Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #56, 1980

Picture the scene: an art gallery in central Germany. A 17 year-old girl in skater gear stands admiring an intricate textile piece. Then she realises it’s an embroidered pornographic image. She blushes. She never forgets it.

Such was my introduction to feminism. Ghada Amer’s controversial pieces made me realise not only that I felt strongly about pornography, but also that I too wanted to reclaim traditionally ‘female’ pursuits and use them to dramatic effect. I got the message about the ‘male gaze’ right there, and realised I wasn’t happy about it. By the time I’d turned 18, I’d covered myself in paint and made imprints of my body on perspex. I wanted to be an active participant – not a passive role-player.

Ghada Amer – don’t look too closely…               [source]

Fast forward a decade: I’m writing a fashion blog, and am also an active member of a local feminist group. I start to feel…well, a bit weird that I’m writing posts about ‘the 12 best winter hats’ in the same week as a letter to my MP about lapdancing clubs. I figure: there must be some way that these two parts of myself can co-exist, online and everything? And what do you know? I was right.
With the Feminist Fashion Bloggers, we set out to write a batch of posts on fashion and feminism for Women’s History Month, and I don’t think anyone was prepared for what surfaced. Between us we covered everything from modelling to Marxism, body-image to beauty icons, stereotyping to slave Leia costumes to soldering in heels. As individuals writing about the fashion/feminism crossover, we contributed to the wild array of topics and opinions, made an impact in the blogging world, gained new readers and discovered new  blogs. But for me, when 40 bloggers participated in March 16th group event, our thoughts became an inspiring collective voice. I ain’t gonna lie to you, folks – I felt so excited that day.
So what has this project taught me? I’ve learnt that whether you want your fashion/feminism funny or gritty, subtle or meaty…you’ve got it. I’ve learnt that there are tons of fashion bloggers who aren’t afraid to align themselves with another ‘f word’…and some who ferociously and unashamedly wear it on their sleeves. I’ve learnt that however different our views may be, there are at least 70 women who want feminism and fashion on the agenda, who want to discuss feminism in line with their other passions and are fired up enough to keep the conversation going. We’re not done yet.
Back in January, the fabulous Citizen Rosebud asked: “where are the feminist fashion bloggers?” Two months on, I think we can all join together in saying, “Here we are.”
Have you been reading Feminist Fashion Bloggers posts?
How do you feel about the recent fashion-feminism mash-up?!

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This is the last part of the series of posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers for Women’s History Month.
Click here to read the other submissions on the new FFB blog.
And click here to join the discussion in the Google group.


Friend Friday: Wearing Your Beliefs on Your Sleeve.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about links between fashion and other social issues. I for one am glad these discussions are being had – we don’t blog about fashion in a bubble, and I think it’s thrilling to see what a  statement we can make when we band together. This week’s Friend Friday asks: where do our (feminist) beliefs fit into our wardrobe? Read more Friend Friday posts here.

Do you think there is an incompatibility between feminism and a love for fashion?
There shouldn’t be! There seem to be some daft and pervasive ideas that the ‘frivolity’ of fashion undermines the seriousness of feminism. I think you can support equal pay and wear high heels, just as I think you should be able to wear your own clothes without being harassed. Fashion as an industry has quite rightly been called into question for its role in important social issues, such as low self-esteem in young women and exploitation of women workers, and these are questions that still need to be addressed. But as fashion-loving or fashion-conscious feminists, we are in the perfect position to raise awareness of these issues and speak out when we disagree. Let’s move on from tired old stereotypes and take this thing forward!

FFB’s Feminist Fashion icons – proof the two can co-exist.                                  By Franca.

With the fashion industry still being a male-dominated profession, how do you think it would differ if women played a larger role?
When the power players of the industry, ie Queen Viv and Miuccia Prada refuse to identify as feminists, it’s hard to say! There’s no denying that female designers have played an increasingly significant role in the last couple of years, Phoebe Philo’s role in the ‘new minimalism’ being an obvious example, and Donatella Versace aside, there is a case for women’s designs heralding en era of less obvious sexuality. Male style blogger Arash Mazinani recently wrote a post about male designers ‘bringing the sexy back’, and while there’s no denying that Tom Ford et al produce some seriously hot clothes, I’m happy to get less of that on a plate – I’m more interested in clothes that are designed with the wearer in mind.

Marni AW11 – my kind of sexy.

How is your self-image and the way you carry yourself informed by your beliefs?

I’ve gone from hiding myself in sweatshirts to emulating fifties filmstars and back again, in line with my developing opinions. I discussed my ambivalent feelings in a recent post, so I’ll quote it here:

Do you think clothing/makeup/hair helps communicate the truth about yourself or are those things superfluous add-ons?

I don’t think they are add-ons as much as extensions, or in some cases – let’s be honest here – enhancements. I certainly don’t advocate buying into a ‘stereotype’ (see my post on Girl Tribes!) but think the beauty of fashion is that it gives us chance to show various ‘truths’ about ourselves; the chance to experiment with colour and silhouette is a fun and creative process. 

Fascinators: fun…and not just for weddings.

There is more to each of us than a love for fashion, how do you incorporate every aspect of yourself into your blog?
I think that comes over time. I felt uncomfortable ‘leaving out’ my feminist beliefs, but with questions like this and the newly-established Feminist Fashion Bloggers I feel I am now bridging that gap and hitting my stride. That said, I don’t think there’s any need to incorporate every aspect of yourself. I once likened the blogging world to a big social event, and I believe that analogy holds: it’s up to you how much of yourself you want to present to the world. Keep the rest under your hat – you’re entitled.

How do your beliefs colour your wardrobe?

Does Pink Stink?

What does the colour pink mean to you? Femininity? Romance? Frivolity? Innocence?

Chances are you thought of some positive and decidedly feminine words (and if you didn’t, then kudos – I want to hear from you!) Pink is the colour of lipsticks, of Barbie’s car (and house, and the myriad other material possessions that she’s acquired through life). Pink roses are a gentler romantic gesture than bold red, the colour of lust and love and passion.

It is now almost impossible to enter a toy store without immediately being aware of ‘girl toys’ and ‘boy toys’, conveniently colour-coded; some stores boast an entire floor dedicated to the toys a girl might want, dumbed down…and in pink.

What’s the problem with that? Well let’s look a little closer.

The Pink Stinks campaign, established by two mothers who were horrified by the ‘pinkification’ of culture, aims to tackle the gender division affecting children. They argue that the gender-colour equation adds up to lower self-esteem in girls, as the incessant focus on princess dresses and babies and make-up affects young girls’ aspirations. I looked on a well-known UK retailer’s website, and the top 10 girls’ toys included a Rapunzel costume, a dolls house, a bead-making set, and my personal favourite: a pushchair. Mainly in pink, might I add, with the odd splash of purple. The boys top 10 – and this will come as no surprise – included several guns, battle figures and cars. Try finding a firefighter fancy dress costume aimed at girls, or one that isn’t a 50s nurse or a fairy. Now this trend may be older than me, but seriously: what message is this giving kids? I tell you what message: an outdated one

Now a person may well argue that there is no harm in children showing a preference for a colour, and I agree with that in principle. But I plain refuse to believe that we are biologically pre-determined to like a colour to this degree. And, for me, the clincher is this: many boys with some level of cultural awareness refuse to wear pink. It has connotations of ‘girliness’, and that has to be avoided at all costs. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a particular fan of ‘girly pink’ either. But then, when I cast my mind back, I realised that I was never bombarded with pink accessories. This was definitely in part due to my mother, who, I remember, refused to buy me a toy kitchen, but the fact is there just wasn’t the plethora of pink there is today. It’s like we’re going backwards.
Some hysterical British news reporters claimed that Pink Stinks was trying to ‘ban pink’, but this ain’t the case. They have a problem with the connotations. Their site aims to focus instead on positive female role models who are known for their passions and achievements rather than their beauty or breast size, and they believe that by shifting the focus from ‘princess’ and ‘soldier’, toy and clothing companies have the opportunity to feed children the dreams they deserve, wearing whatever colours they choose.
And me? I actually love a bit of pink. I even have a fabulous pair of pink shoes…but the difference is, I’m old enough to know I can still change the world while I’m wearing them.

