Some dismiss fashion as being only skin-deep, as superficial and irrelevant, a fantasy at best, exploitative and anti-feminist at worst. And there are aspects of this that are absolutely true.
But it is also true that fashion can change attitudes, it can help us reflect and it empowers us to be our true selves and try and be a positive influence on the lives of others.
Clothes, in a small way, inspire us be anything we want
Amy Poehler put it so concisely when she gave a two sentence explanation of a common female dilemma in a 2014 interview - to feel like you have to be many things at the same time - hardworking, but fun; feminine, but a tomboy; ambitious, but likeable; confident, but not bossy; make an effort with your appearance, but make it look effortless.
Her short, sharp comment on this really resonated with me, and find it an important point, particularly for how we bring up girls.
But I experience fashion as an enjoyable, visual tool to be all the different, contradictory things I in fact want to be. I might want to look like a boss one day, and dress in structured fabrics and clean cuts. I might want to feel super feminine for date night. Or I might want to make a statement and attract attention by wearing bold colours or big prints. I don't envy the guys, for whom it's essentially suits at work, suits for occasions and essentially dressed down versions of the same suits at most other times. Not exactly fun.
Clothes tell stories of the women who came before us
Collectively we seem to have fallen out of love with the longevity of great clothing. But keeping something for a really long time can be such a treasure, provided it's looked after well. I still own a handbag that my mother, who passed away long ago, owned and loved in the seventies. It makes me reflect on the ways in which her life as a young woman must have been different from mine, and in which ways quite similar. And if I do finally fork out on that breathtakingly expensive handbag that I've had my eye on for ages, I'll do so with the hope to pass it on to my daughter one day.
But this does require that we take a fresh look at how we value quality. It's perfectly fine to enjoy a few on-trend pieces that you won't love forever. But what I personally have no time for anymore is poor quality, which can sometimes be shockingly unrelated to how much you've 'invested' in a garment. Poor quality clothes are poor value because they fade, bobble and lose shape, so it's good to make a habit of considering price alongside likely longevity.
Clothes are made by women
Most seriously, fashion matters to feminism, because women account for the vast majority of workers in the fashion supply chain. It's a tricky subject as the garment industry can make a valid claim that it has brought comparatively high quality jobs to some of the poorest places, where those types of jobs are otherwise rare.
But it's also unequivocally true that garment workers are underpaid given the purchasing power of the end customer, that conditions are tough, that workers are often harassed, mistreated or indeed in danger.
So whatever your shopping habits, your personal relationship with fashion, and whether you shop at Asos or Net a Porter, it means a great deal to engage with and ask questions about the supply chain practices of your favourite brands to keep up the pressure on them to continue to increase transparency and improve workers' conditions. While much remains to be done, it all starts with us, the consumer looking behind the pretty branding.
Our female-led brands rock
So this one's for us here at Sheer Apparel.
We work predominantly with women. Be it industry experts with vast experience, teams of young, impressive entrepreneurs with boundless energy, solo founders building incredible brands, or writers who passionately tell the story of what a better fashion industry can and must look like. And these women inspire us to keep aiming high every single day.
So on this World Women's Day, I say Fashion can change the world.
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