For feminist fashionistas, has modesty become the best policy?
When it comes to gender politics within the fashion industry, equality is only as deep as the pockets on your average pair of skinny jeans. Designers continue to break down barriers dictated by the gender binary. However, the persistent pocket disparity — men's apparel features many spacious compartments, while most women's styles don't have any at all — demonstrates that when creating women's clothing, form still outweighs function, highlighting the latent sexism that remains.
However, as the decade wears on, one specific trend has begun to emerge, indicating that women might be hoping to reclaim comfort and promote feminism simultaneously.
According to The New York Times' recent feature, modesty has made its triumphant return. Vanessa Friedman writes that long sleeves and ankle-length hemlines now dominate the industry because, as we move into the last years of this decade, fashion now serves as the surrogate for our social and political discontent. Friedman explains that "clothes are an integral part of the debate over the freedom to make your own choices — whether about what you do with your body or who touches your body or what you put on your body." Clothing still acts as an alternative mouthpiece, much like it has throughout history, except its message has changed dramatically thanks to the current state of affairs.
Lucie Greene, worldwide director of the innovation group at J. Walter Thompson, tells Friedman that the emerging trends exist in an effort to “reject the strictures of the male gaze.” While women once saw plunging necklines and transparent fabrics as vessels for embracing their sexuality, they've come to recognize that such styles ultimately put them on display in ways that contradict their underlying intentions.
“They are not about what men want anymore, but about what women want," Greene adds. After years of embracing styles spawned by the male libido, women are opting for clothes that cater to comfort and security. Because, while comfort supports increased confidence, security provides strength in an era where women are still perceived as weak and inferior.
By gravitating toward modest styles, women are taking their bodies back. From Hillary Clinton's symbolic suffragette white pantsuits, to the pussycat hats of the Women's March on Washington, women's clothing needs no comment for these choices speak for themselves. Fashion statements abound, but not in the ways we've come to expect. Instead of waiting for the next red carpet blunder or wardrobe malfunction, women now feel both fashionable and comfortable as they trade their crop tops for button downs.
As Michael Kors, the esteemed designer, told The New York Times, he's "convinced that there is something far more alluring about women wearing things that give them confidence, that don’t make them feel as if they have to tug at their hemlines or yank at their straps.”
While some women dress to impress men, and others dress to impress their female peers, many now focus solely on dressing for their own benefit. They've replaced their high heels with ballet flats because they regain balance both literally and figuratively when they're on solid ground. They've traded their mini dresses for pencil skirts because they no longer feel they must flaunt their sexuality in order to command their femininity. Of course, while no woman should feel compelled to conceal her body because she fears the advances of predatory men, modest styles promise to empower women to be who they are, not who others wish them to be.
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