For the time being, civility seems to have taken a back seat in the name of right, wrong, culture and progress. People have not only become more overt and polarized about politics, there is an undercurrent of dogma lacing other parts of life like food, exercise, Netflix-watching habits and, yes, fashion. In a game of pinball, there is no telling what direction the shiny steel ball will roll until it does. And in the fashion industry, which exists inside its own ecosystem of time, society and certainly politics, a curious and possibly subconscious crevasse has started to form around the idea of feminism.
Feminism, as expressed through clothing trends, has two predominant perspectives. The first and more mainstream idea is women, once objectified and subjugated, aim to express and uphold that they are equal in rights and capabilities to men. The second is of the woman who has turned up the volume of her traditional femininity, hoping to take the familiar symbol and redefine it.
As most of the fall shows wrapped up last month, the divide was clear. On one side, lines like The Row concealed the body with ankle-length leather trench coats buttoned up and combat boots with little makeup or ceremony. (On a related note, the words “hope,” “dignity” and freedom” were sewn into the models’ white shirts.)
Marc Jacobs took a tomboyish turn, outfitting models in street and youth style inspired looks from past decades: wide-legged glen plaid trousers topped with fur-lined track jackets and fuzzy Dr. Seuss hats or exaggerated fur coats accented with heavy gold jewelry, referencing hip hop artists of the 1980s. It spoke to a woman in favor of a new femininity, which preferred a more serious, esoteric and complex woman over the one-dimensional June Cleaver and Marilyn Monroe stereotypes of the past.
In contrast, designers interpreted traditional femininity in an intensified way. At Erdem, brocade was layered with lace and floral prints and sweeping floor-length silhouettes. One fantastical dress looked like hundreds of silk flowers rolling down a mountain made of chiffon. It was both derivative and inventive in its message: an acceptance and confidence on the pedestal of feminine beauty but bolstered with independence, modernity and an opulent rebellion.
Certain designers, like Michael Kors and Gabriela Hearst, maintained a middle ground, referencing both sides in a volleying fashion. While Kors was heavy-handed, perfecting the fit of masculine fabrics, Gabriella Hearst was tongue-in-cheek, flipping boxy-shouldered tuxedo jackets around to reveal a sinewy, delicate spine.
So what is the intended feminist message from the fashion set — to obscure traditional female cues or to embrace them? And in the bigger picture, in this day and time when everyone has an opinion, is it the job of fashion to dive into the trenches of mud-slinging political affairs or to provide a beautiful, artistic and indulgent escape?
It seems as the temperature rises culturally, even those who are moderate or politically aloof are being pulled to one side or the other. Fashion, as an industry, was conceived to serve a society who sought to be viewed as genteel and civil. Fashion may not bring the masses back together, but its ultimate gift of inspiring, distracting and providing lightheartedness may be just what we need.