Especially in 2019, clothes are no longer pieces we wear for practicality, but a way to express who we are and what we’re feeling. Take the women of congress at the Union Address or Lena Waithe’s MET Gala look for example. These ladies not only looked good, but they made strong political and social statements simply with what they were wearing.
This idea, however, isn’t exactly revolutionary. Whether it was a bare leg or androgynous fashion, women have been using fashion as a way to make statements for decades. They’ve used it as a feminist tool and to make space for themselves at the table.
Throwing on a mini skirt or a blazer might not seem like a big deal now, but we’ve gone through a lot just to achieve that. Women have fought for so long (and seemingly, still) to wear what they please, and stood behind everything that piece represents. In short, freedom and justice can come from a suit or a skirt. Read on to find out how.
Imagine being stuffed into a corset and heavy hoop dress on a hot summer’s day, while the men were able to wear pantaloons and a top. Amelia Bloomer, a women’s rights activist and editor of the first feminist magazine The Lily, decided she would take her husband’s pants for a spin — causing hysteria, naturally. Many (men) worried that getting rid of the hoop skirt would lead to “usurpation of the rights of man,” and that the husbands of these women wearing pants would be left at home, sobbing. Seriously?
Shortly after, pants became a staple of the women’s rights movement. They were quickly retired from the campaign trail, however, once women realized that the hysteria of pants was distracting from their actual mission of equal rights.
When women later realized that men wouldn’t listen to anything they had to day, clothes made their way back into the women’s rights movement. Outside of marches and rallies, suffragettes would wear the colors purple, white and green to identify themselves as feminists. For them, purple meant dignity, white meant purity, and green meant hope. Ribbons were made with these colors, and suffragettes would pin them to their hats and belts. That’s what I call a statement-making accessory.
After WW1, women had a taste of the workforce and liked it. Having the freedom to work outside of house cleaning was major, and women wanted more. This meant having the haircut they wanted, dating who they pleased and wearing whatever they wanted.
In the ‘30s, Coco Chanel broke boundaries when she designed the two piece suit for women, giving more leeway to closets everywhere. Menswear became more popular, and women started dressed like the independents they dreamed of being. Clothes for women were becoming more revolutionary — until they weren’t.
The ‘50s were a bit of a lull — women’s fashion had gone back to nipped waists, often held in by stiff corsets. Quietly, though, a designer named Claire McCardell ushered in the idea of more comfortable fashion, using belts and elastics to accentuate a waist without suffocating it. Her designs flourished as they were picked up by women joining the workforce, going to college or working at home. She created independent, easy-to-wear designs for the fast-paced world women were beginning to enter.
The ‘60s brought birth control and a sexual revolution, and women’s fashion reflected that. The mini skirt became a staple style as girls tailored their skirts higher to show off their leg. This new fashion allowed women to own their sexuality, and make a persona for themselves other than a wife or mother. The mini skirt allowed freedom, movement and the confidence of a new identity.
This sexual freedom was only furthered in the ‘70s with the popularity of the wrap dress. Socialite Diane Von Furstenberg came out with the style, which became popular with both working women and those exploring the ongoing sexual revolution. The wrap could be tied tightly at the waist for the office, while the lack of buttons or zippers made it easy to slip on and off for… well, you know. The dress helped women finally feel the leadership role in the office and in relationships.
By the ‘80s, plenty of women had joined the workforce, and a popular new working outfit had emerged. The pantsuit, known for shoulder padding and pinstripes, helped women elbow their way into business meetings and leadership roles. You might be asking, how does an ugly suit do that? Well, the broad shoulders and bright colors often distracted from a woman’s gender, allowing her to dominate a room and take authority (yas queen).
From there, both men’s and women’s wear has become, well, everyone’s wear. Women wear what they please now, though many are still criticised for it. We’ve evolved to brush off the haters and rock any fit we want — menswear, androgynous fashion and mini skirts included. And though we might still use hemlines and bold colors to make a statement, is society really afraid of what we wear? Or is it really afraid of women embracing their womanhood, regardless of stereotypical fashion norms?
I say — do you girl. Just make sure to stand tall, whether you’re in flats, sneakers or heels.