Clueless, Mean Girls, The Spice girls… All feminista fashion icons that sent nineties girls (and boys alike) hurtling into a new era of fashion, the wave of Girly Grunge during the period of Third Wave Feminism. A fashion wave that celebrated women (primarily), female independence and liberation. Particularly after the uphill struggle that was women’s freedom in fashion throughout history, that seemed to run parallel to women’s freedom of speech.
The 1990’s and 2000s were encouraging women to go solo. Girl power was trending and women expressed themselves through fashion statements that could be referred to as ‘the reject bin of goth and punk’. Mid-drifts, halter tops, wild chokers and mini skirts. Outrageous clashing patterns, big baggy anti-fashion statements and powerful curb stomping boots. A fashion wave that exclaimed ‘Don’t mess with me I’m power incarnate and all my friends are too.’
Riot Grrrl, a popular feminist movement group that developed in the third wave, were associated with outlandish fashion and bold statement pieces in the genre of punk and grunge. ‘One of the main goals of riot grrrl within the third wave movement was to make feminism cool again in the hopes that it would spur young girls to get involved.’ (2016)
‘The third wave feminist movement in North America and Europe began in the late 1980s and was at its zenith during the first part of the 1990s though it technically encompasses feminist pursuits that continue today. The third wave of feminism began in a time when the trend was to refer to everything as “post-feminist.” Third wave feminism in many respects worked to change the systems that the first two waves fought to gain rights from. With many, though not all, of the legal barriers destroyed the third wave sought to bring down the ideologies that bred them. It was not enough for the laws of white men to grant permission for women to vote or allow them the rights to decide matter involving their bodies, these new feminists wanted to remove men from the status that gave them the right to decide those matters in the first place.’ (2016)
Fast forward to right now. Feminism has arguably become a tool for capitalism in a number of ways. Sites and stores like Princess Polly, Dissh, Dangerfield, Alien Outfitters, Dollz Kill… The list goes on. Who have grasped their manicured claws around the powerful fashion statement that was Girl Grunge and have used it as a tool for marketing in the mainstream.
Websites and fashion blogs use feminism as a statement to advertise latest trends. In the words of Kat George, a Fashion journalist writing for Refinery29:
“Think about the cute wide-legged pants and blazer you’re wearing today and how good they make you feel every time you put them on. You can thank second-wave feminism for that.” (2016)
If you analyse the phrasing in that statement, it very cleverly incorporates words that any marketing designer would use to advertise a look they wanted customers to visualise themselves in. It’s a key tool we use in retail to sell a customer a clothing product. If the customer can imagine themselves in the item, imagine the other clothes they would be wearing with the item, and what kind of occasion they could use it for. The words ‘cute’ and the phrase ‘how good they make you feel’ is set right next to ‘You can thank second-wave feminism for that’ . The statement uses the current main fashion trend to envision yourself in the clothes, and feel empowered by the statements origins. And this blog is not the only one of its kind, multiple articles written by fashion bloggers and retailers have sprung up, advertising feminism as a fashion statement.
The real question to ask however, is this a good thing? Have we lost the substance to what the outspoken second and now third wave feminism created for us in fashion? In centring the culture in the mainstream does it still hold the values the women of that generation followed and fought for, or was it just as commercial then as it is now? Perhaps it is a good thing, when something becomes mainstream, it means it is is more widely regarded and accepted as the norm. The danger is trivialising it, emptying the concept and leaving it shallow.
Glamour and Bullshit. 2016. ‘the mooncult: alien outfitters.’ http://www.glamandbs.com/#!the-mooncult-alien-outfitters/c21kp/5739433f0cf23692b425e35a
Bodansky, Rachel. 2013. ‘Rebel girls: feminist Punk for a New generation.’ http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1281&context=scripps_theses
‘Riot Grrrl: Femenism for a New Generation’ https://www.mtholyoke.edu/~freem20n/classweb/Message.html
George, Kat. 2016. ‘8 Current Fashion Trends that Belong to Feminists’. Refinery 29. http://www.refinery29.com/feminist-fashion-trends#slide