The rise of ‘hyper-femininity’ in fashion
Social media has played a hand in transforming once-subversive feminist culture into a global and profitable sensation.
The now-popular ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ graphic tee, for example, originates in the 1970s and was printed for Labyris Books, New York City’s first feminist bookstore, during a period when feminist values were first entering mainstream culture.
A few decades later, in 2017, Dior started selling a t-shirt brandishing the same statement. It was popularised by models on the catwalk and flaunted by high-profile celebrities on Instagram – and is still available on the Dior webshop for a humble $920 USD.
This is a great example of how feminism was commodified for fashion during the 21st century, regardless of how slow tangible progress actually has been behind the scenes.
Funnily enough, in line with growing evidence that female CEOs are finally getting their seat at the table in fashion, the former head huncho of Dior, Atoine Arnault, passed the CEO torch to his daughter Delphine Arnault in early 2023.
Nepotism aside, the point here is that feminism has manifested in fashion as a major selling point, rather than the industry itself making serious steps to cater to what women actually want – equal opportunities, clothes designed by women for women so that they may be practical and stylish, and most of all, inclusivity.
Take, for example, the sharp rise in ‘cottagecore,’ ‘Barbiecore,’ and the inescapable return of corset-style tops. Each of these styles frame women within the male gaze – the homemaker, the perfectly proportioned doll, or perky breasted, sinched-waist seductress.
There’s also the recently popularised ‘balletcore’ trend, which takes inspiration from (you guessed it) literal ballerinas, who are typically extremely slender and dainty.
While there’s nothing objectively wrong with the trend of wanting to dress in subtle pink tones, we have to understand that such trends – when largely set and profited off by men – are working to reinforce the idea that women should dress to be admired, to be an object of entertainment, and not to mention – light as air.
This translates directly into the reality that seeing curvier models on the runway is still a rarity. In fact, many high-profile male designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld, and until recently, global brands like Chanel and Balenciaga, have rejected the notion of having their brands influenced by the body positive movement.
In the ever-evolving landscape of feminist fashion, clothing has the influence to spark profound discussions about women’s bodies, choices, and power.
However, in the realm of mainstream representations, an unsettling trend continues to persist—one that glorifies hyper femininity and subsequently promotes thinness as the epitome of the ideal woman.
More and more, people are starting to realise the complex overlaps between fashion, politics, and societal expectations. In online spaces, calls for brands to ‘do better’ are being exemplified by the realisation that white male creative directors are still dominating luxury fashion houses and most popular brands – and what we, the public, wear.
As the movement continues, the runway becomes a platform not just to showcase style, but to represent the long overdue shifts to seeing women not just as objects of beauty, but as equal human beings.