Do You Dress Like A Feminist?

Today’s post is brought to you by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers, a super cool club (not a secret handshake type of club or anything gross like that) that I just joined because I thought they sounded so neat.

It’s Wednesday, March 16, known now and hereafter as Fashionable Feminist Day and we’re all writing posts that answer the question:

How do you express your feminism in the way you dress?

The short answer is: With everything I wear. Our world views inform pretty much everything that we do, so since I identify as a feminist, that must mean that I dress like a feminist, drink red wine like a feminist, pet my cat like a feminist, and watch “Pretty Little Liars” like a feminist. Etc.

Of course, what’s supposed to be really intriguing about this whole question is the fact that I don’t dress like the stereotype of a feminist. Which is to say: Unfashionable. With Dansko clogs and overalls and hairy legs and what have you. And now I’m supposed to give a big speech about how I can still be a feminist because I believe in equal rights for men and women, even if I make more stylish sartorial choices.

But I feel like I’ve made that speech a lot. And other bloggers have made that speech. It’s important — I get very frustrated when old school feminists accuse younger feminists of having whack priorities because we want to talk about body image all the time instead of working on the “real” issues. And hello, irony! Because that’s precisely the reason that we have to keep talking about body image stuff — it keeps getting in the way of getting anything else done. Because just like people recoil from the word feminist due to that hairy-legged stereotype, people (especially other feminists) also recoil from women who seem to spend too much time thinking about their appearance, because obviously, caring about shoes is a clear indicator that you’ve lost your critical thinking skills.

So that’s important. You guys are clear on that, right? It’s awesome to be a feminist and still wear lip gloss and sexy shoes if that floats your boat.

Okay then.

What I thought I would do instead of making that speech (like how I basically made it anyway?) is tell you all the ways that I have embraced dressing like an Unfashionable Feminist.

I wear Birkenstocks. (Well not right now, cause it’s cold out. But I will be soon.)

I own overalls. I wear them around the house for gardening and also out in public, because why not?

I had a “Rosie the Riveter” t-shirt when I was a kid.

I used to have a tank top with the face of Evita Peron on it, which I bought on spring break in Buenos Aires. And actually, my sister also gave me a bracelet with Evita faces on it, and one with Frida Kahlo faces, so maybe we should thank Caroline for dressing me like a feminist (she is also a costume designer and goes to a women’s college so she knows what she’s doing). Though to be fair, Evita gets pretty mixed reviews on the feminism front. What with being married to a dictator and all.

I still don’t own any tie-dye or Dansko clogs, but they aren’t out of the realm of purchasing possibility. I do wear bras and try to keep on top of the leg hair situation, though it’s been long enough since I last waxed that I could earn some pretty good Feminist Stereotype Street Cred on that front, too. This week, anyway.

So why I am perpetuating this stereotype by telling you how I fulfill it? Because I don’t think Dressing Like a Feminist has to be an either/or proposition. Just because I mostly like to wear cute dresses and boots and blow out my hair doesn’t mean I have to reject the whole aesthetic of old school feminism. Playing with fashion means experimenting with lots of different looks and thinking about how you can make them your own.

And deciding to rock Birks and tie-dye shouldn’t have to be a rejection of patriarchal beauty standards. I get why it so often is — all too often, those patriarchal beauty standards don’t do us any favors and deserve a little rejecting. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It could just be that you really like Birks. And tie-dye.

So I think it’s time to retire all the stereotypes — of bra-burning feminists, of lipstick feminists, of you name it feminists. When we subscribe too fully to these black and white definitions of what feminism looks like, we waste far too much time on semantic debates when we could be getting real stuff done.

So. I am a feminist who wears Birkenstocks. I am a feminist who wears mini-skirts. Sometimes I am a feminist who wears both of these things together. This is not a contradiction. This is what a (fashionable) feminist looks like.

How does the way you dress reflect your beliefs? Or not?

PS. Check out more from Fashionable Feminist Bloggers at the full list of participating posts over here.

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11 Comments

Filed under beauty standards, Fashion, Fashionable Feminist, shoes

11 responses to “Do You Dress Like A Feminist?

  1. So glad for #fashfem because it has introduced me to phenomenal bloggers like you. Have just been spending time reading some of your archives and I love your voice.

    And yes, you are what a feminist looks like, I am what a feminist looks like, because there is no “look” for a feminist.

    And I am totally going to dig around in my closet and find my purple Birkenstoks!

