Fashion and feminism, to many, are like oil and water. How does one reconcile the desire to look good with a mindset that wants women to be judged by more than simply their appearance? The tension is rooted in more than just contradictory mindsets. There are also the fashion industry facts of body policing, of white-washing the runways, of the over-sexualization of the female form. The list goes on and oN.
Miuccia Prada, head designer of (you guessed it) Prada and Miu Miu, has recently admitted to Newsweek that her commitment to feminism was almost enough to dissuade her from entering the fashion industry. She told the magazine, “I was a feminist in the ’60s and can you imagine? The worst I could have done was to be in fashion. It was the most uncomfortable position.” Only later did Miuccia realize that the fashion industry could be a space for feminist thought and action. She calls her job “an open door to any kind of field. It’s a way of investigating all the different universes: architecture, art, film.” She also rejects the notion that fashion has to make its wearer beautiful or appealing: “I always say sexy dressing is fantastic if it’s a choice … If you want to go out naked, I like it. But if you do it because you want to get a rich husband, no, I hate it.” Her style is hers alone. No one else’s.
As a feminist who is obsessed with fashion, I admire Miuccia’s words. Fashion is meant as a tool of regulation: they, the fashion elite, are going to tell you, the consumer, what to buy, how to wear it, who to be. But (and this is a big but) there is always room for subversion. Fashion can be a tool of gender play, taking on traditionally masculine or feminine clothing and flipping the expectations that go along with it upside down. It’s also an industry that is chock full of powerful women. A glance at the Editors-in-Chief of the top magazines or the head designers reveals countless ladies in positions of power. By devaluing the traditionally feminine-associated enterprise of adornment, society gets to devalue women. Again. Enough is enough, man.