Story by Yesenia Gonzalez
Clothing styles are woven into the fabric of society. Fashion trends throughout the ages convey demographics such as social class and marital status. A simple cotton house dress indicated a woman of humble bearings, whereas an elegant evening gown showed that a woman had no need to work and could afford to dress expensively. Garments labeled their wearers.
The Tudor Period boasts an extensive timeline, between the 15th and 17th centuries, characterized by royalty’s elaborate gowns for women and extravagant coats for men. The classic late 19th and early 20th century Victorian Era is widely remembered for its constrictive corsets and waistcoats for women and men, respectively. The short-lived Edwardian Era, lasting nearly as long as the duration of World War I and overlapping the end of the Victorian Era, promoted slim-fitted dresses without corsets; upper-class men wore slim-fitted suits with elegant hats. The Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries mechanized the process of making clothing into a cost-effective, time-efficient task and the common citizen could afford a more extensive wardrobe. Inventions like the sewing machine and the spinning jenny, a machine that wove multiple spindles of thread at once to make textiles, came about during the Industrial Revolution. Workers, often female, were needed to operate machines at textile mills, which eventually progressed to more fashion changes.
Hairstyles and Hemlines Shorten Over Time
Women began wearing their hair up or in shorter styles during and after World War I, according to Michelle Brockmeier, professor of history at Rose State. Long, free-flowing hair, which was unfit in the dangerous textile mills and military supply factories where long hair could get caught in the machines, was a sign of girlhood. When a woman reached marrying age, she would pin her hair up, signifying the end of her youth. The working-class woman became synonymous with her pinned-up hair. Bobbed hair soon after became a sought-after style for its convenience and hygiene among nurses and female industrial workers during World War I. The bobbed style became symbolic of the rebellious, free-spirited teenage girl in the 1920s. During the Roaring 20s, flapper dresses with intricate beadwork and fringe were popularized. From the early 1900s and onward, hemlines evolved to a shorter length.
Hollywood’s Impact on Fashion
Male fashion has also undergone its fair share of changes. Brockmeier recounted how the famous 1934 film, “It Happened One Night,” starring Clark Gable, nearly eliminated a notorious item in male fashion.
“[Clark Gable] almost single-handedly destroyed the undershirt business in America,” she said.
One of the scenes of the film shows Gable’s character taking off his shirt, revealing bare skin, sans undershirt. Men’s button-down shirts have been a wardrobe staple for centuries, but have experienced changes. Brockmeier explained shirt cuffs and collars became removable so that working-class men could avoid dirtying their shirts when working. Even the color of men’s shirts became a class symbol. The term “blue-collar worker” originated from the fabric color of choice for working-class citizens. Men who had high-paying professions had no need to dirty their shirts and wore white shirts to work, paving the way for the term “white-collar worker.” Clothing defined its wearer and revealed social class details, in a way few other everyday necessities could.
“Another thing we need to remember in [Western society] is our clothing is a reflection of our personality and also, not necessarily of class anymore,” Brockmeier said.
Although the working class in America inspired trends like denim fabric, popularized because of factory workers during World War II, and bobbed hair, for much of history, royalty and the wealthy set the standards in the fashion world. In Europe, which greatly influenced American fashion even after the American Revolution, Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding gown and large, lavish dresses. According to Brockmeier, movie stars Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn furthered the notoriety of the bobbed haircut and caused a stir when they wore pants in public. Although dresses remained the garment of choice for most women in the early 1900s, it was not rare for some women to sport slacks.
“Actually, women started wearing pants, not necessarily denim pants, [wool slacks] and things like that, even as early as the 1910s,” Rose State Theatre costume designer Tamitha Zook said.
Other fashion icons include actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, who made little black dresses—an unusual color choice seldom worn outside of funerals in the 1950s—iconic. Former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s simple, regal style drew international acclaim in the 1960s. Similarly, Princess Diana became a fashion icon in the 1980s, perhaps Europe’s response to Kennedy.
Men’s wardrobes were also influenced by innovators and popular trends. Zook said she enjoys the difficult-to-work-with but beautiful textiles of the Tudor period. During that time, waistcoats were a common accessory for men’s coats. However, English fashion designer Beau Brummell invented the traditional three-piece suit for men that did not include the heavy waistcoat. Another staple during the Tudor period was a pouch mechanism to enlarge the appearance of men’s genitals under their pants, known as a “codpiece,” which King Henry VIII popularized.
Whether an intricate ball gown or a modest cotton dress, for centuries fashion has denoted the social status of wearers. Technological advances paved the way for mass-produced clothing, which gave people an accessible mark of individuality. Fashion through the ages has changed in response to social and economic factors for both men and women.
Zweiman and Suh devised their plan to create a pink hat that was symbolic of women’s rights, whether a person could walk in the march or not. Its significance quickly had the Little Knittery owner, Kat Coyle, jumping onboard with a design pattern functional for all people.
“The name Pussyhat was chosen in part as a protest against vulgar comments Donald Trump made about the freedom he felt to grab women’s genitals, [as well as] to de-stigmatize the word ‘pussy’ and transform it into one of empowerment and to highlight the design of the hat’s ‘pussycat ears,’” according to the Pussyhat Project.
The project was launched. The Pussyhat reached thousands of homes, proudly worn by the marchers—and the feminist voice reverberated through America. The women’s rights success signaled its strength in one fashion statement, in one pink hat.
