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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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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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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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Grassroots & Glitter: An Interview with Tinkypuss’s Prosper Hedges

Tinkypuss has become a little flag I notice around Athens, Georgia: when I see someone wearing theirs I give a silent nod of acknowledgement. I see you, feminists! Founded this year by local jill-of-all-trades Prosper Hedges, Tinkypuss is “a for-profit feminist fashion house partnering with nonprofit women’s organizations.” This past spring, for the launch of the line, Hedges partnered Tinkypuss with the Georgia Reproductive Justice Access Network, a grassroots organization that “promotes and support reproductive justice in the Southeastern United States,” doing everything from helping women get to their closest clinic (sometimes 12 hours away) to assisting with the costs of abortion.

For this summer’s new line, “Transparency,” Tinkypuss has partnered with Atlanta’s Feminist Women’s Health Center and their Trans Health Initiative. I interviewed Prosper about Tinkypuss, its accompanying zine, fashion, activism, feminism in the South and more.

Hedges in Summer '15 Tinkypuss (Photo by Avery's Lightwork Photography)

Hedges in Summer ’15 Tinkypuss (Photo by Avery’s Lightwork Photography)

Gina Abelkop: How did Tinkypuss get its start? Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to partner with feminist non-profits? What were your first partners, and how/why did you choose them?

Prosper Hedges: It started as an attempt to reconcile the gendered marketing that infiltrated my childhood with feminism. Continue reading

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