London Design Museum Celebrates Women In Power Through Fashion


It’s not often we see the words “fashion” and “female empowerment” in the same sentence, in fact a lot of the messages we see coming out of fashion (take that abysmal Victoria’s Secret ‘Perfect Body’ campaign, for example) are disempowering. But when you look at it from a different angle, the message takes on a different form.

Looking first at the woman and her power, then adding fashion as the “cherry on top” allows the image of a powerful woman to be seen aside from her body image, yet throughout history we have seen these women wear outfits that have in turn become as iconic as their appearances, speeches, and messages.

The London Design Museum has a special exhibition on until April 2015 called ‘Women, Fashion, Power’ with the sub-heading on the website stating “not a multiple choice”. As in, women can be all three and have done so successfully.

From a jade green wool dress suit worn by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to the suffragettes’ lace blouses, clothes have been a defining feature of women’s empowerment,” says a press release about the awesome exhibition.


“Throughout history women have used dress in a very deliberate way to express power and authority. We have tried to give a historical context and really introduce the whole idea of using dress to express power,” co-curator Donna Loveday said.

“I have not used the term ‘power dressing’ very deliberately, because I think that evokes a very particular image of that very masculine aggressive power look that we associated with the 1980s,” she added.

The exhibition is intended to show how women have used clothes to define how they want to be seen.

“So I think there is a new attitude to clothes, it’s not something that is silly or frivolous,” Loveday said.

“It is not something that restricts women or enslaves them. It is something that women are actively engaging with and using to project a sense of style, very individual, using it to express a sense of style and empowerment and authority.”


The suffragettes wore clothes that would make them appear more sensible and rational as opposed to ultra feminine, she said.

She was particularly interested in the wardrobes of contemporary women in power and asked 26 of them, across politics, business, culture and fashion to contribute an outfit to the exhibition.

Contributors included Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, who designed the London Aquatic Centre for the 2012 Olympics, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. The exhibition also includes taped interviews with the 26 women where they discuss what fashion means to them.

“There’s a freedom that is reflected in the final exhibition through our contemporary women,” Loveday said.

In a BBC News piece about the exhibition, author Susie Orbach argues that for most women fashion isn’t necessarily about power, and is in fact quite troublesome. She says fashion “pretends to give confidence” because it doesn’t really last and isn’t always inclusive.


Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon who was also featured in the piece said fashion has to be seen as entertainment, and not the source of your power.

“Power is an internal job, it’s not something you can buy externally. But fashion you can use to project an image,” she says arguing that it can add to the power you already have.

But Susie is adamant that with fashion being a $27 billion industry in the UK alone, and 3 out of the top 5 listed entrepreneurs in the same country as fashion-related people, it is a huge industry that is demanding women fit into a certain style to feel accepted.


These are both very valid and valuable arguments, but most of all we have to remember, like Tamara Mellon said, fashion is a tool, not the source.

What this exhibition is doing is allowing women of power throughout history to be remembered and immortalized through a specific tool: fashion.

Tamara also says fashion should be fun. So if we are able to look past the many problematic issues about the industry, and focus on the women themselves, we start to see that empowerment is what matters more than just external values. The Women, Fashion Power exhibition is a fun way to celebrate the great impact women have had on our world as we know it today.

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