How do you feel about the pink culture?
Do you think it’s harmless or a hindrance?

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This is part of a series of posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers for Women’s History Month.
Click here to read the other submissions on the new FFB blog!

How Do You Express Feminism in the Way You Dress?

So how do I express my feminism in the way I dress?

I don’t know that I do.

What I do know is that, for me, my clothing choices have been very much tied up with my sexuality, and as someone who became aware of both feminism and sexuality at the same time, the two are irrevocably interconnected. The freedom to express or hide my own self-awareness has often been a cloak, sometimes been a weapon…but has always been an issue.

I went through – what? – sixteen contented years being unaware of my looks or allure. I say this not to make any grandiose claims about said looks, just that I was unaware of any physical or mental albatrosses round my neck, unaware of what Joan Jacobs Brumberg calls ‘The Body Project‘. Anyone else remember that blissful state? I feel like I’ve been trying to regress to this ever since.

As with many people, my first awareness of my own physicality came not from fashion media, but from the comments of people I knew. It was a shock. This was shortly followed by my Catwoman obsession, which I have written about before; here was a woman who regenerated after horrible treatment by a man, who evolved to such a degree that she donned vinyl and a whip to get her own back. My first experience, if you will, of a woman using her sexuality to her advantage. I can’t defend my 11 year-old psyche, but this figure who was beautiful and emotionally fragile but physically capable of such ass-kicking struck a chord. First ‘feminist’ icon. By extension I developed a love of 40s clothing, and it came to represent the beauty and stoicism of women.
She may have made a mean cup of coffee…
…but she could kick Batman’s ass in a heartbeat.
Fast forward several years, and I was a corduroy-clad scruff. Hair braids were my best friend, makeup an anaethema to me. Sneaker Pimps was my soundtrack, and Natalie Imbruglia, in her combats and hoodie, seemed all the more beautiful for de-emphasising her looks and her body. Sexiness?! Pah!
It was at this point that I ‘discovered’ feminism, became aware of the general ‘male gaze’…and hid my body while reclaiming the ‘feminine’ arts such as textiles. 
For what happened next, blame Mrs Prada. I was happily mooching around in the skater trainers and long jersey skirts when I picked up that fateful issue of Vogue in 2000:

Pleated skirts? Pussybows? Kitten heels? I was in heaven. I got to wear beautiful clothes while hiding away my thighs and cleavage – my perfect compromise. And when I hit London, my love of  ‘repressed’ clothing was compounded by my new-found love of Catherine Deneuve. Beautiful yet capable of true depravity, her character in Belle du Jour was an intoxicating mix for a 19 year-old girl. This idea of a woman only being capable of secretly expressing sexual desire is not a new one, and will certainly be familiar to many of us. For me it manifested itself in stockings, sunglasses and ladylike swing coats.
Even now, at 30 years old, I am still hyper-aware of how I look. I am still veering between the demure and a celebration of my shape; last year I wrote a guest post about how my ‘celebratory’ sartorial choices bit me in the ass when I received disconcerting comments about my figure. My unease about posting outfit shots has been documented on here recently!

So what’s my point? Well, it’s perhaps not so much a question of how I express my feminism in the way I dress, but more a question of how I have never known how to. At certain times I feel like the array of clothes I have at my disposal is liberating, and at others it’s hard to feel like anything I wear is my own choice, when both midi and mini skirts feel like some kind of sexual (or anti-sexual) statement. There is no easy answer for me. Yes, I’ve been made to feel guilty for wearing mascara, and yes, to some my myriad pairs of heels seem at odds with my ideals. But, as I’m sure many will say today, I do aim to dress for myself. Striking the balance between being aware of my sexuality and owning it, well…that’s an ongoing process.

