It never fails to amaze me how the fashion industry has grown to be so influential in every sphere of our lives. Every season the style mercury rises set by hot heeled Fashionistas and pouting models and iconic musicians.
Hi-gloss catwalks from Johannesburg to Kingston, from New York to Paris, seduce us into believing that if we are not in tune with the latest hemline, we are somehow less than we could be.
As world spaces evolve into global villages, it begs the question whether our grandmothers and their mothers enjoyed greater freedom to just be. I imagine life was far simpler back then. What influenced their style expression?
Our apparel speaks volumes about us before we even open our mouths. Power dressing, hip hop, bling are all potent symbols and images of power. The choices we make in presenting ourselves to the world are pawns in a power game, a dance of smoke and mirrors.
Over the ages, gender activists marched, burnt bras and many died in the quest for equality. After the blood, sweat and tears, just how free are we to just be as women? Some might say, we, multi-talented, multi-faceted, multi-tasking queens never had it so good.
South African society has walked a long road in the fight for gender equality. There is still a long way to go. In a country where incidents of abuse and rape are alarmingly high, power dynamics between the sexes is a burning issue. Freedom of expression, be it through voice, dress, the media or otherwise, is a human rights issue.
Earlier this year, women wearing mini-skirts were assaulted by men at a taxi rank because their clothing was said to be provocative and inviting rape. Fittingly, this event sparked outcry, protests and swift moves from government and civil society to denounce such behaviour as unacceptable.
Last month, research figures exploring people’s feelings about whether revealing attire contributes to the chance of being raped were released. In this, the second study (the first in 2006) there were significant drops. In 2006, 33% of South African metropolitan adults as opposed to 23% in 2008 agreed that women wearing revealing clothes were asking to be raped. That men are taking it upon themselves to beat women into conservative attitudes of compliance indicates there are still many battles to be won. Rape and violence being issues of power rather than sex is really where it’s at.
From mini-skirts to pant suits to midriff exposing lo-rise jeans, who or what influences our dress and what does it say about us? Women of this millennium have more opportunities than ever before to define their iconic style sensibilities. Let us consciously embrace our alluring chameleon like nature and create engaging, sometimes mysterious, sometime brazen expression in honour of our evolution. Let us be.