Designers like Alexander Wang and Dior address gender inequality with empowering fashion statements

In Opinion
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This year has reinvented fashion for women, starting with the Golden Globes fashion movement. Fashion designers aren’t just designing pretty dresses anymore, they’re inventing tangible political pieces used to empower women.

Maybe it’s because of the rising intensity of female empowerment, or maybe it’s due to the sudden arrival of Queen Elizabeth II, but fashion designers’ choices shined in this spring’s London Fashion Week.

Instead of a typical series of runway shows with expensive clothing on display, designers went further and expressed themselves in a way they could’ve done a long time ago — by using clothes as a statement of equality.

Zadig & Voltaire exhibited a T-shirt with a quote that said, “Girls just want to have fundamental rights.” Alexander Wang entitled his collection “CEO,” and people took their seats in cubicles as women powerfully strutted across the runway.

In the past, clothing wasn’t always a sign of liberation and freedom. Before the 20th century, it represented male domination and social norms — stifling women with multiple layers of clothing which ranged from petticoats to dresses that covered them from head to toe.

Regarded as a trophy and symbol of wealth, women weren’t able to dress themselves the way they wanted, said Hyun Sook Kim a Cal State Fullerton associate professor of costume design and makeup, until designers like Chanel and Christian Dior Inc. reimagined the way women dressed.

Chanel’s looks gave women the freedom to move around a tight corset. Heavy understructures were abandoned for looser dresses and female pants, which didn’t have to be tightened to the point where it destroyed their internal organs, Kim said.

Where Chanel’s pieces often took inspiration from men’s clothing, Christian Dior’s “New Look” is considerably one of the most beautiful and elegant collections of clothing in history that gave women who struggled during World War II a chance to feel confident.

“It was completely opposite to the masculine look,” Kim said. “Because of (the end of) World War II, women wanted to feel beautiful and Christian Dior caught that sense. It was a hit, and it’s still beautiful.”

Fashion isn’t only about what’s trendy. Looking beyond the ornamental, decorative surface of clothing, fashion proves to be something valuable to women’s identities.

In the 21st century, women are not only expressing themselves creatively through fashion but are using it to bring light to problems still occurring today. All it takes is a creator who sympathizes with women for the design to truly reflect their sentiments.

“I simply wanted to offer another perspective,” said designer Prabal Gurung in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. “My job as a designer is to provide choices so that women can interpret their femininity as they see fit.

It’s not to say that the fashion industry is perfect or that all designers have good intentions, but many are starting to realize that their designs carry weight in the current political landscape of women’s equality.

Fashion, like any other art form, is meant to be subjective and contribute to a greater dialogue of society. Sometimes all it takes is a shirt that says “feminist” to open up conversations surrounding equality and possibly change someone’s stance on the issue.

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