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To Be a Feminist Is to Be Feminine

By Kames Narayanan

On T’s May 2019 cover spread: In the outskirts of the French capital city of Paris, the season’s womenswear underscored by an ease of structure and feminine romanticism paint a picture of the contemporary state of fashion. Above, skateboarder-turned-model Ansley Gulielmi in Salvatore Ferragamo.
 
Ward Ivan Rafik
On T’s May 2019 cover spread: In the outskirts of the French capital city of Paris, the season’s womenswear underscored by an ease of structure and feminine romanticism paint a picture of the contemporary state of fashion. Above, skateboarder-turned-model Ansley Gulielmi in Salvatore Ferragamo.

Beyond its frivolous fancy, much credit is due to the realm of fashion for its overtime function as a barometer of the greater cultural zeitgeist, more pertinent than the garment themselves. In retrospect, this crossover between fashion and social politics is nothing new. 

Marked throughout the pages of history books are distinct shifts in the wardrobe of women, coordinated to their call to battle in a society. In the early 19th century, women revolted against timeworn stereotypical binary conventions of gender by adopting trousers into their staple wear. The choice of clothing rode on the feminist undercurrent when women blatantly displayed their fight for equality and emancipation — men were, literally, no longer the only ones who wore the pants in a relationship. 

 
Clockwise from top left: Louis Vuitton dress; Gucci jacket and top; Alexander McQueen top, skirt, belt, bracelet and shoes; Balenciaga earrings, glasses and dress.
Clockwise from top left: Louis Vuitton dress; Gucci jacket and top; Alexander McQueen top, skirt, belt, bracelet and shoes; Balenciaga earrings, glasses and dress.

Fighting against a social structure constructed in favour of the opposite sex was ironically grounded in emulating men themselves to find on par footing. In its course, the essence of femininity drowned in the shout to prove otherwise the perceived inferiority of the female kind. 

In 1947, when Christian Dior introduced his waist-cinched New Look, it was a turning point in the way women dressed post-war. It marked one of the earliest returns to shaping a woman’s body. In the years that followed, particularly with the debut of Yves Saint Laurent’s revered Le Smoking suit, womenswear redefined its authority in a masochistic slant. Throughout time, distinct waves of feminist movements have come to underscored by shifting hemlines and silhouettes that have been defined and subsequently, redefined. 

 
Clockwise from top left: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress; Chloé dress; Chanel dress (worn underneath), jacket, skirt, gloves and boots; Max Mara jacket, Bottega Veneta turtleneck, Christian Dior necklace, Ralph & Russo trousers.
Clockwise from top left: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress; Chloé dress; Chanel dress (worn underneath), jacket, skirt, gloves and boots; Max Mara jacket, Bottega Veneta turtleneck, Christian Dior necklace, Ralph & Russo trousers.

These days, the nature of feminism in itself has seen a paramount shift. It embraces the earmarks of womanhood with open arms — a psyche that can be observed on the fashion runways. Designers have shifted towards cutting cloth for the distinct feminine shape by accentuating the female form rather than concealing it underneath shapeless masculine silhouettes. Frills, flounce and delicacy have become the building blocks of womenswear’s visual vocabulary. 

“A clever woman can also be super sexy, super naked, she can be whatever she wants... I don’t think there is a look for an intelligent, militant woman. She can wear anything she wants,” said Miuccia Prada, effectively summing up the ethos of contemporary womenswear. 

A seemingly common consensus has been reached in the contemporary state of affairs: to be a feminist is to be feminine. 

 
Clockwise from top left: Givenchy top and trousers; Salvatore Ferragamo jacket, dress, belt, bag and shoes; Balenciaga earrings, Christian Dior turtleneck; Salvatore Ferragamo coat and dress.
Clockwise from top left: Givenchy top and trousers; Salvatore Ferragamo jacket, dress, belt, bag and shoes; Balenciaga earrings, Christian Dior turtleneck; Salvatore Ferragamo coat and dress.
Photographs by Ward Ivan Rafik
Creative direction and styling by Jack Wang
Hair by Michal Bielecki
Makeup by Dariia Day
Casting by Neill Seeto
Production by Anna Rebus
Set design by A + V Studios
Model: Ansley Gulielmi