Culture Costume and Dress

5-7th June 2019 Birmingham UK

Fashion’s fake feminism

March 7th, 2019

Proclamations of female solidarity can be found on every corner of the high street and even some high fashion shows (ahem, Dior), but are these items of clothes created with a deep consideration for the position of women within society, or simply to increase sales to an ever-growing ‘woke’ generation?

For her SS17 collection for Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri printed We Should All Be Feminists (the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s collection of essays) across the chests of white t-shirts. These t-shirts immediately became a symbol of solidarity – aptly released just before the 2017 Women’s March, the t-shirt became inescapable. Chiuri’s t-shirt drew criticism for seemingly cashing in on the feminist movement without any consideration for charitable donations. The house responded to these criticisms, however, and shortly after announced that a portion of the sales from the t-shirt will be donated to Rhianna’s non-profit, The Clara Lionel Foundation. 

Chiuri seemingly managed to avoid any further allegations of using feminist slogans merely for profit by aligning her product with Rhianna’s foundation, and has gone on to situate herself as a woman fully aware of her responsibility to the next generation. She commissions female artists to shoot Dior campaigns and to design the show sets, and has created what will inevitably become the t-shirt of 2019: a shirt that reads Sisterhood Is Global in support of the international women’s movement anthology by American author Robin Morgan. She seems to understand her responsibility to not only bring the feminist movement into popular culture, but to be inclusive and representative of women to, essentially, practice what her t-shirts preach. 

What happens, then, when feminist slogans and wording trickles down into the mainstream, high-street clothing stores that have little understanding or care for anything other than increasing their profit margin? Fashion retailers such as Topshop, Forever 21 and H&M benefit from selling clothing with feminist slogans to their (majority female) customer base, yet the CEO’s of all these companies are men. Women, meanwhile, are exploited by companies such as Forever 21 – who received a lawsuit against them in 2001 filed by the Asian Pacific American Legal Centre, naming 19 workers who worked six days a week for up to 12 hours a day for less than the minimum wage. Whilst women across the world are being exploited by mass clothing corporations, those same companies are selling t-shirts with the word FEMINIST embroidered across the chest – these companies are removing the word from the movement, monetizing the feminist movement whilst engaging in highly un-feminist practices. It is hard to ignore, too, that whilst Topshop have sold their fair share of feminist t-shirts, a pop-up store celebrating Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies), a collection of feminist essays curated by Scarlett Curtis, was cancelled and removed just hours before it was set to open. The event was to raise money for the UN charity Girl Up, a charity set up in 2010 with the goal of preparing young girls for leadership positions. 

Fashion clearly has a long way to go before it can fully situate itself within the feminist movement. It is clear that high-street brands solely use the movement to increase sales amongst young female shoppers, but whilst Chiuri’s feminist T-shirt retails at just over $700, where are they to turn?

Sophie Winfield is on the MA Fashion Journalism at London College of Fashion, after graduating from BCU with a BA in English Literature.

Fashion’s Import

November 13th, 2018

This last weekend has been full of ceremonies and events to commemorate the Armistice of 1918 which brought to an end the First World War. It was a devastating period in world history, and news coverage was appropriately solemn. What struck me most forcibly, however, were the frequent allusions, in all media, to what people wore: images of the outfits of the female members of the royal family, with special reference to the Duchess of Sussex and how she successfully disguised her pregnancy; fashion coverage of Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron, both in blue outfits, and both wearing five-inch heels; and criticism of Jeremy Corbin, the leader of the Labour Party, for his scruffy raincoat. It seems that, even on sombre occasions, we are judged more by what we wear than what we do.

The ability of clothes to define and categorise us is at the heart of Culture Costume and Dress. In our last conference, the focus was on how dress contributes to individuals’ sense of identity, and how that translates into the shorthand clues we use to judge each other. This time we will focus on the way in which this characteristic contributes to group identity, and leads to the apparently superficial concern with fashion. We will consider dress in relation to fashionable society, the fascination it holds for us, and its enduring impact.

This is an exciting time in the organisation of a conference. We know there’s much hard work ahead of us, but we can look forward to receiving submissions which, as last time, will span the full range of Arts and Humanities, providing the promise of new topics, new perspectives, and stimulating discussion.

Anne Boultwood