Women Today: A State of Undress

This year, the eternal debate on the power of Women’s fashion is more in the forefront than ever. As part of our month long discussion on ‘Women Today’, CRAVE has a few questions about the current state of undress.

In light of recent exhibitions such as the Design Museum’s ‘Women, Fashion, Power’, once again casting an eye back over the ages at how women have used clothes as a medium of expression, CRAVE asks if the current state of undress of women in the public eye is a new freedom of expression or a symptom of our times. Are we making a statement by wearing less, or are we just forgetting the power of wearing more?

‘Women, Fashion, Power’ has come at an interesting time. It seems society is wrestling with a particularly pressing question: How do women define themselves today? Designed by a formidably accomplished woman herself, Zaha Hadid, the exhibition looks back at leading women in the public eye from Diana Princess of Wales, and Natalie Massenet, to revolutionaries like Dame Vivienne Westwood and how they have used fashion and the art of dressing as a powerful social and political tool. At times in history, how a woman dressed was her only form of uncensored self expression, and with the prevalence of female archetypes still going strong in modern society, perhaps for this reason, it has intrinsically remained something very personal and important to women.

However, it seems we have come to a cross roads. The idiom that ‘sex sells’, well let’s face it, it’s nothing new. So we’re not suggesting for a moment anything as simplistic as the idea that modern women have been taken over by a commercially motivated movement and whipped into some sort of strip poker inspired frenzy. That would be to say that young women in particular today are not free thinking and self motivated individuals. Far from it: Despite topical debate on the problem of women still earning only 80% of that of their male counterparts this is not the case if you’re young, single and childless. This demographic of independent, empowered young women in their 20s now earn a solid 3.6% more on average than men their age. Not to equate income with independence, but it’s safe to say we no longer look to men for security and stability. It seems we do just fine on our own.

So why then is this very demographic more and more susceptible to a male influenced self image crisis. Influential young women in the public eye like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Iggy Azalea who have a legion of even younger fans, seem to be setting a new standard: Power comes from being sexually desirable. Out are the shoulder pads of the 80s, symbolic of the arrival of women in the board rooms of massive commercial conglomerates. In are nipple covers and laytex playsuits, and an aggressively sexualised public image. At the risk of sounding old fashioned, have we not come too far to resort to making twerking the best recognised form of self expression for women in 2014? Don’t get us wrong, we’re not burning our bras as we speak, far from it. (And no we’re not fans of the recent trend for pastel coloured armpit hair either!) In fact, desirability is inherent to what it means to be both male and female. But whether we use it as a currency, rather than an asset, is up for discussion.

Whatever the answer is, it seems the debate is far from over. It seems the art world has often been holding up the biggest mirror to these questions, from David Bailey’s ‘Shoe in Bikini’ (right) to artists like Allen Jones who explored the topics of what it meant to be female in pop culture against a context of male and female sexuality. Allen Jones’ current retrospective at the RA which opened this month is definitely topical to the discussion, and we’re off to check it out. Now, down to the important decisions… what to wear?