By: Ayana Session
People often have the misconception that fashion is frivolous and has no bearing on important aspects of society, much less politics and impactful social movements. However, this view overlooks that fashion truly is a part of culture. It is a marker of social norms, political stance and viewpoint.
Think about how your values and mood are represented through what you wear. What skirts do you feel are a “tasteful length?” Did you adorn yourself with pastel after joyously looking through your closet, or throw on your gray hoodie in a rush to start your day? A person’s fashion choices can tell you a lot about them. While a nation’s fashion can tell you a lot about its culture, something it has done numerous times throughout the past. This most noticeably occurs during times of social change: as seen in the 20s and 90s in the U.S.
The 20s were the age of the flapper. With their short hair, androgynous silhouettes and (what was then considered) short skirts, they were a generation unlike any before. These new styles and sense of freedom that these glam fashionistas are known for helped bring in an even newer idea: feminism.
Though many people view feminism as a hatred of men, it is actually, as Marie Shear so beautifully put it, “the radical notion that women are people.” The idea of gender equality was unheard of and created what is today known as “first-wave feminism,” or the first feminist movement. Women voiced their opinions and gained the right to vote on August 18, 1920.
Their sense of empowerment was seen in the new ways they presented themselves within society. They cut their hair and rejected previous notions of what women should look like. For this reason, more androgynous silhouettes and short hair rose in popularity as opposed to the long hair and corsets of the previous decade.
This is a great example of how social change can be captured in different aspects of culture, such as in fashion. A more modern example would be 90s.
The 90s were a vibrant time with many varied styles. The largest trends though, were street and grunge. The vastly popular baggy clothes, bandanas, “chola” inspired makeup and other popular fashion trends that coincided with street style were a result of an increase of ethnic diversity that was portrayed in the media.
During this time, many ethnicities gained more representation through TV, music and other forms of media. This increase in representation allowed urban styles to become more mainstream and commonplace throughout all of America.
Grunge was another example of diversity. The cut-off jeans and long hair we associate with the 90s were symbols of the headbanging, grunge movement which embraced alternative lifestyles and rejected the notion of everyone fitting into a cookie-cutter society. It is clear through the fashion during this era, that the 90s were a time for diversity and embracing our differences.
By looking at the history of the U.S. and its style, it is clear that fashion is an expression of self and a manifestation of empowerment. It unites us while also allowing for individuality.