Fashion and activism may sound like two ends of the spectrum, but in reality, they are intertwined. Fashion is not just pretty clothes and glamorous fashion shows. It is a massive industry with huge influential power over many aspects of society. Given the industry’s scope, it is not only able to shape trends but it has the capability of transcending lives by what it brings to light.
For many years, fashion brands mostly preferred to hold back from any political and social issues. However, the new generation, aka Gen-Z, is more conscious than previous generations and will not favor those brands that stay ignorant. They demand more responsible actions and fashion brands have no choice but to act on them. In this article, we take a look at how activists have affected feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, and body positivity.
Let’s start with feminism. One of the most famous fashion houses that loudly speak about feminism is Dior. When Maria Grazia Chiuri started her role as the brand’s creative director in 2017, she made her debut with T-shirts with the slogan ‘We Should All Be Feminist’, a tribute to the acclaimed writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A similar approach was taken by Prabal Gurung with ‘The Future is Female’ T-shirts, and by Jonathan Simkhai with his ‘Feminist AF’ T- shirt. Not surprisingly, they were all received positively by their Gen-Z consumers and created a great buzz in the media. However, feminism isn’t achieved only with slogans and big statements. In fact, there isn’t a straight way of promoting it.
Take Phoebe Philo for example. She has created her designs in Céline (with an apostrophe) for strong and independent women. She is known as the creator who designs clothes that women actually want to wear. Sarah Mower Phoebe Philo has made history as the legendary designer and feminist who changed the narrative about what it means to feel sexy. Instead of the short bodycon dress and platform high heels going-out outfit, she constructed yet effortless garments that redefined how and what made a woman feel sexy but more importantly empowered.
This, however, doesn’t mean that feminist representation in fashion can only be done by wearing loose and masculine clothes or by wearing more revealing clothes means someone is not feminist. In fact, embracing one’s body and wearing clothes that celebrate it, is a form of feminism. Casey Cadwallader has contributed to feminism in fashion from a different angle. Women dress sexy, when they want to, for themselves, says Casey Cadwallader, the creative director of Mugler in Fashion No Filter podcast by Camille Charrière and Monica Ainley. For years wearing sexy clothes meant trying to get attention from men or ‘asking for it’. Women are taught to hide their curves and femininity in public not to get labeled ‘easy to get’ Because playing hard to get it is what you need to do, right?
Feminism means not judging and labelling women by what they are wearing. It means wearing clothes you feel comfortable in, whether it is wide-leg trousers or a bodycon dress. Both designers contributed to feminism by encouraging women to wear what they want when they want.
As we are moving forward in the 4th wave of feminism, we must keep intersectionality in our minds. Feminism is not only an ideology of white rich women but of all. The whole purpose of intersectional feminism is to listen to different kinds of feminists – not just ones like yourself. This means accepting LGBTQ+ individuals as well.
When we look into LGBTQ+ clothing, we can say that activism in recent years has changed a lot. For many years, queer fashion was just clothing with rainbows on, peaking especially during Pride Month. Gender-neutral clothing is a concept long overdue in fashion. Clothing that is designed to be worn by both genders, so-called ‘unisex’, is nothing new, but gender-neutral is not equal to unisex. Gender-neutral eliminates the indication of gender in clothes whilst unisex clothing is designed to be suitable for any sex or gender. Non-binary influencers and celebrities have been inviting individuals and brands to break free from the gender restrictions in clothing for a more inclusive world.
Writer and TEDx speaker Jamie Windust is amongst the influencers who use their voices to make a change for a more inclusive fashion. Long-time LGBTQ+ supporter and activist Marc Jacobs sets a perfect example for his peers by releasing a polysexual collection, whilst Harry Styles proudly motivates gender-bending clothing by wearing skirts and dresses. Thanks to many fashion activists, we now see many gender-neutral and gender-bending fashion collections. From luxury designer brands like Gucci to high street brands like Zara, they have started including gender-neutral collections.
Another trending issue touched on quite often in the fashion industry by activists is body positivity. For decades, especially after ‘heroin chic’ became popular, the industry standards for models have become increasingly out of reach. Brands like Victoria’s Secret have idealized one type of beauty. As model agencies asked their models to be increasingly skinnier, the media supported this notion by continuously praising those who kept their bodies in the ‘desired’ measurements. Those who gained a bit of weight, or showed signs of any ‘imperfection’ were publicly shamed. Apart from the psychological traumas caused by these almost impossible standards, eating disorders have increased dramatically over the past couple of decades, spreading out of the industry.
Thankfully, over the last few years, we’ve seen an uprising in body positivity. Influencers like Mik Zazon (pictured above), a former athlete who uses her power on Instagram to #normalisenormalbodies and encourage women to love themselves the way they look. With over 900k followers, Mik is indeed influencing women to accept their bodies. Michelle Elman aka @scarrednotscared is another powerful influence for many girls who are struggling with their body image by life coaching or through her Instagram account (172k followers), her TEDx speeches, her podcast, and her book Am I Ugly, The Joy Of Being Selfish.
These fashion activists’ Instagram posts are filled with comments from their followers saying they have helped them rebuild their self-confidence. Similar to the first two topics, brands have started to listen to their customers’ feedback on body positivity and responded by extending available sizes or by creating plus-size collections.
As we have mentioned above, fashion is an industry with an incredibly wide reach. Therefore, fashion activism is a very powerful way to raise awareness and educate. Nowadays, we can reach a massive crowd easily just through our phones, from the comfort of our home. It is our responsibility to take action, and stand up for what we believe in. Let’s use our power to change the world for the better.
Stay tuned for the second part of the series, in which we will talk about how fashion activists have affected issues like racism, politics, and sustainability.
Special thanks to Alara Urlulu