How has fashion aided the fight for equality?
Fashion has long been a force to be reckoned with and a powerful tool for change. For as long as we’ve worn clothes, we’ve used them as a method of self-expression and an undeniable way to showcase our identities.
For women in particular, trends have been utilised to shake up the existing industry standard, and such fashions have since become symbols of bold, revolutionising moments. Let’s take a step back in time and revisit the styles that shook things up, the trends that changed our fashion journey.
The Pantsuit: Androgynous Dressing in the 1920s
Before the likes of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, men’s and women’s fashions were distinct and rigid. Her iconic suit designs changed all this, disrupting the idea of gendered fashion and giving women the option to wear something other than a dress. Her style creations were inspired by the traditional masculine wardrobe along with sportswear designs, that allowed the wearer to be comfortable as well as fashionable. She favoured tweed fabric, which was associated with masculine styles, practicality, and most certainly not with glamour.
Introducing masculinity into world of women’s fashion allowed for comfort, creativity, and a move away from the norm. Through these means, Chanel’s suit became a symbol of First Wave Feminism in the 1920s. However, Yves Saint Laurent took the design to the next level decades later. The creation of the Yves Saint Laurent “Le Smoking” tuxedo, aligned with the ideas behind female empowerment and sexual liberation. In an era in which very few public places even allowed women entry when wearing trousers, the tuxedo design was ground-breaking, disruptive, and provocative.
The Miniskirt: Sexual Liberation in the 1960s
Another fashion trend that championed sexual liberation in the swinging 1960s was Mary Quant’s iconic mini skirt. Despite Chanel’s earlier pioneering fashion efforts, even she expressed shock and disbelief at this radical thigh-grazing style, famously questioning: “Have they all gone mad?”.
The mini skirt was created in the context of female empowerment, and it encouraged women to reclaim their bodies and be able to express themselves however they desired. The cutting-edge mini skirt fast became a symbol.
In addition to the garment being deemed risqué, it was also designed to be comfortable, easy to wear, and affordable to the masses. It signified the fact that women could now wear and do whatever they liked.
The Anti-Fashion Movement: Punk Culture in the 1970s
The punk movement famously subverted all we previously knew about fashion. The anti-establishment subculture was expressed boldly using fashion trends such as tartan jeans, intentionally ripped clothes, and paperclips. As punk progressed into the 1980s, street punk style brought us even more extreme versions of the iconic look, incorporating studded chokers, mohawks, tattoos, and facial piercings.
Anarchy and chaos were at the heart of the punk look — a subculture centred around toppling the establishment. This was reflected in the untamed fashion which went out to specifically change any previous fashion ‘rules’.
Sportswear: Changing the Game in the 2000s
The ‘girl power’ brand of feminism that we associate with the Spice Girls is partially responsible for yet another fashion revolution. Yes, the Spice Girls brought back Mary Quant’s mini skirt with a big impact, but they also brought us Sporty Spice, and signified that women could, at long last, be fashionable, comfortable, and sporty all at once.
Sports clothes have since crept into mainstream fashion, with trainers, leggings, and crop tops no longer limited to the gym. These comfortable clothes allowed women to reject high heels and push-up bras if they wanted to, while still being able to embrace mainstream fashion and make a statement with their wardrobe.
Non-Binary Clothing: The Future of Fashion
We’re not quite done with testing the boundaries of fashion yet, and today in 2020 we are beginning to see more and more people throw gender-focussed fashion out of the window. Our current fashion revolution can perhaps be paralleled with the punk movement: the rules have been discarded and people are free to express their style however they like, regardless of their gender.
From celebrities like Ezra Millar and Harry Styles on the red carpet, to cult fashion publications such as Fruitcake Magazine, the fashion world is beginning to reject gender-locked fashion and brands are following suit. In discussion with the National Museum of Scotland, Fruitcake Magazine founder, Jamie Windust, described their views on fashion and gender: “I think for me fashion was one of the first ways that I explored gender. I was kind of questioning it, and I think for a lot of people that’s quite common; to just play with it, to have a bit of fun.”
The world of fashion is powerful, yet consistently playful. Clothes have long allowed people to be their most authentic selves, and with the lines of ‘right and wrong’ in fashion being constantly challenged and blurred, the world of fashion is sure to take us to some weird and wonderful places in the years to come.