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If The Clothes Fit

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"If the Clothes Fit"

That is the title of an article written by Minh-Ha T. Pham for Ms. Magazine last week about feminism and fashion. Well, to be fair, the full title is "If The Clothes Fit: A Feminist Takes On Fashion," so I guess saying that initially would have saved me the extra sentence. That's irrelevant. The reason I brought this up is because I found it very inspiring (Yes, it is so typical of a teenage girl, especially a fashion blogger, to say that a pro-feminism article is "inspiring," but don't judge me. I'm just telling it like it is), so I wanted to share it with you all. With the resurgence of anti-feminism conservative woman on the political scene, I thought it was particularly interesting that there are females out there who are still uncomfortable with expressing themselves through fashion. Instead of unsuccessfully trying to explain myself and sounding like an ignorant fool, I'll just let the journalist who wrote the article speak for me for a minute.

"'My passion for fashion can sometimes seem a shameful secret life,' wrote Princeton University English professor Elaine Showalter in 1997.

And indeed, after these words appeared in Vogue, more shame was heaped on her. Surely she must have 'better things to do,' said one colleague.

Fashion, like so many other things associated primarily with women, may be dismissed as trivial, but it shapes how we're read by others, especially on the levels of gender, class and race. In turn, how we're read determines how we are treated, especially in the workforce -- whether we are hired, promoted and respected, and how well we are paid. That most ordinary and intimate of acts, getting dressed, has very real political and economic consequences."

... The fact that even the most politically and culturally commanding women must walk a razor's edge between looking powerful and still appearing 'appropriately feminine' underscores visual theorist John Berger's concise description of mainstream society: 'Men act and women appear.' In other words, men are judged by their deeds; women, by their looks.

In U.S. politics, Hillary Clinton has experienced the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't double bind for strong women. If she wears a power pantsuit, it's a 'desexualized uniform,' but if she shows a hint of cleavage -- as she famously did in 2007 -- it can ignite a media firestorm that eclipses her political platform."

I was shocked to read that part about Hillary Clinton -- if she wants to embrace her femininity, who are we to stop her? Have you seen Kim Kardashian? Is this a joke? I get that she's a political leader and everything, but she's a woman, isn't she? Yes. She should be allowed to wear pants one day and a low cut top the next. It doesn't make her political views any different. It's just that our biased, male-driven societal standards make it difficult for a woman to express herself through fashion. The issue is that self-expression is really what fashion is about. The fact that a Princeton English professor was embarrassed to be passionate about clothing is a serious matter. Just because a woman is an established intellectual doesn't mean that she shouldn't care about what she wears and find pleasure in it. The predicament that many women face is the contradiction in the media's views on this subject: they are supposed to dress well and be presentable and professional, yet they are stereotyped if they show an involved interest in fashion.

Maybe the Elaine Showalter instance was 15 years ago, but the Hillary Clinton incident was only five years ago, so clearly not much has changed in that time. My stance on this is not really about the feminism aspect so much as the problem with people taking fashion seriously. I hate that plenty of people still think that focusing on clothing a waste of time when you live your life in it. Do they think art is useless? No, they think it is sophisticated. Do they think music is unnecessary? Not at all; they listen to their iPod everyday on their way to work. It is inevitable that people will interact with fashion every day of their lives, so why are they so opposed to it? It is quite baffling to me. In the words of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, on the topic of Anne Hathaway's character Andy's choice of clothing, "You're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back... And it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff."