The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Feminism and Fashion Collide on Campus

3 min read

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When I think of feminism, all I see is Birkenstocks. Those highly unattractive brown leather sandals that make people look exactly like hobbits from the ankle down. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really understood what modern day feminists are trying to achieve. In my mind, political and social inequalities for women have been addressed. The feminist cause was won long ago in the sixties by sandal-wearing, bra-burning hippies. These are women who, for all they have done for our generation, now shop from the L.L. Bean catalog and don’t even know what mascara is.

Hardly style icons. Besides, I am far too busy swooning over boys and baking cupcakes to care much about what hardships the second sex might be experiencing at the moment. This week’s profile, Claire Pickard, changed my mind about my preconceptions. Pickard, a Junior Philosophy major and e-board member of Mary Washington’s club Feminists United on Campus has an insightful take on the role that style has to play in the ongoing movement, and a great fashion sense to boot.

Feminism has once again come to the forefront with several highly publicized “SlutWalks,” one of which took place in Washington D.C this past August.

This is where style comes into the mix. The protests attempt to counter the idea of victim blaming in our culture: that is the idea that women are somehow asking to be sexually assaulted by wearing clothing that is seen as provocative. Sexuality in relation to clothing choices comes into question not only with provocative clothing, but in demure choices as well. When women make a choice to dress in sweet, child-like clothes, they are often infantilized in terms of their sexuality. Zooey Deschanel, star of the Fox sitcom “New Girl”, has been criticized for playing into this idea through the ditzy female lead she portrays in her cute sundresses and Mary-Jane shoes.

Pickard agrees with this idea, but is quick to point out, “Childishness could easily be conflated with the idea of just having fun with what you’re wearing, and I think she does have a lot of fun. I think it’s important not to take [Deschanel] seriously.”

When it comes to her own look, Claire doesn’t pigeon herself into any particular style.

“I dress kind of like a cross between a sixties go-go girl and a grandmother,” Pickard said. Her mustard yellow tights are from Hue, her navy skirt is from Urban Outfitters and her gray t-shirt, accented by ruffles, is from a thrift store. She also wears a light purple cardigan from American Apparel, “the men’s section, if that matters.” The whole look is complemented by her vintage-looking glasses and black Oxford shoes from Target. Her outfit makes use of block color, a trend seen on the fall 2011 runways, to make a bold statement.

Fashion is something that became important to Pickard as she was growing up.

“I had a subscription to Italian Vogue, American Vogue and Teen Vogue. I watched all of the shows online every runway season. I took it very seriously,” explains Pickard.

Her style has become more eclectic as she has gotten older.

“I try to have more fun with it now,” she said.

As for the role that clothing plays in feminism, Pickard has a unique viewpoint. She puts forth the idea that certain fashion choices can be seen as symbols of the feminist movement throughout history.

“When I wear my combat boots, I feel kind of nice having this line of continuity with the feminists from the 1970’s. With any social or cultural movement there are elements of style that play a role in that culture.”

She argues that women should be able dress in a feminine way, or in a way that is not seen as typically feminine, without having these style choices reflect anything further about them as people.

“It’s about having the choice to wear what you want, and I think that’s a really important thing,” Pickard said.

Pickard has me convinced that I, too, am a feminist. On the question of Birkenstocks, however, my opinion stands.

Image courtesy of Sarah Kelly/Bullet