Category Archives: Clothes + Fashion

Using Your Feminist Superpower: An Interview with the Pussyhat Project

pussyhat project weird sister, feminist activism, craft, knitting

Pussyhat Project organizers drawing by Aurora Lady

I handed my two skeins of bright pink yarn over the counter at the demure yarn store outside of Freeport, Maine, “And I’d like a pair of size eight needles please,” I said. The woman working there looked at me as she rang me up, “I think I know what these are for,” she said, quietly, nodding with approval.

I smiled, “Yes.”

“Are you going to the… ?”

I nodded back, “Yes.”

“Are you scared?”

“No way.”

“Good for you, I’m so glad you are doing that. You are doing that for all of us.”

I felt I had been inducted into a not-so-secret underground society of knitters who were uniting to change the world, and in a way, we were because that’s exactly what the Pussyhat Project is. Specifically, it’s a Los Angeles-based project co-founded by two friends, screenwriter Krista Suh and architect Jayna Zwieman, who are joined by artist Aurora Lady. Simply put, the project encourages people of all genders to knit, crochet or sew pink cat (pussy) hats and share them with marchers headed to Washington D.C. on January 21st for the massive Women’s March that will highlight the importance of a diverse, vibrant feminist movement.

But the Pussyhat Project is so much more than knitting hats to make a bold visual statement: it’s an accessible and inviting way to build community, to open a dialogue about women’s rights, and to come together to share and heal post-election. In bringing people together to make and connect, it draws on a history of radical crafting and activist art. It also demonstrates to participants that they can engage in activism starting from where they are, and contributing skills they already have. In advance of the historic march in Washington (and the many sister marches around the country), I caught up with the Pussyhat Project organizers over email (they are busy ladies these days!) about the ideas, experiences, and philosophies guiding the project, and the power of feminist doing and making post-election.

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Power Suited: Feminist Fashion Nostalgia on Election Day

pantsuits as feminist fashion history
My mom told me a story recently about when she was a senior in high school in the Bronx, and there was a snowstorm during a transit strike the week she had her English Regents exam. She walked five miles to school in the snow and when she got there, a male teacher made a comment about her not being allowed to take her test because she was wearing pants instead of a skirt. My mom wasn’t permitted to wear pants to school until she was in college, and even then she usually didn’t because she went straight to work from school and was required to wear a skirt at her job. When she told me this, I’m embarrassed to say I was kind of shocked. I’m 34 years old, and my mother’s story reminds me that my own relationship to pants as a women’s clothing item is a privilege.

What did it mean for women to wear pantsuits on Election Day? “Pantsuit feminism” is a powerful concept in certain ways that my age may allow me to not think about—pantsuits, as an extension of pants worn by women in nonprofessional settings, are emblematic of women entering traditionally male professional spheres as men’s equals. Pantsuits were surely symbols of feminist progress for certain women. Women were, for example, barred from wearing pants on the Senate floor until 1993. Hillary Clinton was the first woman to wear trousers in an official First Lady portrait. The image of the pantsuit recalls for me the 80s “working women” of movies and TV shows like Working Girl and Designing Women—those satirized more recently in Amy Schumer’s hilarious comedy sketch “80s Ladies.” A woman poet friend of mine recently joked on Facebook that jeans are “modern-day corsets,” and that she prefers the comfort of leggings. We’ve come so far as women, in little ways like these that we don’t even realize. With a new year upon us, I’m afraid of where 2017 and beyond will bring us, or leave us behind.

“Pantsuit feminism,” empowering as it may be for some, of course prioritizes the concerns and experiences of certain privileged groups—white, cisgender, upper-class women like Hillary Clinton herself “leaning in” to climb to ranks of high-power jobs—and leaves behind many women of color, working class women, and other less privileged groups. Did wearing a pantsuit on Election Day mean pledging allegiance to this problematic strain of feminism?

