My answer to this question is undeniably, yes. I am less sure, however, of how to justify my viewpoint. The pairing of fashion and feminism is problematic for a slew of reasons. On nearly every front the two seem to contradict each other. A few examples:
- The fashion industry relies on models to showcase clothing. Though strides have been made recently, for the most part, these models enforce a singular conception of beauty in which women are tall, thin, and white. Feminists, in contrast to this, generally support an expanded idea of beauty that encompasses people of a variety of body types and skin colors.
- Fashion, as an aspect of capitalism, is intertwined with advertising, an industry that leans heavily on the mantra sex sells and the strategy of catering to the male gaze. As a feminist, it is difficult for me to reconcile participation in a system in which women and their bodies are often treated as objects for the consumption of men. Being an object implies being less than, and thus contradicts the feminist belief in equality for everyone.
On the other hand, though, feminism itself hasn't been represented as friendly to fashion either. In fact, media often portrays feminists as anti-fashion. The standard caricature of a feminist woman involves shapeless, oversized flannel, Birkenstock sandals, and baggy jeans. Accessories come in the form of a scowl, a burning bra, and perhaps a picket sign. (The similarities here to lesbian stereotypes cannot go without note-- a fact that only further reinforces the notion that fashion somehow has something to do with sexuality and men, as being anti-fashion somehow implies rejecting these concepts.) No matter which way you look at this conflict, fashion seems unable to be feminist, as much as feminists appear unable to participate in fashion (at least not without being hypocrites).
Despite this conflict, I stand by the belief that feminists can like fashion, and like it without guilt or reservations. There are a few instances I can conceive of in which fashion is feminist. Some thoughts:
- Fashion at its roots, outside of advertising and market influences, is about self-expressiont. Self-expression and freedom of behavior are both decidedly feminist ideologies.
- Fashion in itself can make a statement. Courtney Love's kinderwhore look definitely subverts traditional notions of womanhood by making use of clothing typically reserved for little girls. In this sense, how you dress can enforce activist beliefs, I suppose...
- Making choices is feminist. Dressing yourself is one of the most overtly noticeable expressions of choice. This seems like reaching, but choice in any context is important, in my opinion.
Anyway, I know this post doesn't really make any sort of forceful argument to justify my opinion that feminists can like fashion. I also know that not everything needs to be divided into a dichotomy of feminist and anti-feminist. I do, however, believe that fashion, something so closely related society's construction of womanhood, does need to be sorted in this manner. I also realize that everything discussed in this post still fails to make note of a handful of other issues like sweatshop labor, heteronormativity, etc. (Etcetera being the hundreds of other issues intrinsic in the fashion industry.)
Ultimately, I suppose this issue is a matter of context. Sometimes, fashion is feminist. Lots of times it is not. As a whole, though, the concept of fashion (and self-expression it entails) seems feminist to me. Not everything is black and white, and recognizing the importance of a qualified opinion is as feminist as it gets in my opinion.