Fashion in the time of #MeToo
My father manufactured western shirts (Tem-Tex, “Styled in the Heart of Texas”), so I grew up building structures with empty thread spools on the office floor, wandering around the clattering sewing machines that smelled of 3 in One Oil, loving the fabrics and their textures, reveling in the endless range of colors, trims, and patterns.
Little wonder that I love fashion now. So when the Maggy London women’s clothing brand asked me to be one of their “Women Who Make a Difference,” I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Saying yes to unexpected opportunities in life was one of the pieces of advice I shared.
I spent a fun afternoon doing the photo shoot with Maggy London’s amazing creative team and wearing several of their beautifully styled dresses. Especially the red ones of course, but the black ones are lovely too. I stayed on brand.
A serious part of the discussion (some of which is on their blog and others will show up at various times) had to do with personal branding. It started with a question about how I regard fashion in relation to my work, and to being a professional woman in general. I’m confident in my sense of style, probably as a result of my childhood familiarity with the trappings of fashion, albeit a specialized niche, and why I still love a great fitting pair of jeans more than anything. Except for shoes, of course. I agree with either Marilyn Monroe or Bette Midler, both of whom are credited with originating the notion that with the right shoes, a girl can conquer the world.
For many women, there is significant tension between on how we are expected to look and how much attention we want to give to that versus what we know we are capable of doing as professionals and as leaders.
Women’s bodies are objectified in media and judged in daily interactions with friends and family members so that by the time we are adults, we may find the locus of power outside of ourselves if we pay too much attention to how others react to our physical beings.
But like any other resource, fashion is also a tool that can be used as part of our brand, how we show up in the world, and the statement we want to make about who we are. My favorite of Eve Ensler’s performance pieces is entitled “My Short Skirt.” The punchline is “My short skirt, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you.”
Well of course, it does have something to do with how we are perceived, but the point is we get to decide that question. We get to define ourselves, and indeed we must define ourselves or we will be subsumed and consumed by our culture and what it tells us we should be. For when we break with cultural expectation, we are confronted with this poignant observation by novelist Barbara Kingsolver: “The #MeToo movement can’t bring justice to a culture so habituated to misogyny that we can’t even fathom parity, and women still dread losing the power we’ve been taught to use best: our charm.”
That’s a scary place for many women. And therein lies the most destructive Catch 22 women face every day. It’s hard to change a culture while you are living in it and it’s nearly impossible “to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head,” to quote feminist author turned spiritual awareness teacher, Sally Kempton.
And yet, changing the culture in the deepest, most profound ways is exactly what we are challenged to do today. We are setting the world aright as we go about the work of accelerating women’s move from 20 percent of top leadership to parity by 2025.
Whether it’s deemed fashionable or not, we must make our brand the stamp of this historic moment by going #beyondmetoo to women’s #powerTOlead.
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About the Author
Gloria Feldt,Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead, is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. She teaches "Women, Power, and Leadership" at Arizona State University and was named to Vanity Fair's Top 200 women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers.