How Fashion Has Given Powerful Women More Power
Women and fashion clearly go a long way back in the history of this country and women and fashion and power equally go hand in hand and no doubt played a significant role in the fight for women’s rights.
By Henrietta Easton
To many who are unaware of its power, fashion is a consumerist and ‘unimportant’ culture that need not play any role in global politics or in the freedom or rights of any person. Despite this, powerful women of the distant and not so distant past, of the present, and no doubt of the future, provide solid evidence that fashion can be a platform to help women become empowering voices in a world dominated by men. Indeed fashion does play a role in global politics, why do you think Theresa May always wears colourful shoes? It is her way of letting us know that she is a woman of power, but that she isn’t going to let the fact that she is prime minister take away from her identity as a woman. She isn’t alone. In the UK we are lucky enough to have a multitude of powerful and successful women including the Queen, the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex, Mary Berry, and Emma Watson to name a few, all of whom use their clothes to aid their positions.
However this is not a singularly modern phenomenon. Women and fashion clearly go a long way back in the history of this country and women and fashion and power equally go hand in hand and no doubt played a significant role in the fight for women’s rights. Women such as Anne Boleyn, who used her clothes to help establish herself as a the rightful Queen, and Elizabeth I whose famous image as the virgin queen white-faced and bedazzled in gold was, you could argue, the source of her power.
Perhaps more significantly, and certainly less well known, is the story of Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire, an eighteenth century socialite during her lifetime known as the ‘First Lady of Fashion.’ She was married at seventeen to a man eleven years her senior who kept a secret mistress, betrayed by a woman she thought was her friend but who sought only her husbands love and power, and forced to be separated for life from the man she truly loved and their child together. Georgiana was a victim of eighteenth century money, politics, arranged marriage and the unfortunate helplessness of women during this time. Yet, she lives on in history as a famous fashionista. Clever Georgiana used her passion and her position to create an unyielding power that could not be destroyed by cruel, controlling husbands. She was the style icon of her day. Her extraordinary influence on fashion could be said to have sparked from the ‘feather headdress affair’; three-foot ostrich feather headdresses that she imported from Paris and shocked the nation with. It was Georgiana who began the fashion of extravagant hair towers complete with miniature wooden ships, sheep or fruit. Despite her unhappy and inhibited role as a wife, her position as a woman in society was strong and so influential that she took up a premier position in national politics, hosting political dinners, leading crowds to polling booths and speaking at hustings in London. Her role as the first lady of fashion allowed her to enter into a world that was, to every other woman in the country, completely off limits. Her mass appeal made her the perfect weapon and she had created this herself through her clothes.
Georgiana’s story is a unique one but it is echoed in the powerful women that have come since. More importantly, these women’s use of fashion as a tool is not, as some may assume, because they are too vain and care only what they look like or because they are trying to win over men by making themselves more attractive, but is a form of women’s weaponry that allows them to wield an unrelenting female power in a sea of testosterone.