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  • Writer's pictureMarsaili Mainz

From Corsets to TikTok: Fashion and Femininity Through A Visual Lens



Capturing a Legacy: The Emergence of Fashion Photography & Film

While Lord Byron was relishing his celebrity status in the late 18th century, the industrial revolutions were silently sewing a vibrant tapestry of technological innovations that would later redefine the contours of fashion. The late 19th century saw the invention of the electric sewing machine, which infused mechanization into the once elite-dominated realm of fashion and catalyzed the mass production and dissemination of various styles (Black, 2021).


Cinematic Style Icons: Dames, Dresses, and Discourses

With its flash and flair, the cinematic world had an indomitable impact on fashion, especially concerning the portrayal of femininity. Marilyn Monroe's billowing white dress is etched in collective memory. Still, beneath the sheen, cinema has been a prism reflecting societal expectations of women — often confining femininity within the boundaries of delicate damsel, devoted mother, or devious femme fatale. Yet, these cinematic archetypes provided a rich visual narrative, impacting how women perceived themselves and their sartorial choices.


The Art of Being Seen: Department Stores and Women's Liberation

The 1920s brought an unexpected ally for women – the department store. It offered a newfound freedom, where women navigated through aisles of choices, visually and aspirationally exploring a myriad of identities. Women were not only patrons but also became salespersons, encountering novel liberties and roles, thus reshaping femininity in attire and attitude. While initially liberating, these spaces simultaneously pigeonholed women into categories — be it 'The Romantic' or 'The Modern,' offering an illusion of choice within a curated framework (Wilson, 2003).


Radiant Reflections: Television and Domesticity

The mid-century witnessed the televised depiction of femininity through an intriguing lens. On one end, characters like Lucille Ball in "I Love Lucy" candidly explored the travails and triumphs of women within domestic spaces. On the contrary, the enchanting yet unattainable elegance of Grace Kelly, meticulously crafted and presented through cinematic and television screens, silently echoed the desired epitomes of femininity, providing a stark contrast against the reality of everyday women.


Swinging Sixties: The youth-driven cultural revolution

Moving into the technicolour world of the 1960s, young people hijacked the fashion narrative, making street style a formidable influence on the industry and eventually mutating into a complex web of celebrity, aspiration, and affordability in later years.

The 1960s brought a kaleidoscopic view of fashion, where visual mediums such as magazines and television were teeming with contrasting images of femininity – from the sophisticated Jackie Kennedy to the rebellious Twiggy. The era witnessed a unique intersection where fashion and politics coalesced, and women began using attire as a visual language, expressing their aspirations, subversions, and dissent against established norms (Presley, 2019). The 'desire to aspire' has morphed into a contemporary mantra, with celebrity culture and visual narratives, primarily through platforms like Instagram, moulding the "celebrity look" into an accessible and desirable goal for the masses (Edwards, 2010).


Technological Tapestry: The Dot-Com Wave

As we glided into the 1990s, the advent of the internet subtly started redefining the terrains of fashion and visual culture. The dot-com wave gently began eroding traditional fashion media's hegemony, providing a platform where consumers could explore, express, and, eventually, dictate fashion narratives, intertwining individuality with the universal, yet occasionally commercial, undercurrents of style.


Web 2.0 and the Redefinition of Feminine Aesthetics

Web 2.0 and its aftermath opened Pandora's box of ecommerce, AI, and social media, reshaping the dynamics of the fashion world (Nobile et al., 2021). The aspiration to embody celebrity style is now relentlessly fed by Instagram reels, Pinterest boards, and TikTok transitions. Moreover, the evolving dialogue on gender representation and fluidity finds a platform in these virtual spaces, challenging established norms and promoting an inclusive representation of femininity, beauty and style.


Beneath the Filters: Fashion in the Age of Social Media

Today, as we swim through the infinite streams of Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest, the virtual realm has democratically decentralized fashion dialogues, crafting a space where anyone can be a creator, curator, and critic. The incessant flow of images and videos embodying diverse notions of beauty, style, and femininity crafts a complex tapestry where individual identities and global fashion narratives intermingle, challenge, and sometimes contradict each other.


Celebrity, Sustainability, and the Self

However, amidst the visual and virtual renaissance, the fashion industry finds itself precariously poised on the brink of an existential crisis, grappling with its status as a monumental polluter (GENeco, 2023). While cocooned in the allure of aspiration and visual spectacle, the industry is invariably bound to reflect and adapt to the burgeoning conversations around sustainability, ethical consumption, and authenticity.


Sustainability & Ethical Consumption: Gazing Towards Tomorrow

Yet, amidst digital proliferation and democratization lies an urgent call for ethical and sustainable consumption. Despite its glittering facade, the global fashion industry is one of our environment's monumental polluters, necessitating a critical shift towards sustainable practices and ethical consumption (Fletcher, 2014). Now, the visual mediums, once utilized primarily for aspiration and consumerism, are becoming platforms for activism, where influencers, creators, and consumers collectively weave narratives advocating sustainability, ethics, and responsible consumption.


Fashions Reflective Journey

In this rich and vivid journey from constrained corsets to the unleashing of the social media phenomena, fashion and femininity have evolved, reflecting and sometimes defying societal norms, expectations, and transitions. Yet, as we traverse further into the digital era, the complex interplay between visual mediums, fashion narratives, and femininity beckons a contemplative pause, inviting us not merely to gaze at the curated images but to look deeper, exploring the undercurrents that silently shape, define, and occasionally constrain our sartorial and social identities.


A Lens Towards Future: Femininity, Fashion, and Responsibility

While reflecting on the cinematic and photographic evolution, the influence of fashion has painted a mesmerizing, albeit occasionally myopic, portrayal of femininity and aspiration through the ages. In a world increasingly conscious of environmental and societal well-being, the visual narrative slowly pivots towards a more inclusive and sustainable script, spotlighting a diversified and grounded depiction of femininity and fashion. A question looms on the horizon: Can the industry balance the scales between aspirational allure and responsible representation?




Linking Threads of Past and Future

As we weave our future narratives, the rich tapestry of fashion's history emerges as a poignant reminder of its formidable influence in sculpting identities, aspirations, and societal norms. The responsibility now lies with both creators and consumers to mould and question a narrative of femininity that is not only visually enchanting but also socially responsible and environmentally sustainable, aiming to empower women and children across the globe.

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