  2. Love this, Virginia. I particularly like this: “Our world views inform pretty much everything that we do, so since I identify as a feminist, that must mean that I dress like a feminist, drink red wine like a feminist, pet my cat like a feminist, and watch “Pretty Little Liars” like a feminist. Etc.” I do feel like some of my personal choices DO go against my beliefs as a feminist (most notably high heels)–but that doesn’t mean that I’m any less of a feminist; it just means that I’m literally walking in questionable territory sometimes.

    Not everything a feminist does is a feminist act, necessarily, but I think that given the stigma that’s still often attached to the word, anyone who calls herself a feminist has made that a conscious choice and has examined the ways that feminism applies to other conscious choices. Certainly fashion is a part of that, and you’re absolutely right that Dressing Like a Feminist isn’t an either/or proposition. Because neither feminism nor fashion is an either/or proposition, so why are we so eager (myself included, sometimes) to put the combination of the two on that spectrum?

  3. I agree with pretty much everything in here. ‘Dressing like a feminist’ is something that is so difficult to actually pin down, even if I took a survey of every feminist I know, we all have our own distinct styles. But it’s exactly that freedom that was given by feminism.

    Great post!

  4. Ha, I so recognize the stereotypes you addressed here, though I think if you went looking for such a feminist today you would not find her/him anywhere! I appreciate the link to Pollitt’s article as I had somehow missed it in October. I was raised on second wave feminism and raised three third wave “feminists.” Just yesterday, I asked my daughters if they thought of themselves as feminists. Their immediate answer was no, but as I probed their thinking on various issues, they realized that they actually were/are feminists.

  5. Pingback: FFB: Expressing Feminism in Dress «

  6. Oh, this is so good, Virginia. I’ll admit I’m somewhat conflicted about this topic–the thoughts in my internal monologue ricochet between feeling totally entitled to wear whatever I want (impractical heels and all) and feeling as though I am a sell-out if I do so. Also, I do own clogs (I refer to them as the harbinger of parenting and practicality), which definitely make me feel like my wardrobe’s got some feminist street cred.

    But really, aren’t I just letting other people (or my impossibly rigid definition of feminism) determine what I should wear? That doesn’t seem feminist at all.

    Now that I am a role model (ugh–such a dreaded and heavy term!) for my daughters, as well as a regular speaker on the subject of body image, this stuff hits close to home. Ultimately, I am trying to turn inward, to make decisions based on what I desire. It’s never this simplistic, since our desires aren’t created in a vacuum, but it’s a start. And I love that there are feminist fashion bloggers, because they (you!) smash some entrenched and archaic ideas, and remind all of us that feminism is about attitude and choice, rather than shape, size, or sartorial preference.

  7. Jodi

    Please retire your stereotype of older feminists as well!

    Some, if not most or all of us, struggle with body issues (it doesn’t get any easier because you’re older , it’s just a different sort of struggle). I may not wear makeup and prefer utilitarian clothing and shoes (and don’t have a wide selection of either in my closet) but it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate & enjoy the ways other people play with fashion.

    Everyone has those things that make their senses soar. For some people it’s an adrenaline rush, for others it’s fashion or art or travel or incredible food or parties or music or whatever else you can think of. And sometimes it’s more than one thing or a combination of things.

    I think everyone should understand the reasons behind those desires, though. Living your life without understanding your motivations might be easier in the short run, but I think it’s harder on you in the long run. So keep examining what you do and what you love and why you love the things you do. Being informed about your choices makes subsequent choices more valid for you and your life, and living your life according to your own desires (and not what others think you should be doing) is a much happier way to live.

  8. Your comment about the irony of both hairy feminists and fashion lovers getting hated on is great! It is shitty that we have to keep talking about body image and all that, but obviously we all feel very strongly about it and find it a problem in our day to day life. And I love what you said about how we should retire all the stereotypes of feminists- it’s silly if feminists are anti-labels in the world and don’t want their/ our personal choice constrained, but then use labels within the feminist sphere!!
    Welcome to the group, and I love the image at the top of the page!

  9. That is exactly my beef – these bloody body issues and weight loss struggles distract us and disempower us – we need to smash them our of our way. Well said.

    I can certainly say I do partake in (feminist) red wine-drinking…and I’m very amused by the idea of a secret handshake!

  10. Pingback: Friend Friday: Fashion, Feminism and other F Words | Beauty Schooled

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