It’s New York fashion week, and there’s a lot to hate about it. The crash diets. The extremely skinny, disturbingly young runway models who are held up as “ideal”, and all the ways they’re exploited. Then there’s the extravagant cost of the clothing, where a shopper may drop in one trip what many Americans make in a month.
What’s not to hate is the creativity, the art and the women whose shopping sustains the industry.
Displays of pure consumption to signal social and economic status are not exactly progressive, but it’s hypocritical to single out women for being shallow in their wardrobe spending. Men spend money on things that are just as unnecessary and just as intended to signal class and social tribe. For men, items like bespoke suits, fancy cars or innumerable electronics somehow signal a James Bond image, not a shallow one.
While it’s a common assumption that women simply have more clothing items in their closets than men, that also reflects social necessity. Women can be (and are) fired for not being attractive enough, for not wearing enough make-up, for being too attractive or for not putting out the right “look”. And being attractive isn’t just about whether or not your face is pretty; it’s about how you signal your social class and your sexual availability.
Women walk this tightrope daily…
Aesthetics aren’t the enemy of feminism; social codes that require women to meet certain aesthetic principles, and to be constantly putting in time, effort and money in the service of femininity, are the enemy. Fight the system, not the people who do their best to operate in it, or, God forbid, take a little pleasure where they can find it. Gendered fashion requirements are bad. Enjoying the self-expression and aesthetic appeal of clothing? Girl, go ahead and enjoy your new shoes.
That’s the central issue though, isn’t it? That fashion is a thing girls enjoy, and so therefore it must be silly and stupid. There’s nothing that makes an afternoon of shopping any sillier than an afternoon watching football; there’s nothing inherently less useful about a handbag than a new video game. But because fashion and clothes are stereotypically feminine pursuits and sports are stereotypically masculine, fashion is frivolous and sports are awesome. Women who spend money on themselves are self-involved. Men who do are either dapper or early adapters of the gadget du jour or just “that guy with the boat”.
Israel’s new law bans models with a body-mass index of less than 18.5 from appearing in advertisements (so, for example, a female model who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall must weight more than 119 pounds).
The law also requires publications to disclose any use of photoshop to make models appear thinner than they actually are.
Alyssa Rosenberg of Slate responds:
It’s not going to make fashion more interesting and creative if magazines respond by working only and consistently with models whose weight puts them just over the legal threshold, rather than with models of varying body types. And even if editors want to include models of different body types, how can they if fashion labels persist in only providing clothes in one or two very small sizes—something Alexandra Shulman, the British Vogue editor, has pointed out as an issue in the past? (This is, of course, a chicken-or-egg question: Do magazines favor certain body types to fit the clothes, or do the designers size their clothes to fit the image that magazines, which promote the clothes, want?)
Ultimately the goal for fashion magazines, and the wider fashion industry, shouldn’t be so low as to simply insure that models don’t look ill. It should be to show all of their readers, at all sizes, how they can express themselves through fashion. Because it’s not only women who fit into sizes zero through four who purchase and wear clothes, or who care about design or have an eye (and a wallet) for style. It’s a mystery why, for so long, so many labels and magazines have ignored so many potential customers.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)
Fashion, like so many other things associated primarily with women, may be dismissed as trivial, but it shapes how we’re read by others, especially on the levels of gender, class and race. In turn, how we’re read determines how we are treated, especially in the workforce—whether we are hired, promoted and respected, and how well we are paid. That most ordinary and intimate of acts, getting dressed, has very real political and economic consequences.
If feminists ignore fashion, we are ceding our power to influence it."