Wearing your politics on your sleeve is a longstanding tradition in activism. People wore badges to protest nuclear weapons; second-wave feminists eschewed high heels and bras for flat shoes and dungarees; Democrat women wore white to Congress to promote the economic security of women. Over the last decade, fashion has found a new way of dressing for politics, by placing the female reproductive system front and center.
When female reproductive organs appear in fashion, it tends to be in the name of a feminist cause, be that donating profits to Planned Parenthood or encouraging conversations about the state of gender politics. The trend raises questions about whether fashion can truly be feminist and whether female reproductive organs are an appropriate symbol to represent the movement. Though their intentions and aesthetics vary, these six sartorial moments make up a brief history of the female reproductive organs in fashion. Viva la vulva!
Randy’s Reproductive System sweaters by Rachel Antonoff
Named after Rachel’s favourite gynaecologist, her Randy’s Reproductive System sweater was designed to raise funds for Planned Parenthood: 10% of the profits from each item is donated. Also available in a t-shirt and sweatshirt, the reproductive system design proved popular with customers happy to wear their heart on their sleeve (or in this case, their uterus on their chest). The New York-based designer created the sweater as part of her Fall 2015 collection, which explored the intersection between biology and botany. Actresses Rowan Blanchard and Lena Dunham were among the celebrities snapping them up.
Pussy Bow is a project by performance artist Christen Clifford. During a residency at the Ace Hotel in New York in 2015, Clifford projected images from inside her vagina onto the walls using a vibrator that doubled as a camera. The images showed warm pinks imbued with streaks of cool blue that captured Clifford’s imagination. Giving new meaning to the term ‘pussy bow’, originally popularised by Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, she turned the stills into silk scarves, following Antonoff’s lead in giving 10% of the profits to Planned Parenthood.
Emelie Janrell’s uterus dress
In November 2016, Swedish pop star Tove Lo appeared on the Australian Music Industry Awards (Arias) red carpet in a mesh dress complete with a leather uterus. The dress was designed by a fellow Swede: fashion designer Emelie Janrell. When the dress received less-than-positive responses, Janrell told The Guardian newspaper: “I’m actually very surprised by the overall impact the dress has made. After all, it is just a graphic image of the female anatomy. The fact that that is such a shock may call for more uteruses.”
A year later, in the midst of women’s marches sweeping the globe, Janrell took the idea one step further, presenting two purple dresses, each sporting their own fallopian fashions. The first featured an oversized image of a uterus on a long-sleeved mesh dress. The second was liberally dotted with the textbook-style diagrams, a true ode to ovaries.
For SS18, Berlin-based design duo Namilia presented an unapologetically yonic collection. ‘The Indiscreet Jewels’ was inspired by Denis Diderot’s novel of the same name, published anonymously in 1748. In the allegory, Louis XV is portrayed as the sultan Mangogul of the Congo. He possesses a magical ring which prompts women’s genitals (or ‘jewels’) to talk, revealing their past encounters. Namilia’s take on this fuses their signature Berlin club kid style with the 18th-century courtiers who populate the novel. Lapels resemble labia and soft pink vulvas decorate ornate paniers, while bondage-inspired bikinis stretch across curves and centuries alike.
Even the shoes were on theme: towering heels fronted by pink and red vulvas with delicate pearls in place of a clitoris. Designed in collaboration with fellow Royal College of Art graduate Kira Goodey, the heels were a play on chopines, a towering Venetian overshoe worn from the 14th to 17th centuries. The original chopines protected wearers from filthy streets; Goodey’s interpretations raise women above the patriarchy’s dirty tactics. “Once again the shit is piling up, so it’s time for shoes to be elevated accordingly,” Goodey’s website proclaims.
Janelle Monáe’s ‘PYNK’ trousers
Back in April 2018, Janelle Monáe released the queer anthem ‘PYNK’, five years after her second studio album. The pansexual singer appears in the video wearing what could be described as vaginal chaps. The blooming pink trousers were dreamt up by Dutch designer Duran Lantink and promptly stole the show in the video.
Even better, the singer clarified that her message, which celebrated femininity, was an inclusive one. Speaking to Billboard, she said: “Sometimes I think people interpret those as vagina pants, they call them vulva pants, they call them flowers, but it just represents some parts of some women.” Several dancers in the video wear the pants, while others simply wear leotards. “I don’t believe that all women need to possess a vagina to be a woman,” Monáe explained. “I have one [and] I’m proud of it, but there’s a lot of policing and controlling that people are trying to have over our vaginas.”
From September 2018 – January 2019, the vaginal chaps were even exhibited at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Dr. Valerie Steele, the director of The Museum at FIT, told Vanity Fair: “I really wanted to show all the different facets of pink. So often people just think it’s this kind of namby-pamby sweet feminine colour associated with little girls. There’s so much more to it.”
Gucci’s uterus dress
When Gucci sent a dress embellished with a uterus down its Spring/Summer 2020 runway, people had mixed feelings about it. Some claimed it as a feminist triumph, others questioned the usefulness of a uterus on a dress. Northern Irish pro-choice activist Emma Campbell told the Huffington Post, “There is something incredibly significant about wearing your politics on your body when it’s your body being policed by the state.” Concerned about Gucci’s intentions, she added, “There is a world of difference between supporting a campaign by buying and wearing their merchandise to further their activities, and a designer jumping on a bandwagon for fast fashion or controversial value.”
In defense of the dress, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele told WWD: “It’s unbelievable that around the world there are still people who believe that they can control a woman’s body, a woman’s choice. I will always stand behind the freedom of being, always.” The collection also featured a blazer that said, ‘My body, my choice’, and clothes inscribed with ‘May 22, 1978’, in honour of the date abortion was legalized in Italy. After the collection debuted, Gucci made a statement on Instagram clarifying their pro-choice stance and highlighting its longstanding commitment to gender equality. The brand’s Chime For Change campaign has advocated for sexual and reproductive rights since it was founded in 2013.
This article was published on the American magazine, Perfect Number. Check it out on their website for the full monty (it’s just sartorial sexual organs, no unsolicited pics here).