I can try off duty to convey a sense of myself, (which is probably why I’m never in those street style blogs.) Reiterating how shit fashion can be doesn’t help the positive voices within who have gone behind enemy lines. There are some intelligent, creative and kind feminists working their way up the fashion ladder (promise!) who should be lauded and encouraged. Whilst they climb, I suggest drinking as much free champagne as possible and talking very loudly about Cixous or Butler in front of Anna Wintour. Even if this doesn’t make fashion more feminist friendly, at least there’s a small chance that you’ll be sick on her shoes.
- The author of this post is remaining steadfastly anonymous