Fiction and its 'Fashionless' Heroines

Samantha Lee explores the recent trend in fictional heroines who care little for fashion. Whilst making it acceptable for young women not to buy into the world of high fashion, she explains how it can belittle those who do care about their appearance . 

Picture your favourite modern female protagonist….strong, driven, intelligent yet perhaps not particularly fashionable? Many newer female leads in pop culture possess these traits, such as Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments, and Tris Prior from the Divergent Series. While most would agree that these characters are laudable for their contributions to the movement toward increasingly powerful yet relatable women, I take issue with their general lack of “fashionability”.

I feel that this recurring characteristic promotes negative stereotypes about women and provides a questionable role model for young girls. It seems to imply that enjoying fashion makes one superficial or that to be powerful or a leader one must be more masculine. To refute these ill-conceived notions I would direct readers to the great women of our past.

Fashion was not always seen as simply a trivial preoccupation of the female sex. On the contrary, it was often employed as a powerful tool. Leaders such as Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I of England used makeup, jewellery, and clothes to make statements about their prestige and elevate themselves above the rest of their courts.

In fact, noble men from various historical periods utilized fashion for much the same purpose. For example, at one time the colour purple was reserved for royals and high-heels were worn by men to signify high social standing. In more recent decades women have used fashion to distinguish themselves and as a form of self-expression. Now YA writers seem to have their heroines shy away from fashion or perceived femininity in an effort to provide evidence of toughness or substance within their characters. 

I believe that this disturbing trend may have begun with Bella Swan from The Twilight Saga. Due to its success the series pushed YA novels to the forefront of publisher’s minds. Many writers then followed Meyer’s example, taking inspiration from her work. Created to be a down to earth relatable heroine, Bella is in many ways as average as they come. Yet, a point is made to continually depict her extreme dislike of fashion. She constantly wears baggy unflattering clothes, hates when any of her friends try to dress her up, and insists on wearing sneakers to prom. 

I acknowledge that some girls really do prefer sweat pants, no make up, and running shoes to frilly dresses and heels which is an entirely acceptable choice. The problem arises when all the modern young heroines begin to share this trait. By attempting to create a more “real” or “average" girl I feel that the industry has inadvertently alienated a large portion of its female readers or at least is providing a rather negative and narrow-minded message.

It appears to be promoting the idea that women who enjoy fashion and their femininity are either shallow or weak or somehow inferior. Yet, many of us, like our predecessors, enjoy fashion because we find it empowering and an excellent creative outlet. So I’m making a call for the industry to turn for inspiration to heroes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias spy Sydney Bristow, who battled the forces of evil, spouted witty quips, stopped the apocalypse numerous times, and did it all while rocking killer outfits (pun intended).