Welcome To The Era Of Femininity
The female identity is having a moment. Challenged by some, co-opted by others and celebrated by many – is anyone else feeling like there’s something undeniably feminine in the air?
There’s no better spot in culture to observe the rise in femininity than in fashion, where we’re (thankfully) saying, “Ciao, bella!” to the boss babe and entering into what we’re deeming the Era of Femininity. We’re relishing in the romance of flirty frocks, we’re embracing our innate love for delicate laces, tulles, and satins, and we won’t apologize for wanting to ditch the drab, corporate attire we were conditioned to wear and instead lean into dolling up.
Unconstrained, authentic femininity in our wardrobes, our self-care, and our demeanor is perhaps a fortuitous consequence of Western culture, which has sought to erase any differences between men and women. No, femininity doesn’t have one distinctive face. It’s beautifully diverse and expressed through a range of personas, but no matter what form it takes, the trend from which this era gains its name is a powerful one that’s guiding girls coming-of-age and grown women alike into re-learning their nature. We can only hope she’s here to stay.
The Girly Girl, Personified
If modern women’s fashion were to be defined by a common object, it would undoubtedly be a soup can. We’ve got more labels than we know what to do with at this point, since rabid internet culture – fueled by apps like TikTok – has mastered the art of aestheticizing everything. Just when you think we’ve touched on every niche, a new community sprouts up and captures consumers’ hearts. But what are all of the common denominators between the most à la mode aesthetics? Each of them capitalizes on hyper-feminine elements.
From the ‘90s through the aughts, the pendulum swung full thrust toward hyper-femininity (kindly called bimbo culture, by some), but during the years that followed, the girly girl polarity mostly leveled out to allow for the feminist dream of the unsexed girlboss to take the stage.
Since we’re seeing the pendulum swing in our direction once again, designers are leaning into billowing fabrics, frilly lace and tulle, slinky silk and satin, sultry mesh and sheer materials, ruched and corseted silhouettes to caress womanly curves, and expressive embellishments from delicate embroidery to babyish bows and pearls to glamorous glitters and gems. Each garment and accessory adopts pastel, pale pigments, and saccharine shades of pink, blue, and lilac. They pair perfectly with contrasting neutrals: nudes for every skin tone, and elegant takes on the simple shades of black and white.
Let’s take a look at a few of the recent, most relevant aesthetic trends that are built upon these fundamental elements of hyper-femininity.
Regencycore catapulted us back to 19th-century romance with its costume-like components. Think back to the puff sleeves, bodices, corsetry, empire waists, cap sleeves, balloon silhouettes, capes, and maxi skirts that pret-a-porter brands like Selkie, ASTR The Label, Hill House Home, Reformation, For Love & Lemons, and Ganni championed.
Damsels daydreaming about their own secret garden clamored over cottagecore, which draws upon ideals of simple living far away from our fast-paced modern society. Prairie-style midi dresses, puff sleeves, milkmaid blouses, Peter Pan collars, loose linen pants, and much more were shot into the spotlight by brands such as ASOS, Reformation, Hill House Home, Mirror Palais, Lisa Says Gah!, Free People, and LoveShackFancy.
Unapologetically cutesy but with a seductive draw, the coquette aesthetic is Valentine’s Day packaged up into a wearable look. For makeup, this means fluttery lashes, feline liner, flushed cheeks, and plenty of shimmery highlight. Coquettish clothing, often found in soft white shades and creamy pink hues, is embodied by babydoll dresses, lace-trimmed tops, delicate bodices, knit cardigans, and bow barrettes from brands like Sandy Liang, Free People, Urban Outfitters, and Reformation.
With her gentle, loving aura, the soft girl isn’t ashamed of slower living, dreamy self-care routines, and nourishing her soul from the inside out. Light wash mom jeans, chunky knit sweaters, ditzy floral blouses, silky midi skirts, and linen dresses are often found on the soft girl, who looks fondly upon brands like Selkie, Badgley Mischka, Hill House Home, Free People, Los Angeles Apparel, Madewell, and Everlane.
Perhaps the result of wistful nostalgia for those days at the barre, the balletcore aesthetic (and its soul sister, the pilates princess) is an ultrafeminine exploration into wearable athleisure. Slim-fit rompers, leotards, and bodysuits, wrap-style cardigans and slip skirts, plush leg warmers, ballet flats, and plenty of tulle from top brands like Sandy Liang, Free People Movement, Urban Outfitters, J.Crew, Anthropologie, Out From Under, and Lululemon define these two looks.