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50 SHADES OF PUSSYBOW: EXCERPTS FROM THE SECRET ARCHIVES OF A VAST FEMINIST CONSPIRACY

Editors’ Note: During the second presidential debate, some commenters noted that Melania Trump’s shocking pink, high-necked blouse was a style well known to fashion historians as the “pussy bow.” In fact, as Jezebel pointed out, the $1,100 Gucci top Melania wore was “literally marketed” as a pussy bow shirt. The Internet was abuzz: what could it mean? Was it, as feminist artist and pussy-bow entrepreneur Christen Clifford—whose own PussyBow scarves are printed with an image taken from inside her own vaginatweeted, a sign that Melania is a feminist “double agent” planning to vote for Hillary? New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd entertained the possibility in yesterday’s column, but ultimately appeared to dismiss it. The Internet relaxed.

This morning, however, everything changed. The WEIRD SISTER editors were awakened from our innocent slumber by aggressive knocking on our clubhouse door. By the time we had crawled out of our sleeping bags, peeled off the cucumber face masks and slices of cold pizza that get stuck to us at the end of every sleepover party, emptied our matching menstrual cups into the toilet, and staggered to the door, there was no one there. Under our doormat, we discovered a flash drive containing incontrovertible evidence of the very Vast Feminist Conspiracy that Clifford had described—and Clifford herself was part of it! Our journalistic integrity prevents us from revealing our sources, so the world may never know if the documents excerpted below are State Department emails liberated by Slovenian hackers or some steamy slash fiction dreamed up by a genius high-school junior during civics class. But now that we have this information, how can we possibly keep it from our readers? Feast your eyes, then, on the most shocking (pink) October surprise of all:

50 SHADES OF PUSSYBOW: EXCERPTS FROM THE SECRET ARCHIVES OF A VAST FEMINIST CONSPIRACY

Melania Trump Pussy Bow

(Via)

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Sass and Sincerity: Arielle Greenberg’s Locally Made Panties

Arielle Greenberg's Locally Made Panties

Vintage photograph c. 1975 from the collection of James Mullineaux, “Darkroomist,” courtesy of Goldline Press.

Not too long ago my friend Kiki and I were sharing an impressive order of fries and hashing out the long-held divide among feminists about the frivolity vs. importance of fashion in general, and personal style specifically. Always an expert with the killer one-liner, Kiki managed to skewer the notion of fashion as frivolity with, “First humans clothed themselves, then they started drawing on cave walls.” Meaning that “fashion” is in fact so integral to our sense of self, of personhood, it preceded all other forms of expression short of, possibly, language.

Sure, to call the clothing that enabled early humans to migrate out of Africa 170,000 years ago “self expression” might be a stretch, especially since we wouldn’t evolve the high order thinking skills that led to “art” for another 130,000 years, but still. Let’s just say our ancestors married form and function.

Either way, in the intervening centuries fashion has evolved as a form of language in and of itself–an aspect of personal visual culture that can be “read” with all the subtext, narrative arcs, and suspense of a good book. The stories of our “selves”–our bodies, our fears, our aspirations, our successes, our interests–are the stories we tell with our clothes. Continue reading

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Not Hiding Behind Her Skirt: An Interview with Aurora Lady

I first encountered the work of Aurora Lady, an LA-based artist, illustrator and writer, when I read her zine Don’t Hide Behind Your Skirt, a powerful, personal work on her close bond with her mother and her story of surviving family violence. In the zine she shares how she came into her own power through art, music, feminism and forging intense bonds of friendship. After I read it I had to know her better. Who was this brave and creative woman? We met up for the first time the day before the LA Zine Fest in 2014 at a copy shop in Pasadena and spent our morning frantically gluesticking together flats and folding our copies before the fest. In Aurora I found the tradition of intense relationships and understanding I forged in the late 1990s with other girl zinesters continued. Perched on stools in the quiet copy shop, I felt we were in a secret girl gang, preparing our manifestos to let them loose on the world.

The next time I caught up with Aurora she was bedazzling a pink boombox to use in a photoshoot in preparation for the launch of her t-shirt line which features her illustrated, bold, sassy and very serious feminist messages. Aurora doesn’t just create beautiful t-shirts, she creates worlds filled with diverse, glamorous girl gangs and gauzy, glitter filled sleepovers. In her world these are places where blanket forts are built, secrets are spilled between best girlfriends, sisterhood is strengthened, and revolutionary dreams are put into motion. Her lookbooks and styling are impeccable.

