Shirts proclaiming feminist slogans are standard issue for many college students, but who would have predicted that they would become a key trend on the runway? Woke couture sent out its first shoots last year, when Dior designer Maria Grazia Chiuri paired a flowing tulle skirt with a T-shirt that declared, “We Should All Be Feminists.” The shirt, retailing for $700, was an immediate social media success and has since been worn by Natalie Portman and Rihanna.
Political T’s positively proliferated at this year’s New York Fashion Week: Jonathan Simkhai gifted front-row attendees to his show with “Feminist AF” shirts, and Prabal Gurung, citing January’s women’s marches as inspiration, debuted T-shirts decorated with messages including “The Future Is Female” and “Nevertheless She Persisted.”
It isn’t immediately clear how these shirts are different from others you could find on Etsy, eBay, or even Amazon, other than the 3,000-percent price difference. The novelty seems to be rooted in the notion that Dior is making a feminist statement. Suddenly, the fashion crowd has embraced political clothing. Some observers have suggested this might even make feminism more palatable to a new crowd. Britain’s Daily Telegraph said Chiuri was “reaching women who might not normally be receptive to any kind of socially progressive message.”
“Designer protest wear” is a bit of an oxymoron, but the positive impact shouldn’t be ignored. We’re all familiar with the cultural cachet luxury brands wield, not to mention the trickle-down effect of trends. Consequently, more brands will surely soon be producing clothes that affirm women’s rights. If Juicy Couture was able to create a whole market for tracksuits with degrading slogans printed on their derrieres, it seems certain that within six months discount stores will be packed to the rafters with knockoff T-shirts covered in Elizabeth Warren quotes.
Fashion editors seem simultaneously excited and terrified by this new trend: They want to join the revolution, but they’re afraid of becoming just another body among the unmanicured masses. Vogue writer Eviana Hartman took an informal survey of fashion editors’ feelings about dressing for the resistance, and it was clear that they’re not quite ready for the barricades. They prefer to make a statement by donning boldly tailored items or featuring a pop of bright color rather than by slapping a slogan on their shirts. Hartman confessed that though she had purchased some vintage political T-shirts on eBay, she was struggling to integrate them into her wardrobe. She declared this “a good old-fashioned fashion challenge.”
But isn’t the way to incorporate a T-shirt into your wardrobe simply to wear it with a pair of jeans? Do you need special protest pants or to balance it with a conciliatory skirt?
Worrying over the right way to style garments that proclaim one’s feminism seems like a desire to qualify the statements they’re proclaiming. The message is, “We should all be feminists, but I also believe in lipstick and this season’s Gucci loafers.” Or “My feminism is semi-ironic, as betrayed by my Gloria Steinem-style tinted glasses.”
To be sure, it will only be a good thing when Fifth Avenue is filled with fashionistas flaunting their feminism. Who could resist the spectacle of Park Avenue grandes dames wearing “Pussy Grabs Back” shirts? Nevertheless, when your first concern is matching your “Girl Power” T-shirt with your new leather boots rather with than the message it sends, you’re not so much supporting feminism as accessorizing with it.