Classic rehearsal-wear meets soft grunge for the ballerina sleaze aesthetic which is worn by the dainty, yet disheveled manic pixie dream girl. Dark, smudged makeup and edgy accessories like buckles and sharp jewelry pair well with monotone mesh tops, cropped shawls, pale pink warm-up skirts, black sheer tights, pearls and bows from ready-to-wear brands like Sandy Liang, Frankies Bikinis, Reformation, ASOS, Princess Polly, and Los Angeles Apparel.
Though my analysis of femininity-focused microtrends could go on and on, I intentionally chose to leave off with ballerina sleaze as it proves that feminine aesthetics can still have some grit to them. Many of the darker feminine aesthetics that internet users have coined microtrend names for – from ballerina sleaze to girly goth – draw heavy inspiration from high-end fashion brands like Miu Miu, Cecilie Bahnsen, Simone Rocha, or Sandy Liang.
Back when Simone Rocha’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection was released, the designer had just returned to work after having her baby. I-D wrote that Rocha’s “dreamy lens over her reality and dark fantasy” of giving birth and the beginning stages of parenting was equally sinister and sweet. On this collection, Rocha wrote the following meditation and poem: “Baptism, birth, rebirth, Victorian dress, mess. / Unravelling, reweaving, restrain, restricting, strict. / Falling apart at the seams. / Tailored tulle, tinsel tweed, female form, adorn, adorned. / Adorned with embellished breast, I need rest. / Swaddled, wrapping, enveloping, smothering, mothering."
Fingerprints of Rocha’s F/W 2016 Collection are seen all over any of these more recent, internet-driven trends and her poetic musings only further paint women’s wistful yearning for softer, simpler days of yore. Now, designers like Sandy Liang are championing what Byrdie writer Bella Cacciatore deemed the “girly-goth dichotomy.”
Yes, these are the trends for ladies leaning into a softer, feminine image à la “Odette” but who have an “Odile” side to them, who perhaps idolized actresses like Winona Ryder instead of Jennifer Aniston, or who are more likely found listening to Lana Del Rey over Taylor Swift. There’s a light and a dark side to everything, and the feminine experience is no exception.
Whereas the lines between light and dark feminine energy were once drawn deep in the sand, we’re now seeing these lines blurred. Women were previously sold the lie that we need to embrace androgyny or behave more like men in order to be treated as equals. But, in the Era of Femininity, we’ve rediscovered that our beautiful, gendered differences are what lead us to be the perfect complement to our male counterparts – no matter if that’s in the boardroom or the bedroom.
Saying Goodbye to the Girlboss Is Our Antidote to Androgyny
Perhaps gender agnosticism all began with Coco Chanel, who designed garments in the early 20th century with fluid, androgynous silhouettes. Her trousers thrust the concept of women wearing pants en vogue, and her dresses were democratic; women were to experience a form of emancipation through their ensembles.
“Nothing is more beautiful than freedom of the body,” Chanel once said, and the rest is history as women’s clothing has become more like men’s – and now we’re seeing men’s clothing take on a more feminine persona.
Ultrafeminine microtrends are part of our natural response to being groomed into believing we’re no different from men.
Modern men have been dabbling in genderbending styles for quite some time now. From Prince and David Bowie challenging the gender binary in the 1970s glam rock scene onwards, to Nirvana lead vocalist Kurt Cobain wearing dresses in the 1990s grunge scene, to former One Direction member Harry Styles’ recent controversial photoshoot in Vogue, you might think that men are beginning to accept the “end of gender,” as the New York Times put it.
But, is the rise in gender non-conforming fashion really a symptom of the “end of gender,” or is the fashion binary not so easily going down without a fight? With more women adopting more traditionally masculine roles and the increase in gender-fluid identities and transgender identities, there does now appear to be a demand on the market for ungendered fashion. It’s only natural that the market answers to these demands, but there also appears to be a heavy influence on the demand for genderless clothing from the top-down, shots called by haute couturiers.
“What is masculinity and femininity today? I hope this is a journey to help us discover a new sensuality, a new sexuality, breaking down preconceived ideas of what’s masculine and what’s feminine,” said designer Galliano upon releasing Maison Margiela’s Spring 2019 collection, which would later be sold as “unisex.”
