Can a T-Shirt be Feminist?

The "We Should All Be Feminists" top at Dior did not fix fashion, but at least it’s sparked a conversation

There was a big hubbub when Maria Grazia Chiuri was named the first-ever female creative director at Dior. That electricity continued straight through to fashion week, where she made her debut the same season that Bouchra Jarrar made her debut at the house of Lanvin, bringing a woman back to the helm. It was a pretty important moment given the fashion landscape, which (as we’ve previously discussed), is aimed largely toward the female consumer, yet doesn’t put many women in charge.

Style-wise, Chiuri and Jarrar could not have been more different, with Jarrar focusing on clean, tailored lines, and Chiuri going for overt whimsy. Logistics-wise, there were a lot of similarities: Both showed easy silhouettes, fuss-free, combinable pieces, and flat shoes, showing that comfort and ease of moment do not have to be compromised in the name of fashion. What made the most news for Dior, however, was a white t-shirt that read, “We should all be feminists.” But was the collection itself feminist? 

While fashion is often a reflection of the current cultural mood (feminism is, after all, at the center of many a political conversation these days), women are not mindless drones who take what they see on said runways as gospel. Regardless of what designers show or how they show it, consumers are able to pick and choose what works best for them. And to that extent, yes, fashion has become much more liberal—both trousers and tutus have been spotted this season.

However, the lack of diversity when it comes to race, shape, and size on the runway is disappointing. To promote an ideal aesthetic in clothing is totally fine. That’s the job of a designer. But to continually promote one ideal in human beauty is not feminist at all—it’s reducing women to a standard. We’re past that intellectually, are we not?

And to the CEOs of these major brands, if you’re going to hire a woman as creative director and herald it as a new direction for you company, then one also expects you to follow through on your business and promotional practices as well. H&M’s most recent campaign comes to mind—sure, the ads are fantastic, challenging frustrating concepts about what it means to be a “lady”. But equally frustrating are the in-store images that feature a bevy of supermodels, the ultra-skinny mannequins, and the fact that H&M doesn’t put plus sizes on the floor of many of its stores. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the ongoing issues with H&M and other fast fashion brands using underage and underpaid workers in its factories, usually young women.

The point is, touting feminism is fine. And it’s pretty great that Dior had the word “feminist” on a t-shirt. But we need to be careful about when, where, and how we invoke all things feminist, and that we are actively working towards change, not just slapping a pretty Band-Aid on a big problem. Feminism is not a fad. Feminism is not a trend. Feminism is not a fashion statement.

That being said, let’s give Chiuri the benefit of the doubt. After all, it is her debut season at the house. Given the fact that she hasn’t even been there for three months, her massive shift in tone (Raf Simons’ minimalism to her ultra romantica must have given some employees whiplash) was likely her main focus. The fact that she has chosen to take such an overtly political stance is impressive. Sure, people in the fashion industry seem vaguely feminist, and one could assume that most are, but it’s rare for a designer at a house as big as Dior to be so blunt on the catwalk. Kudos to that.

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