Fashion and feminism are two of the subjects closest to my heart, but they often seem in conflict, with fashion brands and media refusing to offer anything but derogatory or unrealistic images of women, and academic feminists disdaining any woman who works in fashion (I’ve experienced this first-hand, and it was deeply disappointing).
In the last year or so, fashion brands have begun to catch on to the growing wave of popular feminism, with varying results. I feel deeply ambivalent about this. Originally, I thought it was great that one of the most visibly “female” industries was starting to behave in a slightly less misogynist way, but when feminism becomes a trend like any other, there’s the danger that it gets taken up quickly and then is discarded like last winter’s pink coat. Anyway, I tried to put some of my research on this into some kind of useful form for a report on Stylus, a brief excerpt of which is below…
One of the most-debated words over the last year, it seems that feminism has gone mainstream, with brands and celebrities co-opting feminism to gain greater traction with female consumers. Elle UK recently devoted its entire November issue to feminism, as well as launching a controversial “this is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt in conjunction with Whistles, while the magazine’s parent company, Hearst, has launched a website that aims to empower women.
“Are you a feminist?” has become a regular question in celebrity interviews, while a growing number of celebrities, from Miley Cyrus to Benedict Cumberbatch, have “come out” as feminist. Stars expressing support for equality have proved hugely popular with fans, and raised the profile of feminism, but they are also held to a higher standard of body-positivity, sisterhood and social awareness as a result. Those celebrities who don’t always reach that standard risk accusations of inauthenticity, such as Beyonce, whose single Pretty Hurts promotes self-empowerment, yet she has been accused of regularly airbrushing her supposedly candid Instagram images.
Fashion brands are increasingly aligning themselves with feminism too: Chanel recently made noise with its protest-themed catwalk show, where models carried placards bearing slogans such as “Women’s Rights are More than Alright”, “Ladies First”, “History is Her Story” and “We Can Match the Machos”. The show inspired a phalanx of think pieces about whether the brand was satirising, co-opting or promoting feminism, showing that the relationship between brands and feminism is a challenging one.
In fashion imagery, stylish plus-size women are finally coming to the fore: For the first time, the 2015 Pirelli calendar features a size 16 model, Candice Huffine, and glossy plus-size magazine SLiNK, now available in 15 countries, aims to show that “beauty and style doesn’t stop at a size 8”. Actress Melissa McCarthy certainly agrees, recently announcing her own plus-size clothing line, due to launch in 2015. A Mintel study found that 34% of women want to see more clothing photographed on larger models.
Those brands that are behind the body-positive curve risk censure from consumers,as Victoria’s Secret found with its “The Perfect Body” shapewear campaign. Consumers objected to the ads, which featured universally slim models, and the brand was forced to change its strapline to “A body for every body”.
But it’s not just about body size – beauty brand MAC has launched its MACnificentMe campaign to promote “being creative, being confident, having fun and most of all, being true to yourself”, by asking women to share their mantras about what makes them unique.