Then, there’s designer brand Gucci, which ditched the labels “womenswear” and “menswear” from its products entirely, and Stella McCartney, which released its “Shared” collection. Those who support genderless fashion say that it’s a net positive for inclusivity of all identities, since society is allegedly no longer based on gender, but also because it is more sustainable to produce fewer garments.
Well, as women broke down gender barriers, now apparently it’s men’s turn to adopt clothes that are more traditionally associated with the feminine figure. Genderbending, a concept once relegated to Halloween, night clubs, or private moments in the closet, could indeed be on the rise if upwards of 5% of young Americans self-identify as non-binary or transgender. However, this rise in ungendered fashion has unintended consequences for the gender fluid community: When you swing the pendulum far one way, it’s bound to come back full force in the opposite direction.
Our modern female experience is sedated with genderless fashion because it erases the drive to romanticize our lives, to honor our God-given bodies, to creatively express our sense of self through appearance, and to nurture that innate yin part of our soul. Understandably, the aforementioned ultrafeminine microtrends that have so easily captured young women’s hearts are just part and parcel of our natural response to being groomed into believing we’re no different from men.
You Can’t Ignore That Clothing Is Political, and Therefore Powerful
The face of liberal feminism, according to author Helen Roy, is the girlboss. The girlboss relishes in political correctness, professional aspirations, and unfettered sexuality. Women, genuinely empowered by increased lifestyle options from greater access to education, job offerings, and reproductive choices, took this empowerment and ran with it.
In 1970, around 43% of women aged 16 and older were a part of the labor force, and in 2000, that number grew to 61%. Reflecting on this shift, the Population Reference Bureau in 2001 then predicted that women would soon make up the majority of America’s workforce. Now, more women are employed than ever before, leading some to name women’s usurping of the workplace a “mancession.”
Really though, what happens to that biological disposition we have to nurture a child when we’re thrust into the workplace? Perhaps some who take on leadership roles then treat their colleagues like their own children and inadvertently infantilize the next generation of American workers. From the sound of it, this effect could only further push us down the pipeline of toxic gynecocracy.
Whether they’ll admit it or not, the “future is female” style of power dressing in pantsuits and sneakers – championed by prominent Democrat politicians like Vice President Kamala Harris and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – often comes off as the wearer overcompensating, trying her hardest to not be associated with any feminine virtues.
Feminine characteristics like receptivity, modesty, and gentleness are nothing to be ashamed of, but they are often antithetical to the socio-political movements du jour like #TimesUp or #MeToo. Senior curator of costumes and textiles for Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum Alexandra Palmer once said that “clothing is political, social, cultural, gendered and incredibly powerful,” so was anyone really shocked when red carpet activism broke out in response to the #MeToo movement?
That said, aestheticizing the “trad wife” is really not much of a better substitute. Commodifying the role of the housewife dilutes what it actually means to be a stay-at-home mom or homesteader. It’s not as dreamy as the Instagram filters may make it seem – after all, children and farm animals alike are not known to be so neat and tidy. Furthermore, while slower-paced living is certainly aspirational, it’s not always realistic for a young woman who actually needs to pay her bills in a highly-inflated economy.
But is there any harm in dressing a little bit more traditional? Looking feminine is one of the few ways left that we can actually be feminine in a society that insists on desexing us and feminizing our male counterparts. It makes us happier to embrace our nature, and the goal of feminism has always been to push back against what women naturally like and shame men for what they naturally like.
Femininity sells where feminism fails.
We’ve hit that part in the timeline where left-of-center cultural critics have grown noticeably dissatisfied with feminism, pointing out that it’s in its “flop era,” observing that it has become “uncool,” and even calling modern feminism “cringe.”
Women’s publications that, for years, fought against femininity, are now gung-ho on these girly trends. They’re almost so quick to adopt uber-femininity that it appears more like an inauthentic grift. Clearly, femininity sells where feminism fails. Contrasting that, at Evie, we’ve unapologetically celebrated what it means to be a woman from our conception.
And what does that look like? Whether you’re in pants or a big, fluffy dress, it looks like embracing elements of softness, caring for your appearance, and using your clothing to express the emotions you’re feeling inside. I bid you welcome to the Era of Femininity where we’re relearning what fulfillment looks like in each of our unique life journeys, where we tastefully dig into our differences instead of disavowing them, and where we unapologetically reclaim our girly essence with the clothing we wear.
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