Saturday, March 12, 2011

Feminist Fashionista - Dynamo Coco Chanel

Chanel in the 20s
Most of the time we think of fashionistas as shallow, frivolous, and perhaps even ditzy. The "best" stereotype of the fashionista involves arrogance, snobbery, and condescension.  Thing is, fashion is more than just the mindless flippancy of the Legally Blondes of the world.  It is a statement and dictates more than just culture.  It is a means to liberation or bondage.

This past week on March 8, International Women's Day came and went.  I was thinking about it all week.  How women have come such a long way during the 20th century and now we're facing some serious steps back with things like quiverfull women, redefinition of rape victims, and the systematic war against reproductive rights.  It makes me wonder what is going on in people's minds that they could even suggest these ideas, let alone discuss rewriting law or completely reshaping their lives to accommodate perversions of sacred texts.

But let's get back to something small that impacts women daily and frequently goes unnoticed - fashion.  Clothing says something about a person.  Now a woman can wear anything she likes.  Her options are open.  If she wants to dress in clothing fit to play contact sports she can.  If she wants to wear clothing that reference days when clothing was an extension of female repression, she can. More than any one woman, Coco Chanel paved the way for the woman's ability to choose how she would live.

At first changing how she herself dressed was something she did for her own comfort. She did this even though it blatantly flouted the convention of her day. When she began her fashion house, she really transformed the nature of clothing for women.  No longer were women forced into debilitating and painful clothing.  They could breathe.  Their internal organs could stay in the place nature intended.  She referenced working class patterns, fabrics, and designs rendering them elegant and eye-catching. Things that had been looked down upon were given artistry and beauty.  Even the simplest things could become elegant statements of feminine expression.

Though fashion now is considered something of a luxury relegated to celebrity and wealth, the roots of modern fashion facilitated the increased freedom of women and allowed for subsequent cultural transformation.  It's worth watching the movie Coco Before Chanel (I recommend the special features as well). Take a minute to raise a glass of Champagne to one of the most important women of the 20th century - here's to you Coco!

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