Her attention to detail, emotion and subtlety, as well as her embrace of all the DIY, witchy, punk weirdness that is Los Angeles, all contributes to the power and pleasure of Aurora’s art. Through her work Aurora understands how the exhilarating, strange, and too often dark world of girlhood can become a powerful source for connection, love, creativity and feminist solidarity. I caught up with her over email in order to know more about the process and inspirations that drive her feminist world making.

Eleanor Whitney: Your work has a very specific aesthetic – tell me about your influences and inspiration. How did you form this vision of a tough, beautiful, feminist dream world that is so present in your work?

Aurora Lady: I came of age in the 90’s, and I never really let that go. Courtney Love was a huge gateway for me— she lead the way to a million other influences. Her story, her music, and her look were a prime example of how a vision can completely crystallize and work on a million different levels. I can recognize that now in different ways and apply it to my own work. Courtney’s look  was so overt that I was able to wrap my junior high mind around it and really sink into it. I’m still low-key obsessed with her. I check in every few years to see who she’s working with, who she’s referencing.

My other influences came through my experiences with my friends and my family. Most of my friends growing up were my pen pals. Because of this  idea of written communication in letters and zines and mix tapes as “feeling interpretations” really resonates with me still. I still feel like music is this grand gift we can give to ourselves or our friends to help grow and heal. I had the benefit of being raised by my mother, who had a tough life but acted gently and thoughtfully while getting shit done. My family moved around a lot as I grew up, and I learned how to acknowledge and adapt and just soak things in. Mostly, I just aim to be honest about what I’m feeling and what’s guiding me. If something makes me uncomfortable or is painful, then I know I need to work deeper in that direction.

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I Don’t Want to Boycott You, Lands’ End

Dear Lands’ End,

I am a feminist and a mother and I spend waaaaaay too much money on Lands’ End clothing, backpacks, parkas, boots, and so on every year.

Look, here is a pile of Lands’ End stuff.

Look, the labels are out. It's from Lands' End.

Look, the labels are out. It’s from Lands’ End.

I have been a loyal customer. The shit from H&M is cuter but it falls apart and The Gap is too expensive and not that cute nor that well made. You send me those emails saying extra 30% off and sometimes I actually click and buy! But now… I don’t understand what is happening. You issued a formal apology for featuring an interview with feminist icon Gloria Steinem in your spring catalog after backlash from the anti-abortion movement? Continue reading

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Outfit of the Day Beyond 30: Boots Were Made for Power

Boots are Made for Power

The woman who wears
these shoes will be a warrior, will not think
about how wrong she is, how her calculations
look like the face of a clock with hands
ticking with each terrorizing minute. –Tina Chang, Duality 

Hello on this el Nino-warmed December day, Weird Sisters!

Whenever anyone points to the potential frivolity of style, I have a curator friend who says, “First we clothed ourselves, then we drew on cave walls.” Meaning that in the grand scheme of human development first came fashion, then came art. Fun fact about boots: The oldest known depiction of this tried and true footwear is in a Spanish cave painting that’s dated between 12,000 and 15,000 B.C.E.

First came boots. Then came art.

As you may or may not remember, about a month ago I put out a call for your best Power Outfits–your sartorial solutions to the onslaught of B.S. this world likes to throw; your enviable ensembles designed to strike fear in the hearts of slow walkers; or simply what you don to feel comfortable and confident when you travel to visit family.

I have to admit that I felt a little bad about adding to your list of things to do during the already busy holiday season, but I’m happy to report that a few of you took up the challenge in spite of your schedules…and boots showed up as key power players in both submissions.

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Outfit of the Day Beyond 30 – Call for Submissions: Your Holiday Power Outfit

Grace Jones as May Day in her Power Outfit

“Vain trifles as the seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us” — Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Hello Weird Sister readers! We don’t know each other, so let me introduce myself. I’m a woman named Michael with short hair, a smart mouth (thanks for the FYI, gran), and an undying love of personal style, runway fashion, and jackets with threatening collars.

I’m also, quite proudly, 36. And I’m here to launch Weird Sister‘s new personal style column for women over 30.  Continue reading

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