Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Am I a Feminist?

I have recently read a few blogs and articles regarding the ethics of vintage clothing. Ethics you say? What do ethics have do do with clothing? Well, quite a lot.

Fashion has a habit of trying to transform the human body into a shape it is naturally not. Thinking specifically of the 1950's, women were pushed and squeezed into corsets and high heels. All women wanted an 18" waist, yet no woman had one (unless you were 12 years old). Where did the idea come from where a woman needed such a figure?

Is it wrong to embrace styles from eras where women and minorities in particular were oppressed?Are we even taking into consideration that the female form in a 1950s dress was made to appeal to men (sexism) ignoring the woman's comfort?

This is not new. Every decade has some form of fashion or beauty that is unpractical, uncomfortable and possibly dangerous. Whitening of the face was one of the most common cosmetic practices using a mixture of carbonate, hydroxide, and lead oxide. This could lead to muscle paralysis or death when used repeatedly, but it was considered beautiful. Even today's fashions with tight fitting styles, 5" heels and much displaying of bare skin can easily be considered oppressive. (Not to mention unattractive on most - but that is a different blog...)

The Elizabethans looked awfully uncomfortable didn't they? Wanting as small a waist as possible, women would do anything to make it so.

The mind has a fickle memory. Humans do not like painful thoughts so we tend to embrace the niceties of the past, often forgetting that much was sacrificed for us to be where we are today. There is nothing wrong with remembering lovely times of the past - often these become our traditions, the glue that binds families together today and teaches our children what to do (or what not to do) tomorrow.

Gertie Lang and her blog, Gertie's New Blog For Better Vintage Sewing asked some very interesting questions regarding fashion gender politics.
  •  Is wearing a fashion from an oppressive time period indeed a symbol of that oppression?
  • Is there such a thing as "reclaiming" these fashions so that they are symbols of power rather than domination?
  • What about current fashions that are restrictive? Stilettos, Spandex, etc? Skinny jeans? Are these symbols of oppression towards women?
I find this topic immensely interesting. As a seller of vintage clothes I tend to connect with the history and the person who wore the garment I am now holding. Thinking of what they might have been doing, or whom they were with...but I will admit, I have never had a painful thought - which may actually be more of the truth.

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