Thursday, 22 November 2012

70s fashion and feminism

At Worthing Museum it's possible to delve into the 1970s with a fabulous maxi zebra striped Biba coat and sprig print jersey maxi dress accessorized with some vertiginous platform boots and a floppy hat. 

However, it wasn't all fake fur and light-weight knits in subdued colours - the seventies were also a time of collective activism

Second Wave Feminism

‘In February 1970, the first Women’s Liberation Movement conference took place at Ruskin College, Oxford. It unexpectedly attracted 600 delegates and was the first time Women’s Liberation groups from across Britain had met in a single place to discuss their demands and the challenges they faced. It was chaotic, exciting, optimistic (Ms Understood exhibition label, The Women's Library, 2010)

Four key demands were identified at the conference
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Equal educational and job opportunities
  • Free contraception and abortion on demand
  • Free 24 hour nurseries under community control
Feminism was not a homogeneous mass of women fighting for the same unifying cause. By the end of the 70s it was possible to identify as many as 13 distinct type of British feminist. Tensions in the Women’s Liberation movement caused the movement to fracture in at the last conference in 1978 due to a split between radical and socialist feminists. (source:MS Understood, The Women's Library, 2010)

Fashion was a complex issue for feminists, some reclaimed femininity and used it subversively, others were critical as an article from Spare Rib (1977) illustrates; novelist Angela Carter lamented that shops were suddenly jam-packed with 'spike-heeled' shoes. Carter reflected on her own feet, deformed by the stilettos of the 1950s. She also wrote of the fashion for trailing flounced skirts and saw this romanticism as a backlash against the women's movement.

Understanding the power of clothes to make a statement Vivienne Westwood researched clothing worn by activists and campaigners as inspiration for the punk tribe. She was interested in the clothes worn by people who fought for their beliefs. Her research was diverse, anything from Samurai Warriors to the Tolpuddle martyrs.


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