How do you (or don’t you) express your beliefs in the way you dress? 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This post is for the Feminist Fashion Bloggers event: ‘Show Us Your Fashionable Feminist’, where participants are invited to answer the question: ‘how do you express your feminism in the way you dress?’. To learn more about the group, click here. To join in the discussion, feel free to join the Google Group.

The full list of links can be found here, on the new Feminist Fashion Blog!

In Bad Company: Girl Tribes.

I had to write about a ridiculous article I read last October. I’ve been sitting on it, actually, waiting for a chance to spatter it with vitriol. It’s about the four ‘Girl Tribes’. Yep, you heard me: FOUR.

Window of Hamleys toy shop, October 2010

That’s right – Company magazine decided to get four male writers to spew some rubbish about Brit Girls and their apparent diversity:

   “Women come in all shapes and sizes, and hurrah for that…”

Promising start, no? But when the examples given are Keira Knightley, Posh and Alexa Chung, you soon realise this article sure ain’t gonna be about body diversity. On the one hand we have a fawning celebration of ‘The English Rose‘ – an original concept, I’m sure you’ll agree – who is lucky enough to have “pale skin, glossy hair…” – and, wait for it! – “…a brain.” To nail this look, ladies, one must be “from a good family” and possess “true beauty”, but more important than that, one must be unaware of these transcendent good looks. Got it? 

The English Rose is also known to display a distaste for falseness, including “fake tan, acrylic nails and chemical peels” (au naturel armpit hair a step too far, I assume), unlike her sister tribe ‘The High Glamourati‘. The HG, aka the “high glam Brit Babe”, would, never dream of owning a pair of trainers. And stop comfort eating in front of your weekly soaps, girls, because in tough times the HG should be able to get through with a high-gloss slick of lippy and 6″ heels, something comparable to the war effort, if this young man is to be believed. Apparently, “every man dreams of coming home to a woman stirring a casserole wearing skyscraper heels (no other clothing required)”. Now Mr Bossa is a red-blooded male, and all that, but even he in his practicality pointed out the dangers of ‘gravy splashback’.

In contrast to this highly-coiffed saucepot, ‘The New Romantic‘ girl (ref Florence Welch and Natasha Khan) “doesn’t belong in a dream that looks like it’s sponsored by Nuts Magazine. She’s better than that”. 

So, ditch the sexy shoes and beauty products – if you want respect rather than a quickie over the cooker you should swathe yourself in chiffon and “celestial wonderfulness”casserole not required, presumably. The NR looks “stunning, almost goddess-like” whether her willowy limbs are wrapped in flowing clothes or “a jumper that looks like it’s been borrowed from Wogan’s wardrobe”. Well I don’t know about you, chicas, but the goddess look is a little grandiose for northern Lancashire, and if I don a Wogan jumper, well…I certainly ain’t gettin’ any.

Terry Wogan: horny devil.
For those feeling a little excluded from these virgin/whore dichotomies – never fear. If you’re prepared to chug down crap lager while regaling fellas with your encyclopaedic knowledge of indie bands, then you are no doubt a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roller‘. A refreshing alternative to American girls and their ‘boob jobs’, “MGMT remixes” hold more appeal for you than silicone augmentation (or the fight for equal pay, presumably) and all you need to do to capture your ‘own style’ is to don some wellies and er, a band t-shirt. So rad. 

So what have we learnt so far? If you can’t be brainy with lips like rose petals, then it pays to be cool. If you can’t be cool enough to brave the mud in festival moshpits, then get flaunting those buttocks in a pair of Louboutins. And if you can’t be a sexpot, then simply stash your sexuality (and your hairbrush) away. If you manage to knock out a few “miniature love poems on fallen leaves”, then, honey, the deal is SEALED.

There is no denying that what we wear is part of our identity (more on that next week), but the lack of scope in this article is infuriating; we are all so much more than these lazy stereotypes. I hate that each group is pitted against each other – the dreamy romantic versus the high maintenance glamour girl, the mud-spattered rock chick versus the brainy English rose. More significantly, I can’t bear the idea that each of these ‘tribes’ is legitimised by some bloke’s wet dream – each group either inspires extreme veneration or a knowing dirty wink…from men. Who exactly do they think we dress for?!

