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FASHION AND SEXUALITY

by JS

The Socratic suggestion of beauty creates an impression of sensuality and thus sexuality. By using this idea, it becomes interesting to consider how intrinsically linked modern fashion and ancient philosophy is. As an art form which is primarily a woman’s domain, the role of fashion is often a point of contention. Some people dismiss fashion as inconsequential and vain, whilst others think it is all about conforming to society’s expectations about how women should present themselves to the world.

 

However, fashion is a much more complex, subjective area than that. Today, we fight against the notion that women should be judged purely on their looks, but this doesn’t mean that we should negate our appreciation for fashion. Fashion is a mirror of where we are socially and culturally. With this in mind, it’s clear that the notions of femininity are being challenged; if current trends are anything to go by.

 

To illustrate this further, take a look at Miu Miu’s Autumn/Winter 2012 collection. An advocate of ‘ugly chic’, Miuccia Prada is all for subverting traditional ideals of beauty and sexiness. Her A/W ’12 collection is all about 70s inspired androgyny; platform heels, lapels, and bold, clashing patterns in a melange of garish colours.

 

Another designer who has embraced the androgynous aesthetic is Francesco Scognamiglio. Scognamiglio mastered the art of seduction by pairing the masculine with the feminine. Lapelled trouser suits oozed cool nonchalance whilst romantic silk dresses paired with utilitarian pants and collared necklines created a rebellious, 'rule breaking' undertone.

 

Vogue described his signature style as ‘contemporary sensuality’, which can be taken as a reflection of society’s changing boundaries and norms. In these times, the boundaries between masculine and feminine are blurring and what society deems ‘acceptable’ is changing. The refusal to conform to rigid gender constructions elicits intrigue from both sexes. It’s the incongruity and ambiguity which creates a new kind of sexiness and stirs a desire that we don’t quite understand. The androgynous trend doesn't place emphasis on physicality and beauty, but rather the clothes themselves and the statements they make.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are designers who overtly celebrate the female form and quintessential 'sexiness'.

 

Tom Ford has been criticized for using sexiness as the bottom line of his womenswear collections, but should this be an issue? There is an important nuance between wanting to look and feel sexy and wanting to be viewed as a sexual object, and Ford's garments are all about the former. Despite our progress regarding equality, we live in a culture of 'slut shaming'; where women are made to feel inferior for engaging in sexual behaviour that violates the 'norm' or dressing in a way which is deemed overly seductive. Feminists fought for a woman's right to have sexual agency and explore her sexual impulses without shame. With this in mind, I don't think this legacy is being disregarded by Ford in any way.

 

His Spring/Summer 2013 collection revolves around the theme of 'Perversity and Chastity'. Chastity came in the form of camel cashmere sweaters and taupe skirts, whilst perversity was portrayed through black patent pencil skirts, multi-buckled straps and bondage sandal-boots. It's sexy and transgressive; even the more 'restrained' ensembles mirror the perversity with leather skirts and boots bound to the thigh. There is nothing submissive about the Ford woman; there is always something of the dominatrix in her. She is not objectified as a male's plaything, but empowered by her sexual agency and dominance.

 

Fashion is an art form and therefore it is all-encompassing. All designers have different motives and stimulus behind their collections, but it is how we choose to mix up these elements ourselves which is the important thing. Style is such an individual preference and an important tool of self-expression. With this in mind, I believe it is nonsensical to deem fashion and feminism as mutually exclusive. What we wear gives us power to send a message to the world, even if it's just a facet of our personality.

 

Fashion can be harnessed and influenced by dynamic changes in society, as demonstrated by the ever-changing nature of trends. We are getting more and more progressive with regards to sexuality and gender, and fashion is an important driving force in breaking down archaic social structures.

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