Women’s tryst with power dressing

Published: November 13, 2014
The showcase takes a look at the last 150 years of fashion, and how women have used clothes as a way of exercising control and authority. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

The showcase takes a look at the last 150 years of fashion, and how women have used clothes as a way of exercising control and authority. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

From a jade green wool dress suit worn by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to the suffragettes’ lace blouses, clothes have been a defining feature of feminist politics. Testament to this is ‘Women Fashion Power’, an ongoing exhibition at London’s Design Museum, which features the clothes of notable women from across history, reported Reuters.

The exhibit features items of clothing from the past 150 years that have come to be associated with key moments in the lives of women in positions of authority. Items on display include a delicate lace blouse worn by members of the 19th-century suffragette movement, which called for women to be afforded the right to vote. Thatcher’s green dress suit and a black beaded evening gown worn by the late Princess Diana are among the pieces at the exhibition.

“Throughout history, women have used dresses in a deliberate way to express power and authority. We have tried to give a historical context and really introduce the whole idea of using dress to express power,” said the exhibit’s co-curator Donna Loveday.

The exhibition attempts to show women’s use of apparel to define how they want to be seen. “I think there is a new attitude to clothes. It’s not something that is silly or frivolous,” Loveday said. “Clothes are not something that restrict or enslave women. They are something that women are actively engaging with and using to project a sense of style, using them to express empowerment and authority.”

The suffragettes, for instance, wore clothes that would make them appear more sensible and rational as opposed to ultra feminine, she said. She also described beaded 1920s flapper dresses and miniskirts by designer Mary Quant as key moments in fashion that define women’s growing independence.

“Not a multiple choice” is the Design Museum’s subtitle for the ‘Women Fashion Power’ exhibition, reported the Irish Times. Women are the focus, but the exhibition aims to create an understanding between the concept of power and the act of picking an outfit in the morning. Included in the exhibit are outfits from the wardrobes of prominent designers, including Vivienne Westwood, Diane von Fürstenberg and Zandra Rhodes. The exhibit aims at knocking down the sense of judgment levelled at women in the workplace, who dare to care about their clothes.

Genevieve Bell, anthropologist and vice president at Intel, who is profiled in the exhibition, said that as a woman in tech, she is noticed as soon as she enters a room. So, she feels there is no point in dressing to fit in. According to her, powerful dressing is tantamount to a woman exercising her ability to communicate efficiently.

The space, ambitious and inclusive in scope, was designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid, and was opened by Anne Hidalgo, the first woman mayor of Paris. ‘Women Fashion Power’ runs until April 26, 2015.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2014.

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