Are feminism and fashion compatible?

A thorough examination of the relationship between fashion and the feminist movement.

''Are feminism and fashion compatible?'' This question has been posed repeatedly in the past, given the tension and criticism surrounding the connection between feminism and fashion. Some claim that these two are not intrinsically contradictory and that fashion helped fuel the feminist movement, while others argue that fashion is fundamentally anti-feminist. Can they both really coexist and even enhance one another? Given how multifaceted and complex the link between feminism and fashion is, that is a tricky subject. Now, let's examine the issue in more depth. There is no doubt that fashion and self-expression are inextricably connected and people have relied on fashion as a form of communication for decades. Fashion has historically been used as a medium for symbolic power, expression of opinion and intentions, intercultural diplomacy, identity communication, narrative art, and political solidarity, therefore it's not a surprise that it's been linked with political movements. Therefore, fashion at times became an aid to the advancement of women's rights campaigns and clothes have subsequently become emblematic of the need for social change. The Suffragettes, for example, created an eye-catching impression by using the colors purple, white, and green; purple symbolized loyalty and dignity, white symbolized simplicity, and green symbolized optimism, and later Democratic women in the House of Representatives often wore all-white to pay tribute to the suffrage campaign. 

The flapper movement of the 1920s was one of the earliest examples of using fashion to push for gender equality, with women rejecting conventional feminine style. This new 'flapper' look, along with a short bob hairdo and often a cigarette, challenged societal and sexual boundaries. While not necessarily a feminist, Coco Chanel pioneered androgynous styles, replacing constraining corsets and lengthy skirts with a creeping hemline. Later, her innovative skirt suit became a power symbol.

Later, in the 1960s, a period of significant social and cultural change marked by the rise of the women's liberation movement, the best example is the miniskirt, a bold piece of garment that revolutionized women's wardrobes. The designer of the miniskirt, Mary Quant, declared that the miniskirt was "a way of rebelling". Although many people regarded the miniskirt as vulgar it became a symbol of women's freedom and independence. Also, designers such as Vivienne Westwood have incorporated feminism, environmentalist, and social justice themes into their designs, raising public awareness of feminist issues.

Even though fashion enables women to make significant political statements and empower themselves in some way, the fashion industry does not always seem to be in tune with the feminist movement. While fashion may be a great instrument for feminism and women are by far the major consumers of fashion, it cannot be stated that ALL women benefit from it. This industry has several issues, the most serious of these may be its exploitative labor practices. The fashion industry has a long history of abusing female labor. Women account for ''about 80% of garment workers globally, with the majority aged 18 to 35,'' according to Vogue Australia. Female employees are frequently forced to work in unsafe workplace circumstances, particularly in underdeveloped countries. Despite being exploited for personal or industrial benefit, they are poorly compensated. In addition, women continue to be underrepresented in positions of authority in the fashion business. Just 40% of womenswear fashion firms are led by female designers, and only 14% of the 50 top fashion brands are directed by women according to a Business of Fashion survey. Another concern, even in 2023, is the continuation of harmful standards of beauty and a lack of representation. Feminism must be intersectional. The type of feminism that benefits only white women is not true feminism. The fashion industry must stop celebrating solely white and thin women and start celebrating ALL women. If there is still discrimination in an industry based on someone's color, sexual orientation, or size, it implies that sexist notions are still dominant. The world of social media and a new generation of women have unquestionably put some pressure on brands to incorporate ALL women and to make their products ethically and without exploiting female labor. However, despite their social media engagement, many brands refuse to bring about a significant shift within the structure of their business and continue to be online slacktivism- they only use political and feminist movements for marketing purposes, rather than acknowledging how they have an impact on women. 

As previously said, the relationship between fashion and the feminist movement is quite complex. Fashion may come across as it unquestionably has its victims, however, it may also function as an intellectual experiment that questions political and societal meanings. It seems as though paying attention to the significance of these things is more important than constantly discussing whether feminism and fashion are compatible.