Fashion and feminism

October 13, 2014

A conveniently pleasant sounding alliteration or a powerful combination of social and artistic forces?

As Spring/Summer 2015 fashion week, when hundreds of fashion shows occur in several cities of the world between September and October, came to an end in Paris, Chanel managed to capture the spotlight, not for their usual tweed and quilted handbags, but for a full-on runway protest. Imagine tweed, quilted handbags and picket signs referencing current events such as Emma Watson’s “He For She” campaign speech or slogans such as “History is Her Story” and the ridiculous “Boys should get pregnant too.”

Should we all throw our hands up in the air and cheer? Fashion has taken a stance! Fashion and feminism do coexist! And bonus! The two words sound great together!

Unfortunately, Chanel’s “protest” got it all wrong. Feminism is about equal rights. The fashion industry, a business inherently invested in commoditizing a desired beauty standard, consequently bears a highly complicated relationship to the core tenet of this ideology. It seems that before attempting to take a stance on equal rights, fashion houses first need to address their own standards of beauty for women.

More so, this faux-protest uses a movement for equality to create a theatrical visual, trivializing the issues at hand. It played into angry-feminist stereotypes (ahem, boys should get pregnant too?) and created a spectacle of feminism to entertain viewers, rather than using its platform to create a powerful statement about women’s rights founded with context and an explanation.

Alicia Underhill, a third-year Commerce Student and Vice President of the Futures in Fashion Association, a new CIO for U.Va. students interested in working in the fashion industry, gained her first working experience as an intern at a Washington D.C. modeling agency.

“At ‘face value,’ there seemed to me to be very little room for feminism only because modeling is a part of the industry that is solely focused on a look -- and not the ideas and opinions of individuals involved. “

Underhill continues, “It's a shame that this [aesthetic] part of fashion is how most people interact with the industry as a whole because it makes it seem that fashion only cares about beautiful women modeling beautiful clothes. I think there's more to the story than that."

What’s frustrating about Chanel’s fashion show is that the discussion surrounding feminism in relation to fashion has now become centered on the aesthetic, celebrating or renouncing the way in which the fashion house used feminism as a prop for the showing of clothing- when in fact- feminism has almost always existed within the industry.

And while undeniably, fashion does and will likely continue to have a complicated relationship with beauty- designers, stylists, buyers, entrepreneurs- the often unseen side of the industry is proof that empowered women exist within it.

When explaining the purpose of FIFA, Underhill praises the club for having shown her the many different careers possible within the industry. She explains that, “We try to bring in as many guest speakers as possible that are working in the industry to give advice to students.”

Through their guest speaker series, Underhill has even been able to meet U.Va. graduates who have pursued successful careers within the fashion industry.

“Last year, we met Dega Tufts [a U.Va. alumna] who founded the company Top Shelf Clothes a few years back. It was awesome to hear how she transitioned from a career in investment banking into starting her own fashion e-commerce business and how passionate she is about her work. She is a great example of someone who has found success and fulfillment in the work that she does and she was really inspirational to me since I hope to start my own fashion-related company some day.”

Underhill admits that it is these types of connections made through the club that she loves most.

“We can act as a platform to connect these women to current students at U.Va. and show them that it is certainly possible to be successful, happy and fulfilled as a woman working in the fashion industry.”

Now that is the kind of feminism that Coco Chanel would be proud of.

Contribute a Story!

Have an idea for Iris? Send it to us!