On reclaiming girlishness
Earlier this month, I was alerted to a new project on the SHOWstudio website, entitled Girly. Created by editor Lou Stoppard and director Nick Knight, Girly aims to unpick fashion’s relationship with overt, cartoon femininity and it does so in typical SHOWstudio style via a series of essays and interviews, a fashion film and a playlist. Writers, stylists, academics, artists, photographers and journalists come together to produce a fascinating look at a somewhat divisive trend.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with femininity. In my own clothing it is where I feel most at home, yet I despise what it signifies to others. Just because I prefer full skirts and wear bows in my hair, doesn’t mean I can be easily dismissed as stupid or unprofessional. I embrace a femme identity in that I knowingly take what is expected for women to wear and I make it play by my rules. I may dress in a way my grandmother would have approved of, but that doesn’t mean I seek approval from anyone other than myself. It feels like a form of drag sometimes – pretending I’m a girly girl, pretending I care about nothing other than how great my shoes are – but one that no one but me will likely notice.
This is why I was interested in SHOWstudio’s investigation ‘into the exaggerated almost fetishistic girliness championed on some runways, by certain female musicians and celebrities, and, with increasing frequency, on Tumblr and Instagram.’ I’ve never been a fan of the candy coloured fluffy doll-like girly look for myself and, as someone fast approaching the age of 40, suspect I will never go there for anything other than fancy dress. However, I fully stand by a woman’s right to dress this way if she chooses. Or, at least, I thought I did. It goes back to the fact that I despise what it signifies to others… what of the women who wear the look out of ignorance and don’t realise that they might be spoken down to or dismissed (even more than usual) as a result?
An essay by London College of Fashion‘s Morna Laing on Meadham Kirchhoff’s ‘A Wolf in Lamb’s Clothing’ collection was the first piece of the project that I looked at, and it proved to be an excellent place to begin. Laing wonders whether ‘twenty-first-century articulations of “girly”, like those of Meadham Kirchhoff, succeed in re-signifying childlike femininity, overriding the historical connotations of female inferiority?’ and goes on to discuss the 1990s look favoured by Courtney Love and dubbed Kinderwhore, discussing it as ‘same-sex drag: exaggerating the contradictory demands of ideal femininity […] subverting it from within.’ It’s a thought-provoking piece and I urge you to read it, although I couldn’t quite resist one more excellent quote:
The ‘woman-child’ is a figure that recurs time and time again in the fashion media. And these childlike femininities often go with the grain of normative femininities, presenting a vision of woman that is submissive or vulnerable. Such femininities are problematic in that they naturalise childlike femininity by presenting it as coherent, thus tying in with de Beauvoir’s notion of woman as the ‘eternal child’.
The second piece I looked at was Lou Stoppard‘s essay Basic Bitches, which takes a rather harsh look at a new generation of women that she claims have been prevented from growing up. I’ll admit, it was a tough read for someone who sees no problem with 20-somethings carrying Hello Kitty bags, but then Stoppard nailed it: ‘Young women have no idea who our role models are. We want to be strong but can’t be the “power career women” Vogue makes a trend of each season because no one wants to hire us.’ How can these lost 20-somethings with their huge student debts become the grown women that luxury brands sell to? When you can’t break into a good career without undertaking an unpaid internship first, maybe Instagramming your Barbie accessories for your followers’ approval is like a comfort blanket?
This is a complex discussion and SHOWstudio covers many angles. The project also contains a fashion film by Nick Knight and Rei Nadal, an essay on Lolita, one on Luella, an analysis of the Lost Girls trope, a fascinating piece on Girl Power, and Bertie Brandes on Commodifying Feminism who, quite rightly says ‘It’s offensively trite, particularly to those customers who really did fight for women’s rights at the end of the 20th century and probably aren’t thrilled about seeing feminism sugar-coated in the name of capitalism.’ However, the images of Jeremy Scott’s Moschino Barbie collection accompanying the piece do not speak to me of feminism. They express a light hearted girlishness which is unconcerned with anything other than a carefully groomed yet playful appearance.
If you’re in any doubt that the girly trend is here to stay, check out the trailer for Disney’s live action version of Cinderella that’s scheduled for release in March 2015. If United Nude don’t sell more of its classic yet glass-slipper-esque Lo Res Pump as a result of that movie’s release, I’ll be very surprised. I have to admit… I already own them in pink.