Throughout the XX century, women who belonged to the first and second wave-feminism broke down social barriers around the world.
They fought for economic, social and political issues that went from street protests, voting rights to education laws.
These activists were strong and brave, and fashion was a powerful tool to express their ideas.
According to Gloria Steinem, an American journalist, writer and feminist activist, fashion is “a role of self-expression”. And we couldn’t agree more with her!
Colors, haircuts and innovative designs influenced the way we dress nowadays. They also changed the patterns imposed in our culture.
Many of the items you’ll see in this post were created by high fashion designers such as Coco Chanel or Mary Quant.
From chic miniskirts to comfortable trousers, these trends turned out to be the voice of a generation who taught us to fight against the limitations of our gender.
During the 1910s and 1920s, women used to wear tight corsets and multi-layered skirts. But then, Coco Chanel had a different point of view. “Fashion sometimes forgets that human beings live in these clothes”, she said.
That’s why the french designer created the trousers, which were implemented amongst the female audience in France as a cozy element in their closet.
This was one of her earliest designs. She found the inspiration when she wore Étienne Balsan’s clothes to ride a horse.
Years later, she wears trousers again to replace her swimming suit during a beach vacation. Unexpectedly, all her followers began to copy her style, embracing this item on a daily basis.
This trend also gained popularity because women used to wear their husband’s pants to save money during and after World War II.
Plus, they were practical and easier to labor in.
Women began wearing men’s suits to show that they were capable of transforming the gender “rules” imposed by society. According to Grace Lees-Maffei, author of Iconic Designs: 50 Stories About 50 Things, when Coco Chanel began designing “the suit was already associated with women's emancipation, having facilitated female participation in the 'man's world’”.
In fact, Coco Chanel is credited with creating the first female suit.
Tuxedos and Pant Suits
In 1930, the german actress Marlene Dietrich changed the status quo of this era by wearing a tuxedo during her Hollywood film debut ‘Morocco’ directed by Josef von Sternberg.
Quickly, everyone wanted to imitate her glamorous and androgynous outfit.
Although she became a style icon, during an interview with The Observer, she dismissed fashion as ‘a bore’.
More than 30 years later, designer Yves Saint Laurent launched the pantsuit trend in 1966 with his iconic 'Le Smoking' set, which was inspired after the men's classic.
During World War II, clothing factories reduced their production because they were focused on men’s uniforms.
On the other hand, nylons gained popularity from the moment they were invented in 1938. This item was new and it was promoted as the ultimate female garment.
However, women stopped to wear them frequently due to a lack of material. Actually, according to Racked, many women “took to drawing lines up the back of their legs with eyebrow pencils to give the impression that they were wearing highly-prized pairs of stockings.”. In 1948, factories began producing pantyhoses again. And then, they became highly demanded in the 50s.
In 1946, french mechanic engineer Louis Réard took a step beyond and created the ‘bikini’.
To present it, he chose a french stripper called Micheline Bernardini because most of the models refused to wear it. It’s been said this was the first bikini in history.
As might be expected, this item was controversial and criticized by religious groups. During the 60s, actresses like Brigitte Bardot and Ursula Andress adopted it as a symbol of female emancipation.
In 1966, British fashion designer Mary Quant shorted the traditional skirt to only 35 cm length, creating the famous ‘mini skirt’ and promoting an authentic revolution.
This piece became a symbol of sexual liberation. It’s also synonymous with rebellion, elegance, and empowerment.
It definitely changed fashion forever!
In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe was the ultimate bombshell of the decade.
Adored by men and women, Marilyn popularized the denim no only as jeans, but also as a whole outfit. Hey, you just gotta take a look at the ‘We Can Do It!’ poster to confirm it!
The Marilyn Monroe effect was so huge that brands like Lee or Levi’s used her image to promote their jeans.
By wearing jeans represented the masculine and working class. However, second-wave feminism changed the gender rules.
Nowadays, jeans are considered unisex.
The Bras have been developed by fashion and culture through the years. In ancient Greece, women used to wear them to sports activities.
During the 16th century, the corset was an important garment for almost 400 years. The bra has changed through drastic designs over the course of time.
The new yorker socialité Mary Phelps Jacob is credited for inventing the first modern bra.
Her creation was comfortable, lightweight and easier to wear. It also separated the breasts naturally, and women loved it!
However, the bra wasn’t always a cozy invention. In the 60s, the feminist movement burned and threw away this underwear during a protest as a way to express their disagreement.
Although Robin Morgan, organizer of the Miss America protest, said no bras were burned and it was fake news, this event is known as the “bra-burning movement”.
According to the Australian writer and feminist activist, Germaine Greer, the imposed wearing of bras “was an oppressive structure, and that women should be free to either wear them or not at their own discretion.”
In the 70s the “no bra” trend was very popular among women of this era.
And today, many women decide not to wear it to feel more comfortable and empowered with themselves.
Transparents shirts have been around since the 18th century, but this decade has gained popularity among young women. It exposes the female body, and every woman who wears it tends to feel proud and natural.
This item encourages girls to show their figures just the way they are without fear and shame.
As we said before, fashion has been an important mechanism to improve and share feminist’s beliefs over the years.
Many people think that the fashion industry and feminism aren’t compatible, but this is just another misconception.
Several fashion designers are committed to women's rights, and although we don’t know what the future holds, there’s one thing for sure: they will keep supporting this movement because fashion is about creation and a powerful weapon to unite the female community.