Picture this: sky high stilettos attached to long, bare legs; a miniskirt so short that it is just barely succeeding at keeping its owners’ dignity in tact; a group of rowdy men ogling in the woman’s wake. Venture out on a Friday night and you will probably see this scene play out several times in a single evening. A passing onlooker may not be fazed by the girls hemline and believe that she can wear whatever she wants, or they may think that the whole look is too revealing and tasteless. Too brash. Not the way a respectable woman would dress.
The association between a woman’s clothing and the admiration (or degradation) she is subject to is so strong and internalised that it is virtually a subconscious process. The miniskirt is a perfect site to examine this idea. In terms of its presence in a social context, the garment is entirely paradoxical- loved and loathed, it represents both liberation and vulnerability. It also illustrates the way cultural and political zeitgeist can be projected onto the material world and used to embrace or reject the happenings of current times.
"Maybe women aren’t fighting for the right to vote or to work or to be considered an equal in a relationship any more, but they are fighting a new fight - to not be endangered or shamed because of the clothes they choose to wear."
As the independence and autonomy of women rose during the 1960s, so did their hemlines. No longer limited to a life of domestication, the modern female was confident, proud and ambitious. The concept of high fashion became outdated, with young women demanding clothes that reflected their newfound independence. Donning a miniskirt suddenly became an act of rebellion- a defiant middle finger to the systematic oppression that plagued women everywhere. Thanks to the punk movement, the miniskirt revolution continued into the 70s. It was symbolic of a rebellious anti-fashion attitude and the rejection of mainstream trends. This was reborn in the grunge movement of the 90s which was heavily influenced by punk in terms of both aesthetics and values. It very much embodied the idea of snubbing what was commercially accepted and expected of a young person, and it bred a sense of rebellion amongst a new generation. What the miniskirt trend represents, both in its emergence and subsequent incarnations, is an attitude of unapologetic boldness and the embracement of feminism.
Fast-forward to the present day and the miniskirt is still a feminist issue, although not exactly in the same way. A woman choosing to bear her legs is hardly scandalous anymore, so naturally the garment doesn’t hold the same shock value as it did in its heyday. Some might say that women are no longer fighting for the right to be able to wear what they want (how passé!), but in many ways they still are. The media and our society currently project an ‘undeniable’ relationship between revealing clothing and sexual assault. In the event of such an incident, there is usually discussion about how the victim was dressed at the time, and donning anything too provocative becomes a factor worth mentioning. While it shouldn’t be relevant because nothing justifies the exploitation of another, society continues to hold the belief that the victim could have helped prevent the situation had they made smarter choices. Clothes are not a risk factor for sexual assault and they are definitely not an excuse. The only risk is the perpetrator. It doesn’t make a difference whether the victim is wearing a mini skirt or a full body suit, sexual assault is really about is exerting power, control and dominance over another. The idea that a person’s appearance is a mitigating factor when it comes to the violation of their sexual rights is a textbook example of dangerous victim blaming. In a perfect world, what a female chooses to wear, how much she chooses to drink and the advances she chooses to make would be irrelevant. In a perfect world, a person would never even entertain the idea of sexual activity without the explicit consent of the parties involved. But we don’t live in that world, and women are reminded of that every time they leave the house - it is because of this that the mini skirt is still a relevant feminist issue.
The miniskirt is a revolutionary piece of clothing. It was a tangible manifestation of the changing attitudes of women in decades past and even now is a dominant expression of a woman’s confidence in her own sexuality - what one tiny garment has spurred should be celebrated. But although women’s rights have progressed in leaps and bounds since its creation, how far have we really come? Maybe women aren’t fighting for the right to vote or to work or to be considered an equal in a relationship any more, but they are fighting a new fight - to not be endangered or shamed because of the clothes they choose to wear. The miniskirt has survived many generations of reinvention and has ignited the spark of the independent and confident women of the 20th and 21st centuries. It has been a symbol of protest, an exercise of autonomy and a catalyst for change. But just like the skirts themselves come in and out of fashion, women are really just fighting a new incarnation of an old fight. Maybe there will be a day when you can slip on that mini without consequence, but not until that fight is over.