Impact of Feminism on Fashion
There has been a heated discussion on the equality of man and woman since a century ago when feminists began to strive for women’s benefit. Compared to women in nineteenth century, women in this day and age have more rights and freedom. Women are now more considered to be independent individuals, as long time ago, they were possessions of men. Furthermore, women were compelled to follow every single order from men unconditionally. As an important impetus to fashion, feminism, which was mainly formed by three waves, has changed the stereotype significantly and lead to the decrease of restrictions on women’s dressing.
“Feminism encompasses many different theoretical, political and academic traditions. At the centre of feminist concerns, however, is the liberation of women from oppressive social practices and ideologies.”The first wave of feminist movement dated from nineteenth century to 1940s in United Kingdom and United States. Accompanied by anti-feudal movement, feminism finally became the most indispensable part and the criteria of social revolution.
Originally it focused on the promotion of equal contract and property rights for women and the opposition to chattel marriage and ownership of married women (and their children) by their husbands. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, activism focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women’s suffrage.
Basically, it was the first time when women have the opportunity to vote. During this wave, World War I took place, which was another cause of changes in women’s status. In order to defend national sovereignty, men were conscribed to fight in the battle front. Therefore, women had to do men’s physical labour in factory. Females no longer stayed in the house only serving their own family, but also went out working to support the household and their country. Not accidentally, (see Illus. 1) Coco Chanel’s simple and practical designs catered to the needs of working women. In her shop, she sold “flannel blazers, straight linen skirts, sailor tops, long jersey sweaters and skirt-jackets”which were inspired by menswear. These convenient clothes enabled women to work with higher efficiency. ”Chanel used such serviceable materials and relaxed patterns in the design of fashionable daywear for sophisticated urban women, safe in her knowledge of their aspirational and practical qualities.” Her accomplishment in fashion helped her situated in the roles of feminist pioneer. Simplicity has become a recognized characteristic of Coco Chanel and affected the fashion trend afterwards. Unfortunately, after the men returned from war when the WWI ended, women were dispatched back to the kitchen.”Still, an important new stage had been reached, since the induction of women into the war effort initiated the whole process of liberation.”
Between early 1960s and late 1980s, it was the second-wave feminism. Though after the first-wave feminism women have won over some legal rights, they were still limited and oppressed in working place. Slightly different from the first wave, the second-wave feminism concentrated on issues of real equality of women such as eliminating discrimination. Feminists went all out marching and protesting in the street. Owing to their hard struggle, females gradually earned some equality in the working place and other aspects of life. In all their achievements, the most remarkable event was the release of some gynocentric legal reforms. Without the legal obstructions to women’s personal freedom and professional achievement, women had a chance to prove themselves to be as capable as men.
The 1960s, also called the Sixties, was a decade when tremendous changes happened to fashion. In this era, fashion was influenced by various factors such as “social mobility, daring fashion photography, easier travel abroad, the Vietnam War, new music of the Beatles and their much copied hairstyles, retro military and ethnic clothes, musicals, pop art and film all played a part”. Feminism was absolutely one of the most influential causes of all. Le Smoking (see Illus. 2), designed by Yves Saint Laurent in 1966, is a typical example of impact on fashion by feminism. Yves Saint Laurent wasn’t the first person who created trousers for women. However, it was the first of its kind to draw attention in the fashion industry and the public. This innovative creation started androgynous style for women and pantsuits have been popular ever since. It’s still one of the favourite outfits of office ladies in present-day society. The popularity of power suits demonstrates women’s liberation and equality between men and women to some extent. Besides, it provides women another choice in their wardrobes and dresses were not the only selection any more. In a word, the appearance of pantsuit is a symbol of women been considered to be an independent individuals in workplace. In group of people in younger age, some daring youths were seeking for something new in fashion as restrictions on women reduced. Mary quant’s miniskirts (see Illus. 3), of which the hemline was set 6 or 7 inches above the knee, fulfilled their needs. It was controversial when it first came into the market, but then more people began to accept it in the mid-1960s and went into the major international trend. Miniskirt was reckoned to be a sign of women’s liberation and enabled women to run and show their beauty without limits.
The third-wave feminism began in the early 1990s, and the fashion in this decade was casual and comfortable. However, fashion and feminism don’t always go hand in hand. The release of women’s body didn’t go further because every woman wants perfect body for both personal reason and attracting men.
Wearing garments that show their nice body makes women feel better, more beautiful and sometimes even more confident. Fashion nowadays emphasized on silhouette and only slim and S-shape body is deemed to be beautiful. This brings stress on women and urges them to fit themselves into clothes that might be too tight. After struggling for equality for more than one hundred years, phenomena of inequality have decreased remarkably. But men have been in the dominant position for the majority of time in history. Reforms in laws are definitely not enough to change the status. To gain real equality, male chauvinism should be eliminated entirely. Anyway, it’s still a long way to go to have final equality of men and women