THE LAN­GUAGE OF FASH­ION From suf­fragette jew­ellery to plac­ards on the cat­walk, the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween fem­i­nism and fash­ion is as com­plex as it is re­veal­ing. By Justine Pi­cardie. Il­lus­tra­tion by Don­ald Robert­son.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Culture -

When I was an ide­al­is­tic un­der­grad­u­ate in my first term at Cam­bridge, I went along to a meet­ing of what was called the Uni­ver­sity Anti-Sex­ist Group. There was much heated de­bate about whether men could iden­tify them­selves as fem­i­nists and why stilet­tos were symp­to­matic of op­pres­sion. As it hap­pens, I wasn’t wear­ing heels, but I had ap­plied red lip­stick and nail var­nish, which clashed with my pink dress. This turned out to be a faux pas – not on ac­count of the dis­cor­dant colours, but be­cause fem­i­nism and fash­ion were mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

I might have quoted Vir­ginia Woolf by way of de­fence, for as she ob­served, clothes have “more im­por­tant of­fices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us”. As it was, I re­mained si­lent. But since then – thanks in part to Woolf, and her ex­plo­rations of the links be­tween what we wear and who we are (threads that ran through her writ­ing, which she de­scribed as “frock con­scious­ness”) – I have come to re­alise fem­i­nism’s re­la­tion­ship with fash­ion can­not be so eas­ily dis­missed.

The un­easi­ness of this re­la­tion­ship is, per­haps, part of the rea­son for its con­tin­u­ing power to pro­voke de­bate. Take, for ex­am­ple, the fem­i­nist protest staged by Karl Lager­feld on the Chanel cat­walk this sea­son, when a pa­rade of mod­els marched with ban­ners and me­ga­phones on a recre­ated Parisian boule­vard in­side the Grand Palais. As I watched the fi­nale, it was im­pos­si­ble not to share the sheer ex­hil­a­ra­tion of the mod­els as they shouted and waved their plac­ards (“His­tory Is Her Story”; “He For She”; “Fem­i­nism Not Masochism”).

Af­ter­wards, how­ever, came the in­evitable dis­sent; much of which ran along the lines that fem­i­nism would be un­der­mined if it were hi­jacked as a fash­ion state­ment. It was a “silly show”, wrote a critic; not least be­cause “the fash­ion in­dus­try, and in par­tic­u­lar the fash­ion weeks, are about as fem­i­nist as a fruit­cake”. Other com­men­ta­tors wor­ried that

Sar­to­rial fem­i­nism through the decades

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