Black nail polish, red lipstick, gold hoop earrings, a pantsuit and a skirt. These items have more in common aside from their relevance at department stores or fashion magazines.
They are mediums of communication that aim to make bold statements and challenge status quos. They are eye-catching, they are scrutinized, and they are used by women to alter the narrative of what “should be.”
In the new wave of feminism where women aim to redefine themselves, fashion is used as a tool of voice in political and social issues leaving followers with the question: is this a matter of disruptive fluff in the media or is it a matter of strategic communication with a successful delivery?
On Jan. 3, 2018, 102 women were sworn into Congress. As it was record-breaking for the House, media coverage was surging. A particular discussion topic stirred around the opinions of millions: the fashion choices of the various congresswomen.
Generally, many understand that choices in wardrobe often speak for themselves. How one chooses to dress may speak on behalf of who that person is, what they may or may not find important or it may even offer their perspective on social issues.
On the surface, the fashion choices of people from their day to day lives stands as a form of non-verbal communication. The more prominent a person is, the more attention their fashion decision
With the new wave of feminism sparking the concept of “reinvention” where women are constantly fighting labels and expectations, the fashion choices of the women in power are additionally considered as tools in the battle for equality and representation.
On Jan. 3, newly appointed U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, chose to pair red lipstick with gold hoop earrings to her swearing in.
At first glance, the fashion choices of congressmen and women seem minuscule. Looking further into how each member of congress—or society, in general—aims to define themselves, it soon became clear that Ocasio-Cortez desired to make a statement.
Another strategic choice of communication came from Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi when she wore a fuchsia pink pantsuit to a photoshoot that showcased all the new Democratic committee chairmen.
A fuchsia pink pantsuit paired with coordinating hot pink pumps was a significant contrast against the sea of blue suits that surrounded Pelosi. Was the pink suit by accident? Of course not.
Aside from the discussion of the fashion choices of women with political power, even the choices of English royalty are additionally scrutinized.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, chooses to fight what is expected of her as a duchess. From her decision to wear black nail polish—when nude colors are preferred—to her choice to skip out on pantyhose underneath her dresses, Markle’s style selections are often referred to as controversial decisions in the media.
Whether the choice to ignore protocol, stand out in photographs, or normalize the stigma that lies behind certain accessories, which may or may not sit well with the opinions of the media and the masses, one concept is certain: these choices in styling communicate something.
As many men and women applaud those in power for using their platform to make decisions that could potentially represent others, there are many who feel that reporting on pink suits and red lipstick is a setback in the mission of equality.
Many feel the women, all accomplished on a number of levels, are reduced to their choices in wardrobe. Many may feel that the heavy concentration and reporting on women’s choices in apparel should be equally placed on that of men. Many may feel the reporting is fluff, unimportant, and an unfortunate way to inform the masses.
Why is the reporting and journaling that centers on the choices in fashion important? Is it important at all?
The short answer: yes. The discussion that centers around style choices allow publishers, editors, and many others to get the conversation stirring. Media literacy provides us with the ability to properly analyze and evaluate mediums in their entire capacities.
Articles of clothing are indeed, a medium. Whether we stand for or against the choices or messages of the congresswomen or other women in power, the reporting and conversations that surround those messages is valuable and appreciated. It is not sexist and it’s not a step back for feminism, it is an opportunity to listen to what women across all power levels are communicating.
As society continues to push forward in this visual age, what you wear constantly speaks on who you may be or what you are trying to communicate. Whether you’re making a strategic decision or subconsciously dressing in the morning, your style choices speak to who you are.