Many women have a love-hate relationship with Fashion. In some circles it is seen as shallow, trivial, and vain. To the extent that it feed on insecurities to sell its products, fashion can enslave women to objectification and unattainable body image standards.
In my opinion, fashion is beyond clothing, or the glossy editorial spreads that jump out of magazines. It is an Art, a wearable art. It is also a means to express my identity. In early twentieth- century feminism, clothing was a form of communication, resistance and political statement. It was and is a feminist issue, and clearly not a matter of frivolity.
"For me, fashion is a plethora of opportunities-it gives me confidence, identity, personality, and is a channel through which I can liberate my creativity. "
But, how do you and I think about, look and consume fashion? For me, fashion is a plethora of opportunities-it gives me confidence, identity, personality, and is a channel through which I can liberate my creativity.
Growing up I had trouble embracing my femininity - I dressed in boys’ clothes, wore short hair, and emulated a boys’ character. Personally I was not able to embrace the beauty of womanhood until my mid 20's. Even though I come from a culture where women are often the family decision-makers, own land and inherit property, I still associated femininity with weakness. For instance, it seemed to me like the boys had it easy they didn't have to worry about how they looked, what they wear, or do. They had a carefree life, while mine was boring and restricted.
At work - a photo shoot with Jenn Fisher photography.
I thought masculinity was strength, confidence, and power which was free of vulnerabilities and insecurities. I survived puberty. I grew up, understood life, and it actually was just a brief trend that I was trying to emulate ( at that time "Tomboy" was considered cool and hip amongst my generation). As my body and lifestyle started changing, so did my outlook. And with time my viewpoint changed and I came to the realization that I had to accept myself for who I am. A woman. Fashion-getting dressed, putting on a makeup and accessorizing - gave me the strength and means to accept myself. Clothing goes beyond a utilitarian function for me; it is an art that I create every morning. It shelters my insecurities, frailty, and everything vulnerable from the ever-prying and judgmental eyes of society. To see my femininity enhanced was empowering. Fashion lets me create an image that I want people to have of me in any particular scenario.
Fashion has always been a part of my life. My mother is a traditional pattern maker- she made clothes for living. Fashion put food on the table, provided me with an education, and made me the person I am today. So to uphold the respect I have for my mother, I chose to continue her boon by maintaining my roots around fashion as a Fashion Designer, model and Writer. I expanded my horizons around the art of clothing by getting involved with all aspects of fashion industry. Fashion is my past, present, and future.
I’ve participated in various aspects of the fashion world; from sitting in front of the camera while the photographer works my best angle, walking down the runway to bring to life the stories of the clothes I wear, or serving as a canvas while makeup artists paint their skills on my face.
Every time I put on a new outfit I connect to a whole new spirit that I never knew was within me; for instance, putting on a well-constructed evening gown brings out in me a grace, elegance, and poise that thoroughly accentuates my femininity. Just the other day, while doing a photo shoot themed 'Vintage,' I went back in time to live the feeling of that refined lady from the 1920's. One would argue that it is a temporary bliss. That’s where the photography comes in to play, to functionally immortalize the experiences. One look at the picture and there it comes flooding back, and I relive the moment.
One of my favorite pictures from the vintage shoot. Copyright of Trent Fashion Society. Photo credit Mossworks Photo. Hair by Bri Is.
In general, most criticism of fashion is directed at what is put out at the consumer/commercial level, and the condescension directed at the fashion industry is at times flagrant. While underneath it all, when stripped off its criticism, is a choice which is not only personal to each individual, but sometimes just as eventful.
Different versions of stories are told through fashion’s lens, but whose story is being presented, whose story and first-hand experience is being lost and written out, and who are the stories being told to? Although the interpretations may not hit all the right notes, every story expressed holds a truth in it, and there is someone who responds-“Hey, that's me!”
Feminism’s goal is to strengthen and change women's status in society until we have the same rights as men. Different women define and relate to feminism differently. Feminists themselves have contrasting views on the ideals of feminism. To me, as a feminist, woman and an individual,“ feminism is freedom”- be it expression, being who you want to be, confidence, or a right to my own body. I take refuge in Fashion for independence and freedom, either directly or indirectly.
The problem is not so much the fashion as it is the industry. The industry which is in turn influenced by, or influences, society. The commodification of women, putting a price tag or label on them based on their appearance, is inhuman. Constantly changing ideas and ideals of beauty and perfection the industry promote is mentally and physically challenging. Skewed representation of only a selected few (when fashion in reality is all of us-despite race, culture, age, height, size or gender) and constantly changing ideas and ideals of beauty and perfection the industry promotes is mentally and physically challenging.
The base line parameters to become a model are very small, in general. Only a specific body type, certain height range, and age are deemed acceptable. Further it is largely white dominated (although it is gradually looking to change, but still a long way to go). Brutal exclusivity in fashion makes it difficult for women to make a living as a model. And the rejections, which in turn hurt their self worth.
A shoot with photographer Roy Fung for Trent Fashion Society.
Similarly, other women ( consumers) whether knowingly or not, are all adversely impacted by the models industry choose to represent and advertise, including the models themselves. It is no secret that it aggravates insecurity, eating disorders, physically obsessed, self acceptance, to name but just a few. It is unfair when the industry allow only certain women to be privy to their clothes (pricing, size, advertisement), while the desire to own the dress by rest of us is discarded like an allergic reaction.
The industry is guilty of setting unrealistic body standards, communicating distorted messages, and accusable for its exclusivity. “Commercially successful” is the goal the industry pursues - at the risk of shunning the true essence of Fashion. In extension fashion is reflective of the prevalent society -materialistic, superficial, and exaggerated expectation of perfection.
Fashion is a language, a form of expression in which women have more freedom than men under much of society’s current rigid gender norms. It is an extension of personality thorough the rich vocabulary of clothes. Fashion is freedom, independence and confidence.
The function of fashion has all the credo of what feminism stands for. So, when criticizing the fashion industry- are we questioning women’s self-expression through clothing, or the society that we live in?
By Ugyen Wangmo
Ugyen Wangmo is a Journalist/Writer by profession, simultaneously pursuing her passion for the Art of Fashion-as Designer, Fashion Writer and Model, while Biology/ Chemistry being her educational background. Ugyen built her career life around media and communications for about eight years through a variety of roles-as Reporter, Editor, Stringer, Radio show host, and Freelance writer. She can be found on Instagram at ugyenw.