Last week the LCF Fashion Media and Imagery Research Hub presented a round table discussion on Fashion and Feminism. The panel consisted of Pamela Church Gibson (London College of Fashion, UAL), Georgia Murray (founder of GIRLS / CLUB zine), Ilya Parkins (Visiting Fellow, Gender Institute, London School of Economics) and was chaired by Djurdja Bartlett (London College of Fashion, UAL). Inspired by the debate following Karl Lagerfeld’s presentation of the Chanel SS15 catwalk show as a fictional feminist demonstration, this Research Hub event sought to discuss whether the recent emphasis on feminism in popular culture is trivialising important gender issues or drawing much needed attention to them.
The discussion was broad in scope and began by addressing that, in the last hundred years, feminism has been reported in four ‘waves’ with distinct political agendas. Although Ilya Parkins does not like to refer to waves of feminism as this erases the activism that takes place in between, she believes that anxieties about women’s freedoms at each stage get crystalised in women’s fashions.
Pamela Church Gibson expressed concern that feminism has become an academic exercise, and discussed the broader issues of celebrity dress and body image as opposed to ‘fashion’. Georgia Murray agreed that, for her peers, pertinent issues relate more to dress and the body rather than catwalk shows, and she worries that the fashion industry is embracing feminism more as ‘points scoring’ rather than for any political purpose. It was also pointed out that advertisers have used the discourse of feminism to sell products, including clothing, for years.
While Georgia Murray views the internet as a hugely powerful tool for young women to organise a backlash against the mainstream media by creating their own images, zines, websites, podcasts and magazines, Pamela Church Gibson reminded the audience of the terrible comments that female writers receive online and the apparent split in the broader feminist movement on social media. The discussion then moved between the impact of selfies on giving young women control over their image and identity creation, the lack of academic work on fashion’s production rather than its consumption, and also the need for greater diversity in fashion imagery.
Towards the end, one audience member’s comments echoed the slogan of the Women’s Social and Political Union ‘Deeds, Not Words’ but, if women like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift can inspire young girls to adopt feminist principles, perhaps sometimes both deeds and words are needed?