Soon, other designers’ models embodied the feminist power on the runway. Dior gained inspiration from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a feminist and author of the a compelling essay titled “We Should All Be Feminists.” This phrase became the slogan printed on white T-shirts created by artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri. Many other designers hopped on the mambo line of T-shirts with phrases like “Full-Time Feminist” and “The Future is Female.” Simple clothing articles were gaining momentum, reaching unstoppable speed.
The marches continued across the country through the beginning of 2018. However, the protesters voiced strong feminist views addressing a plethora of concerns, not just traditional women’s rights. One of these views, intersectional feminism, states the liberation of women is tied to the liberation of all, so while some marched only against the Trump administration, intersectional feminists marched for the liberation of the LGBTQ community, people of color and those of lower socioeconomic status.
In addition, many people are worried about the quality of employment for women.
In a society filled with judgment, many women have a difficult time expressing themselves comfortably. Having to worry about the quality of their jobs, a significant part of their lives, is cumbersome. Most people forget that the fashion designers of the world are subliminally addressing this. They are giving the women of the world the tools they need to express their power, to be seen and heard in any workplace environment.
A huge aspect of first impressions is what a person wears. Each time someone walks into a room, they are making a statement about who they are and how they want people to remember them.
Kyle Tony Tahkeal, creative director of his fashion line Tony Tahkeal, understands the importance of first impressions. An Oklahoma native, Tahkeal traveled to Seattle, where he completed his fashion education at the New York Fashion Academy. Tahkeal worked in visual merchandising for five years and has been a fashion designer for three years. He noted how crucial self-expression is.
“I have always seen fashion as an expression of your personality,” Tahkeal said. “Fashion was sort of my icebreaker with people. So, I decided I wanted to design clothes that not only show my creativity and personality as a designer, but maybe I can help people express themselves as well.”
Tahkeal lives by the motto: “If you look good, you feel good.” He said women of all colors, shapes and sizes can embrace their look and pull off high-fashion products. Self-confidence is a key element in any fashion situation and throughout life, which is why feminism is important to designers like Tahkeal.
New designs that encompass bold, sophisticated and sexy looks are on the horizon. Tahkeal cannot wait to share his new collection with the world.
“I am hoping that I can empower and inspire women to take charge of their lives with my designs and really live their best life,” Tahkeal said.
People across the world can watch the feminist movement expand through fashion—a political array of colorful fabrics stitched together to signify one universal declaration: Strength. There is strength in numbers. The band of feminist followers is not exclusive to women. The more people involved to recognize women’s rights, the merrier unity will be.
This is not to say the inherent disadvantages and challenges women face bar them from enjoying work. Many enjoy their place of work and are members of all-women colleague groups.
For instance, The Collective, an all-women working space, was established in OKC in June 2016. The project is marketed largely through various Instagram accounts, which spread information about businesses holding events at The Collective, such as Crafting & Cocktails and Cookies by Sydnie.
Alyssa Loveless, The Village housing director at Rose State, has been to The Collective a few times for hand-lettering classes, open paint nights and cookie decorating classes.
“[The Collective has a] very welcoming, encouraging [and] supportive women vibe. The décor is fun and modern, there’s always good music playing and it’s an opportunity to meet other ladies,” Loveless said.
The establishment has 30 members and counting, according to Amber Klunzinger, owner of The Collective. She said the members range from “attorneys to makeup artists, business coaches to graphic designers.”
Klunzinger created the space when she was working independently, fresh from the corporate world. She explained how she felt isolated; the need for a women’s community weighed on her mind.
“I saw a need for women to come together to support one another in both personal and professional capacities as well as a convenient and peaceful place to work,” Klunzinger said.
The Collective sprouted from this idea. The design elements that Loveless observed coincided with how Klunzinger envisioned her dream home office: bright and airy, comforting, yet professional. This atmosphere plays a role in how the women of the group support each other through good times and hardships.
Klunzinger claimed she has received waves of positive feedback from the surrounding community, despite consistently being asked about feminism in her line of work.
“I have a brother. I was always the girl with the guy friends. My natural bent was away from any ‘women’s’ type of event or club,” Klunzinger said, sharing her outlook on feminism. “My greatest mentors, challengers [and] cheerleaders in my life have been men. I opened a female-only space because I felt called to do so. I had a lack of strong female supportive relationships in my life and I saw that all around me. So, I made a place where they could happen - community over competition - and by the grace of God it has turned into a beautiful thing.”
Most all-women organizations are not built on opposing the male sex. Klunzinger discussed how she has been dismissed more by women than she has by men. Her goal was to never shun the male population, but rather to form a unifying area for women to build each other up. In her eyes, the men present in her life could be classified as feminists, though they may not categorize themselves that way.
The owner takes humble pride in what she has structured with the help from both sexes.
Klunzinger also does not take for granted the role that fashion plays in The Collective. She explained how the signature article of clothing that best represents her organization is a pair of distressed jeans. Klunzinger appreciates the freedom from a strict dress code at The Collective.
“The freedom to not only wear what we want to our jobs, but to be the ones who pick what that job actually looks like is something I try not to take for granted. Whether that is owning your own company or chasing after kiddos or a 9-to-5 or anything in between ...We have the power to make it happen,” Klunzinger concluded.