Collaboration Piece by: Bethany Roberts ’20 and Kate Janson ’20
“Who are you wearing?” “You look beautiful tonight. How long did it take you to get ready?” Young women dream of getting asked these questions on the red carpet. Yet in reality female influencers feel diminished to a piece of fabric and the shade of red on their lips while their male counterparts discuss hard-hitting questions. Girls experience the same oppression as young as middle school, growing up to accept sexist dress codes. Pushing fashion boundaries is not always as shallow as setting trends – it is a platform to give voice to the voiceless. In the past making a statement would usually fly under the radar. But with recent crackdowns on women’s rights, society is looking past the spots and stripes and seeing a deeper meaning.
It all starts closer to home in Flower Mound at Marcus High School. Most Ursuline girls cannot relate to the full extent of public school dress code or the controversy caused by strict dress codes today. The students of Marcus High School were shown a video on the dress code they were expected to follow. Complications arose when students realized that the video only showed female students out of dress code, never male. The video also demonstrated a ‘properly’ remorseful student apologizing profusely for wearing Nike shorts, “I will not wear shorts, I will not wear shorts, I will not wear shorts,” she declares. The viral video created a mass of Twitter backlash much forced the principal to respond. “[The school should have included] representation of boys as well as the girls,” Skelton reports. “We definitely missed the mark, and will do everything we can to make it right for our students.” Though the complaints were addressed fully, it only demonstrates the sexist dress code enforcement female students experience. Sending students home due to unequal enforcement of dress code policies negatively affect female student’s abilities to focus and participate. Sexist policies sending girls home impact their education, which should be the top priority.
The public was infuriated when the president of the French Open did not look past Serena Williams’s inappropriate “Cat Suit.” The custom-made suit helps prevent blood clots developed during pregnancy. She is currently facing $17,000 in fines for her violations. She confessed to Teen Vogue that, “It is a fun suit, but it is also functional” – preventing her from worrying about her health while playing. Williams has spent her life dedicated to tennis, but Giudicelli, president of the French Tennis Federation, reduces her to a fashion mogul. The suit enables her as an athlete to play her game. Fighting against the pushback, Williams wore a two tulle tutus to the following U.S. Open matches. Her frilly attire was strikingly different from her skin-tight Cat Suit. But that was just the point, Williams was there to win, no matter what she was wearing. Although they were different outfits, she proves she is the same player by winning both matches.
Princess Diana was undoubtedly a fashion icon. Her most famous look, a black, Stambolian dress, was more than just a fashion statement. “The Revenge Dress” was her first public appearance after her husband, Prince Charles, publicly confessed his adultery. The custom-made dress was strikingly sexy in comparison to her typical demure day looks. At first, the princess called the dress “too daring”, but the public adored seeing Diana throw the famously strict royal fashion rules to the wind. However, her radiant, carefree demeanor was the true star. The attention she was given gave her control of the seemingly hopeless situation – she found a way to express her newfound independence through her clothes.
Victoria, another British trend-settler, Queen was the first to wear a white wedding dress, which set one of the longest-lasting fashion trends. Her priorities, however, were political. With England’s lace trade declining, Queen Victoria seized the influential moment and began a fashion trend that would last for decades. The dress, trimmed with Honiton lace, was reported months after the dress’s debut. Some articles praised the color for celebrating the Christian value of an unsullied heart. Others enjoyed indicating their wealth since a dress so easily sullied could never be worn again. Regardless of why other women began to wear white, England’s lace trade was silently saved by an iconic dress.
The color white has been used to women’s advantage for centuries. In the 1800s, suffrages globally adopted the color white because “white [is] the emblem of purity symboliz[ing] the quality of our purpose.” (“The Sufferagist,” 1913.) The activists sported the color to maintain their femininity, refusing to compromise their womanhood for equal rights.
In recent years, fashion has developed into making a political statement with a fashion statement. White and black were recently dubbed the color of the #MeToo movement that swept through Hollywood and all of social media. Stars graced red carpets with monochromatic attire to honor those who experienced sexual assault and harassment. The #TimesUp statement was a deafening uproar – American society and Hollywood’s finest began to give voice to the silenced.
Across the Atlantic, Iranian women are also fighting for their voice through their clothing. Viral pictures from Iran show women raising their removed veils in silence on the street. Dr. Megan Griffin, an English teacher specializing in women’s voice, explains that “For many Muslim women, wearing a hijab is a choice, but for others, like those in Iran, it is mandatory. So for many women’s rights activists, the removal of their veils is an act of political protest.” Symbolizing their lack of voice in a situation pertaining directly to them, Iranian women silently protest, making their statement by removing their hijab. Mirroring the same movement in 1979, multiple Iranian women have been jailed for the illegal offense.
After society attempts to reduce women to their clothing, women often reclaim their voice through fashion. From activists to athletes, the goal of women’s fashion extends beyond setting trends. In the words of Rihanna, a modern-day fashion icon, “when it comes to fashion, I see individuality.” Beauty is not skin deep; neither is fashion.