Emblazoned with feminist mantras and girl-power messaging, tees with integrity are here to stay, and fashion houses are catching up.
by Kaylen Ralph
Photographed by Kaylen Ralph
Styled by Ellie Peterson
Hair and Makeup by Sara Vander Ploeg
Models: Sarah Mering, Araceli Perez, Sharnika Jackson
Last July, Maria Grazia Chiuri took control of the storied house of Christian Dior as creative director. In the house’s 60-year history, Chiuri is the first woman to hold the position, and after only a couple of months on the job, she sent her first collection down the runway. Social media — the sieve through which the masses are able to consume imagery, quick criticism and contextualization each fashion week — erupted over one silhouette in particular, not because it was unfamiliar, but because it was a style previously unseen on a runway before. Tucked into a navy embroidered tulle skirt with ecru knitted underwear was a white cotton T-shirt, printed with a simple phrase — “We Should All Be Feminists.”
The phrase, which is the title of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 TED Talk (and 2014 book released through Anchor), reached millions of ears when Beyoncé sampled Adichie’s talk on “Flawless***” later that year: “Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”
In addition to the “We Should All Be Feminists” style, white cotton tees emblazoned with “dio(r)evolution” and simply, “j’adior” also went down the runway. As a trio, the shirts constitute couture’s take on the graphic tee trend that dominated so much of 2016, with a subtle but strong nod to Chiuri’s vocal and unapologetic brand of feminism. On its own, the “We Should All Be Feminists” style is a complete reversal of the “trickle down” model that typically informs the transition from runway to mass production.
Dior’s version is going for a cool $710 and it will be available online until May 15. A percentage of proceeds from the T-shirt’s sales will go toward The Clara Lionel Foundation, Rihanna’s non-profit that supports global education, health and emergency response programs. Nevertheless, versions of the shirt are already available on Etsy, ASOS and other outlets for less than $30, and it’s hardly the first feminist T-shirt to capture the public’s attention.
When Cara Delevingne stepped out and declared “The Future is Female” across her chest, the demand for the design shot through the roof. Initially, the T-shirt’s 40-year-old history was known in smaller circles than those occupied by Delevingne’s social reach. Originally designed in 1975 to be sold at Labyis Books, the first women’s bookstore to open in New York City, the T-shirt was immortalized by photographer Liza Cowen, who snapped a photo of her then girlfriend wearing the shirt. The shirt resurfaced thanks to a Los Angeles based shop and graphic design studio brand called Otherwild. If anything, the cyclical narrative of this one design proves a widely held belief in the fashion world — everything comes back en vogue at some point.
Chiuri is not the first designer to devote a collection’s overall aesthetic as a nod toward the power of women. In 1992, Donna Karan released her “In Women We Trust” campaign, in which she introduced a line of “basics” for the modern working woman. In the campaign’s advertisements, a female model is depicted as president of the United States. In the same round of SS17 shows last fall, Stella McCartney showcased her own take on the slogan tee trend, sending a boldly composed “Thanks Girls” series down the runway (you’re welcome, we think?).
What’s notable about Dior’s design is its complete lack of nuance — there is no “wink-wink” message to intuit from a graphic T-shirt with a declarative statement that pays homage to a specific brand of widely accessible feminist theory that’s slowly but steadily mushroomed over the past three years thanks to Adichie (with a cultural push from Beyoncé). It proclaims the style of unapologetic feminism. This very well could be the beginning of a trend toward overt political messaging in mainstream, high fashion, but it’s certainly a style that girls “of the Internet” are well versed in. We styled some of our favorite feminist T-shirts with a nod toward the graphic trend, an eye toward the future of elevated, fashion-forward feminism, and a preference for the kind of inclusivity that we know always trickles from below, first.
Kaylen Ralph is The Riveter’s cofounder, editorial development director and brand director. She works as a personal stylist for Anthropologie. Follow her on Instagram @kaylenralph for books, fashion and a lot of content blending those two subjects. You can also find her on Twitter at @kaylenralph.