The Fashion World is Obsessed with Gloria Steinem


Gloria Steinem has recently been championed by the fashion world–receiving accolades from the DVF Awards in 2014 and the CFDA in 2017—not to mention being one of designer Prabal Gurung’s inspirations for his collection last spring. It’s hard not to make the immediate connection that an industry largely comprised of (and mostly serving) women would want to celebrate a lauded feminist.

When news broke last week that a biopic based on her memoir, My Life of the Road, was in development, it quickly spread across the fashion Internet—in the middle of Paris Fashion Week, no less. But what is it specifically about Steinem that we love so much?

Though she made a name for herself in the 1960s and ‘70s fighting for women’s liberation, co-founding Ms. magazine, and organizations like the Women’s Action Alliance and the National Women’s Political Caucus, Steinem remains just as relevant today through her writing and lecture series. She regularly produces documentaries and even has a show (Woman) on the oh-so-hip Vice network. Inter-generationally, she’s connected to the next wave of feminists—those who are following in her path, such as the 18 year-old actress/activist Amandla Stenberg.

Over the past decade there has been a rise in vocal feminism through social media and online think pieces covering issues including (but not limited to) the wage gap, access to contraception, and a woman’s right to choose. But in the last year alone there has been a growing sense of urgency to protect the rights of marginalized individuals. We see the same issues Steinem’s generation wrote about in the ’60s are still painfully relevant today.

The online world increasingly expects brands and corporations to disclose their political leanings as well—and the fashion industry is no exception. As one that is filled with marginalized groups, it is only natural that in the current political climate the industry would be galvanized into action. From designers like Gurung and Maria Grazia Chiuri using the word “feminist” in their collections (not to mention Missoni sending pussy hats down the runway), and the CFDA supporting ACLU and Planned Parenthood, feminism is the industry’s biggest cause célèbre. And with young “woke” females like Stenberg, Rowan Blanchard, Yara Shahidi, and Tavi Gevinson gracing the covers of fashion and pop culture magazines (or in Gevinson’s case, creating them), activism and style are discussed within paragraphs of each other.

Feminism and fashion seem ideologically polar opposites, with the latter often being accused of creating unrealistic beauty standards for women, and adhering to a limited, superficial scope of women’s interests. But Steinem has never shied away from fashion, even when she was criticized by other feminists for being too “glamorous.” When the self-described “radical” feminist also embraced the worlds of style and beauty, it proved that finding enjoyment or personal expression through fashion and an interest in women’s equality are not mutually exclusive. It’s not that publications, writers, and designers needed an established figurehead like Steinem to prove that one can love fashion and still be smart, but it certainly helps.

That is not to say that the industry is without its faults—when it comes to the runway and advertising there is a notable lack of diversity in regards to age, gender identity, size, and race. This is where we can begin to see Steinem as an educational, even aspirational figure, as well as why she has been able to guiding voice for multiple generations. Young feminists today are determined to make sure that the movement is interesctional and inclusive of of color, different gender identities, and economic backgrounds. Steinem has spent her career working to forward civil rights of everyone around us.

By celebrating Steinem, publications and designers are—to a certain extent—acknowledging, evolving, and engaging with the world around them. But in a way they are also perhaps acknowledging their own evolution, and the growing pains it takes to make real change. Through the voice of someone like Steinem (and now Stenberg, Gevinson, et al.) who loves and embraces fashion, the words of criticism are easier to take, because they are coming from a figure who ultimately sees the power of the industry, and believes in its effects for positive social change.

“We have to be careful and look out for each other,” Steinem said in her CFDA acceptance speech, addressing the industry. “But just as we would never tell a woman to turn back to violence, we won’t turn back either.”


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