As any fool knows, you are what you wear. And there’s no fool like a feminist fool, which is why as I write this I’m wearing a full-on feminist outfit. By which I mean that everything from my pants to my necklace is emblazoned with the word “feminist”; that’s just how right on I am. After all, clothes emblazoned with the word “feminist” have never been more on-trend, available everywhere from Amazon to Etsy. In reality, it takes more than a Sans Serif proclamation for your T-shirt to pass the feminist test. Here’s what really counts:
Do you know who made it?
It’s not exactly news that the fashion industry doesn’t boast the best labour standards. Long hours, poor pay, bad conditions and even death are all too common. But what makes this a feminist issue is that the vast majority of garment workers are women. But don’t panic! There are alternatives – and they don’t require you to break the bank or your fashion sensibilities. Have a look atthe Good Shopping Guide for a quick overview of how high-street brands are doing on their supply chains. And if you’re desperate to wear your feminism on your sleeve, you could do worse than spelling it out with a Tatty Devine name necklace (pictured above), direct from its workshops in Kent and east London.
Is it environmentally friendly?
Climate change affects us all. But, as the majority of the world’s poor, and carers – and almost half the world’s farmers – women bear the biggest brunt. They are most affected by declining crop yields, and are most likely to die in climate change-induced natural disasters because they tend to try to save children, the frail and elderly rather than escaping. So, yes, it does matter what your clothes are made of – and, luckily for you, it’s not that hard to find eco-friendly clothes. Try Nancy Dee for outfits that are made in small factories in the UK from sustainable products.
Is it affordable?
Of course, affordable means different things to different people, but it’s no use presenting yourself as a feminist brand if the majority of women (who still earn only 80p to a man’s £1) can’t afford to buy from you. Birdsong, a new label that ploughs up to 80% of proceeds back to the women’s groups from which it sources, is particularly impressive in this regard; its Bradbury hand-knitted jumpers, for example, cost £69. Founder Sophie Slater tells me it has deliberately positioned its offering at high-street prices to make it as accessible as possible to everyone. The brand is also opposed to fast fashion, only producing two collections a year, and uses models of varying shapes and sizes, from diverse backgrounds, and without Photoshop. Which brings me to…
How is it marketed?
Undeniably, fashion advertising deals overwhelmingly in white, super-thin bodies, photoshopped to within an inch of their lives. It goes without saying that most of it doesn’t pass the feminist test. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Designer Rick Owens is among those that have eschewed traditional models in designer fashion, last year choosing to show his tunics on a group of mainly black women who used their strong bodies to perform an avowedly active stomping dance. On the high street, too, brands from H&M to Debenhams have flirted with diversity, which is such a hot topic in fashion right now that the glossy, unattainable perfection presented by brands that refuse to follow suit is looking increasingly old-fashioned.
This list is not exhaustive. Feminist fashion needs to tackle the strict gender demarcations we enforce on clothes (change.org petitions for men in skirts?); it needs to address the impracticality of so much that is designed for women (pockets are a feminist issue!); it needs to be designed to include all body shapes (in 2015, I still can’t wear button-down shirts because of my boob-waist ratio). But without these four points, that “feminist” tag on your T-shirt is little more than a bad-taste joke.