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?
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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!