100 years after: how did women rights reflect on fashion

by Brooke

February 16, 2018

Sixth of February has been marked red  in calendar of all feminists; a day when a woman has finally raised a voting paper, just to lower it a moment later into a voting box. Seems as such a small move, yet it has caused an irrevocable shift in social roles of men and women and a fundamental revolution in thought on human rights. Dangerous things, those voting papers.

THE INTRODUCTION: DEFINITION OF FEMINISM

A feminist today is a closest equivalent of a suffragette:

described as a strong, militant woman, whose aspirations are no smaller than one seen in men, she has been publicly praised and chastised for decades. She, the one who is opinionated and knowledgeable, is present in every aspect of social discussion and plays an active role in informing, exploring and changing, the Martyr of female (human) kind. And thank God for her existence; long gone the days of gender imbalances and deep divisions in social roles.

She is the one to pass on the values of mother suffragettes far into 21st century. She is the fighter, the protector, the righteous.

She is also astray. Just think about the feminist today; how much does her and her ancestor have in common? Darwin would have been intrigued to see this phenomenon. Are women today passing on the same values (and yes, fashion values too) that were the ideal of ‘the first feminists’? Can we alter our path to honor our great-great-grandmothers for their fight for freedom and equality?

Let’s dive deep into it.

EVOLUTION OF SUFRAGETTE FASHION

They say that “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. I bring them a framed poster of Donald Trump and sparkly-dressed Hilton sisters* for their 13-year-old daughter’s birthday gift.
*If you do not know the inglorious photo of Trump and Hilary sisters, I advise you to use Google.Just make sure you haven’t eaten previously.
Bad publicity, in order to be good, needs an act of repair that follows it. The modern woman is too busy, too pressured, too stressed, and too unmotivated  to skip that 3rd glass of wine and infamous rant with her fellow modern women, because that is where she vents from the daily stresses. She is dynamic, self-driven and tactical, and she swims with other fishes; until she goes home, that is, and realizes that she needs a break until she completely dismisses the idea for the sake of her career move. “This has to be done, and I am strong. I can push through”, she says. She does not need an act of repair, because everything she does is good, right?
And suffragettes was no different; these women, notably more active, dynamic, engaged and self-disciplined than their ancestresses, were in no case fragile. Camaraderie was the only way of support, until the age of rebellion. The New Woman haven’t had an Instagram account where her passive-aggressive quote would find home and she would ind her peace; so the started loudly wearing her first pants, driving her first bicycle and saying her first nasty words – all outside of her own home! What a disgrace! She fed on her prudence and condescending comments of her environment, and was driven by anger towards repressive society, and unshakable pride and courage.

However, back in the days, a misbehaving woman was frowned upon -much more than today, where misbehaving women are just a Bachelor show away- and the Women’s Social and Political Union  soon realized the damage bad reputation can do to their image. They knew that bringing their matter close to public means appealing to them, to all of them. So they knew that radical change in image will not accomplish that. Instead, they wanted to show that their kind, motherly values were not eternally gone due to their stronger social involvement.
Ingeniously. they employed fashion to represent their new role: to stand as a glimpse of softness in their tough stance. In other words, these women have, instead of proudly wearing men’s pants, shirts, suits and collars which was originally planned, and thus radically provoking the reaction of public to gain publicity, did exactly the opposite; they have embraced their feminine clothing, their ruffles, puffed skirts, their collars and impeccable posture as a weapon of their fight. Soft and elegant exterior served to soften the stone-cold, pragmatic internal spirit of justice that these women carried, and this contrast has become an inspiration to many designers, including Alexander Wang, for ages to come.
Their popularity soared, and they were finally accepted in their entirety. As soon as their rugged image was erased, and their kind image has taken its place, they have peacefully and without a victim won the war on inequality. However, the woman of today wears pants, and she does not need a man to tell her she served as an inspiration for his work. Or does she? Women are tough to understand.

FEMINISM: FREEDOM OR CRAZE?

A lady is not something one thinks about when one thinks of a feminist. Unfortunately, it is quite the opposite.
Usually the first thought when one mentions ‘a feminist’ is an image of a fist-waving woman in a protest which usually carries a radical, often offensive message or a drawing of female reproductive organs, which ironically have no impact on the topic of the protest.
By this time, you have seen contrast: compare the long-necked lady of 1900s to a modern feminist. Smiling, pleasant and collected, soft-spoken, her grace amplifying her willingness to stand out, softening the hit of her strong character. The fighter for women rights was no fighter in the real sense; yet, she won the greatest battle of all. Even her precedent -the industry princess, Rosie the Riveter, who died earlier this year– was the outline of formality and grace regardless of her masculine occupation.
These women might have originated from different planets. Thought-provoking and aggressive, sending radical messages and stepping over every single traditional value, the stereotypical feminist today is a representative of female -but not feminine- freedom of speech. Or is she? These women, while boldly exposing themselves while parading the streets and demolishing churches, are they just masking their own self-doubt behind their aggressive stance? Or is this really the rise of the new age, the age of female chauvinism?
I have to apologize for generalizing. Not every feminist is a raging, screaming bundle of hormones. Some bottle it up and then spill it all out during dinner parties when they had too much to drink. And then ruminate about it tomorrow whether they are left with any friends now. A path of a feminist is one paved with online apologies.

FASHION AS STATEMENT IN FEMINISM

“When you don’t dress like everybody else, you don’t have to think like everybody else.” — Iris Apfel

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, an editor of Votes for Women, a weekly magazine, who in 1908 wrote ‘Purple as everyone knows is the royal color, it stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity…white stands for purity in private and public life…green is the color of hope and the emblem of spring’.
These were the first words of suffragettes on clothing style an dressing, the first feminist act of branding, if you may. From that point on, suffragettes were staying loyal to their tricolor jewelry, dresses, broaches  ribbons, even soaps. Fighters for female justice stood united under their purple-white-green flag of egalitarian state.
When put next to that, today’s fashion has no less lost the sense of thought exchange through beautiful garments. Jil Sanders, Marc Jacobs, DKNY,  are just some of the few who embellish the strength a woman can carry. As the co-creation trend rises, and more and more people wear tags, slogans and statements on their clothes, fashion has (literally) become a mean of communication, slowly grouping fashion lovers according to their standards, values, political beliefs or just feelings, not just a color or style preference. Even having ‘just clothes on’ is a statement on its own; a statement of indifference. Being able to subtly -or not so much- spread the word about own beliefs has become the new ‘modern’.
And, a woman today can be as comfortable and liberated in the fashion sense as the man. In fashion sense, a strong woman has become a source of inspiration rather than an object of criticism, and her creativity can flow freely. The 1900s have opened a new chapter of freedom for female fashion, and so did 2000s.

THE CONCLUSION: THE NEW FEMINIST

The fashion of today did go through a transformation; a quite liberating one. A choice of garments and fashion today is as diverse as ever, with variety of shapes, colors, themes and values to wear and its availability is instant*. However, is it used in the right way? Should ‘the new New Woman’ be driven and openly expressive with all her emotion, including anger, lust and angst, or should her exterior remain cool and her demeanor kind and pleasant?
If you have answers, then let me know. Let’s talk about it.

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