Tea Talk is the feature where ITF editors and various inspiring women have a candid discussion about what’s it’s like to be a woman today. Camilla Ackley speaks with fashion blogger Sarah Mikaela about feminism, fashion and their relationship…
Camilla: Should women be able to wear whatever they want? Is there a workplace, or a school environment where you think it would be inappropriate for a girl to wear something?
Sarah: I think fashion is about personal expression, and what you wear is an extension of your identity. Of course a workplace can have a certain identity that they want to align themselves with, but in principle I do think women should be able to wear what they like.
Camilla: I don’t know what it was like in Denmark in school, but in England we have usually have a dress code.
Sarah: Yeah, it isn’t like that in Denmark; we don’t have a dress code. I think people try and dress up for work to look smart, but it isn’t like ‘you can’t wear jeans’. You can absolutely wear jeans for work, we don’t have the same concept of ‘office appropriate things’. It’s a completely different background, for me it’s always so fun to go to the business areas in the shops in London and see how consistent the dress code is because I’m just not used to that at all.
Camilla: A female politician might wear a brightly coloured suit, and all of a sudden you’re reading an in depth article about how red her suit was, or how high her heels were right next to a piece evaluating David Cameron’s new policies.
Sarah: It’s completely irrelevant; we don’t really comment on the ties that men choose to wear. I think that if the person has a meaningful, useful message then that’s what we should be focussing on.
Camilla: I agree, I think it demeans it when someone is trying to say something intelligent. It’s the same with actresses when they’re on the red carpet and someone is asking Jake Gyllenhaal about his movie and how he got into character and they’ll ask Anne Hathaway, ‘where’s your dress from?’
Sarah: Ask them about the movie! Ask them something relevant.
Camilla: There seems to be a point of contention about wearing whatever you want and expressing yourself through your clothes, and then that becoming the focus over your work and talent and voice.
Sarah: I think as well, in terms of politics, I understand there’s a certain code for what’s appropriate however I like that it’s individuals that are in politics. The personality they convey through their clothing shines through, but it is what they’re saying that’s important. It doesn’t matter whether the person is wearing a pink suit or a red suit. We should separate those things but still applaud individuality.
Camilla: What do you think about the idea that women dress for men, do you think that if a woman does dress for a man that that is a bad thing?
Sarah: I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all; but more than anything, we should be dressing for ourselves.
Camilla: I think there’s something really powerful about dressing for yourself; some people say heels are for men but if you’re going on a date, you want to look good for another person or if I want to wear a dress then that’s my prerogative; we all want to look our best, and I think as long as you aren’t changing your personality or style for someone, what’s wrong with that? No one gives a man a hard time about wearing an uncomfortable suit on a date to impress a girl. I do think there’s something strong about getting up and saying ‘this is what I want to look today’, and even when we’re trying to look our best for someone, it’s still usually our own conception of what is best. The problem is when people start telling you you need to change to look your best, or your conception doesn’t cut it- when twisted beauty ideals start getting in the way and women feel pigeonholed into a certain way of perceiving themselves.
Sarah: 100% It’s completely up to you. I had a, not an epiphany, I need another word- a realisation. I had a realisation a while back when I was going on a date; I went up to my flatmate and I asked if I looked alright, but I noticed how I’d mirrored what I thought that particular guy wanted to see. So I started to see that I was changing what I really wanted to wear and that was always going to bring trouble in the end. You can’t feel comfortable in that situation if you aren’t being yourself. When you focus on what it actually is that you like about what you wear and what makes you feel uncomfortable, that makes you feel so empowered. It’s something to celebrate.
Camilla: Obviously if you show up to a date wearing Birkenstocks and that’s the reason the guy doesn’t call you, that seems to me a pretty clear sign that they aren’t the guy.
Sarah: You obviously need more than a sartorial connection!
Camilla: I think that’s why sites like Man Repeller are so great; she did the video asking whether guys would date her despite these massive wing sleeves she had on her top, and I genuinely expected them to be more weirded out. A lot of them didn’t even seem to care, if anything it seemed like that expression of personality through fashion was intimidating, but I suppose that’s a deeper issue. Do you think that fashion and the interpretation of feminism that, for me, is very much just not being hindered by your gender, do you think these are compatible?
Sarah: Yes absolutely. I think feminism, and I do have a bit of a funny relationship to the word specifically not the message, is just about the freedom to be you and wear whatever you want. They’re 100% compatible.
Camilla: I think to tell someone that they’re not a feminist because they’re interested in fashion and that industry is counter intuitive; the message should be that whether or not you’re a man or a woman, you aren’t being judged by what you wear or being told what you should be interested in.
Sarah: I think it’s brilliant that the fashion industry is making feminism a sort of trend; I wouldn’t worry about the trend aspect, it supports and promotes the cause. We want good things trending! We want it to because meaningful, I wouldn’t worry about anything meaningful becoming mainstream.
Camilla: Making it a mainstream movement and linking it with fashion is a very powerful way of saying, ‘you can be super ‘feminine’ in a conventional sense, you can be a tomboy, you can be whatever and still be a feminist’.
Sarah: You can be whoever you want to be; who you are is so linked to how you present yourself. Fashion can absolutely empower women; fashion makes me feel good. I love curating through my wardrobe and finding something that will make me feel good about myself. Feeling good about yourself as a woman is a key part of the aim of the feminist movement.
Camilla: Fashion allows you to embody the different aspects of your personality; I can wake up one day and want to wear all leather and black, and the next day wear more florals than a garden. That ability to control the image you are portraying and to refuse being put into a box of how other people perceive you is powerful. You don’t have to conform to one image.
Sarah: It’s such a welcome break from the idea that men and women need to be predictable.
Content and discussion points for Tea Talk are conceptualised by Camilla Ackley and Yasmin Moeladi.
Follow Sarah on twitter: @SrhMikaela & find her blog here
Follow Yasmin on instagram: @Yasminmoeladi
Follow Camilla on twitter: @CamillaAckley