Fashion Industry Profile: Chapter 2. The Nature of Fashion

Are Feminism and Fashion Compatible?

Fashion is intangible. It can be shaped by politics, democracy, identity and social order. Throughout the fashion history, women movements have always reshaped fashion. For example, when more women stepped out of their houses and began to work, the fashion changed accordingly.

…by the mid-1890s, as more men–and also women–began working in factories and offices, the apparel industry responded to the demand for practical clothing by adapting the men’s shirt for women in a blouselike form.[1]

Another example is during the World War II, when men went off to battle, women assumed the industrial jobs and impacted the fashion.

As the roles of men and women shifted, society moved toward a loosening of formality and convention…Fashion for more than half of the decade was “on duty”…Women’s suits were tailored and mannish looking with padded shoulders and peplum jackets nipped in at the waist. Shoes were rationed and became more practical for walking.[2]

Indeed, fashion is a mirror of the times. How about the era we are living in? No one can deny that feminism has been a much debated topic in the past decade. It is a range of political and social movements that aim to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women.[3] In 2016, designers voiced feminist slogans on the runway and influencers embraced feminism.[4]


Among all the feminism activists, Emma Watson is a particular one. She has become one of the pioneers as both a young woman and a female celebrity, since her 2014’s speech on gender equality given at a special event in the United Nations Headquarters.

Even when she acts Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle, the traditional Disney princess, Vogue covers it as “Emma Watson Is Remaking Belle Into a Feminist Disney Heroine“, which focuses on the word “Feminist.”


However, she was questioned if she was a true feminist after she appeared in a risqué fashion shoot for Vanity Fair’s March cover story.[5]


It has sparked a fierce debate on social media about what it means to be a feminist.[6]


During an interview with the BBC over the weekend, Watson finally addressed her critics. “It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding that there is about what feminism is,” she said. “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it.”

I myself takes the stand that over-interpreting fashion is ridiculous. I completely agree with Emma Watson’s comments on feminism. Women, or all human beings regardless of gender, should have their own freedom of choosing what they wear and how they behave. Women have the rights to expose part of their body (of course appropriately and legally) no matter whether their purpose are to satisfy men or to satisfy themselves. Fashion should be at an individual’s liberty.

So, are feminism and fashion compatible? I do believe that women are greatly empowered by fashion, therefore the two are not incompatible. Just as Emma Watson’s comments in an interview, “I think using fashion as a means of expression is brilliant. One of the ways I became a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador was through my interest in fair-trade fashion. Because so many women design and make the clothes we wear, it’s primarily the working conditions of women that are affected by the decisions we make, so fashion is a feminist issue.”[7]

[1] Elaine Stone, The Dynamics of Fashion, (New York: Fairchild Books, 2013) , 5.

[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] “Feminism,” Wikipedia,

[4] “10 Times Fashion Embraced Feminism in 2016,” W Magazine, December 28, 2016,

[5] “Cover Story: Emma Watson, Rebel Belle,” Vanity Fair, March 2017,

[6] “Emma Watson Can Pose Topless and Still Be a Feminist,” Vogue, March 6, 2017,

[7] “Fashion Is a Feminist Issue, According to Emma Watson,” WHO WHAT WEAR, November 30, 2015,

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