I was appalled when I first read this article, but this has waned into condescension over the months that followed. The stereotyping from these four dreamy idealists may be feeble, but you’re not telling me it doesn’t ring a few bells. I don’t think I need to fight my corner by stating I might like to listen to an odd bit of nu-metal when I’m flitting about in tea dresses. Applying make-up, for me, is a creative and therapeutic process, not the bait on the end of some hook. I may enjoy the stature that heels give me, but I have also been known to use these heels to threaten would-be attackers on the streets of London. Screw your nude cooking.

So, Company, don’t use some glib article to pigeon-hole your ‘girls’ by the height of their heels, the litheness of their limbs, the band on their t-shirts. We’ve had enough. Give us real diversity and let us run amok with our fashion choices. Women come in all shapes and sizes…and hurrah for that.

Who do you dress for, readers? 
How much truth is there in these silly stereotypes?

* * * * *

This is part of a series of blog posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers. To learn more, click here. To join the group, click here. And to read submissions by the other members, follow the links below:

Adventures in Refashioning – Soldering on in Heels 
Aly en France – My Body Entirely
Fishmonkey – The Man Repeller and the Male Gaze
Jean of all TradesQiu Jin: Modern China’s First Feminist
The Interrobangs – Millie’s Take on Modesty
Knitting Up the Ravelled Sleeve of Care – Knitting a Better World
Magic Square FoundationBody Policing
Northwest is Best – Why 1940s is Not a Fashion Trend
Oranges and Apples Some thoughts on Marthettes, blogging about ‘feminine’ stuff and perfection
Rags Against the Machine – A Gaze of My Own

Techie Style – Feminism and the Slave Leia Costume
What Are Years – My Thoughts on the Recent CBC Documentary ‘The F Word’

Mrs B's Bargain Buys.

Thank you all for your comments on my second Body Image post. I’m so glad I bit the bullet and got all emotive on your asses. 😉

Anyway, in the spirit of that post, I’m chucking another couple of outfit posts your way. I made a bit of cash on eBay after my Wardrobe Blitz, and so it was with light heart and a spring in my step that I set off on an expedition to the local charity shops. I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the selection – everything seems to be from Matalan and Primark so can’t have been more than a few quid to start off with – but I did nab a few cheap treats.

I was so excited when I found this vintage dress for a mere £3. A rich cherry red with black detailing, it has flattering sleeves and a cute little belt. In case you’re interested, that second shoe-shelf down is in the header of my blog…

I think I was channelling Penny Dreadful in this one…

Shortly after I found these boots – I have a real hankering for grey boots these days, inspired to no small degree by one of Vintage Vixen’s latest outfits. I already have several pairs, but you know the score; it’s this magpie-like tendency that means I have 13 tan leather clutches. Totally unnecessary, 100% satisfying.


They’re grey with a low-ish heel and a few straps and cost £4. I don’t know where they’re from, but I think they’re understated and simple and they’re ever so comfortable, you know. I’m not sure what the upcoming trends are on that score, but my ankle boot love continues apace. I was just glad to find some that I could walk in without having to do preparatory ankle exercises or call my chauffeur. (that was just a little joke – in reality, being a northerner, I have to work 27 hours down the mines and walk 15 miles home before preparing bread ‘n’ dripping for my 9 children – we can’t afford chauffeurs at present).

I also found this lovely little blouse, in a colour I’ve coveted for ages without ever finding the right style. This is the one for me, my friends – in a pussybow style with a Peter Pan collar, for £3.50. White bra though – what a faux pas, eh, fashionistas?! I know you’re all gentlemen so wouldn’t have mentioned it.

As if my Special Shoe Rack wasn’t exciting enough, there’s also the Bossa Lightswitch.
I’m getting into the swing of this now. Stay tuned, chickens, for next week’s outfit posts from the glamorous BLACKPOOL…

What do you think?

Have you found any bargains lately?