Published on February 25, 2014 | by Rosie Atkin0
Is the miniskirt the symbol of a bygone revolution?
In the wake of London Fashion week, the Autumn/Winter collections for 2014/2015 have still been featuring the miniskirt – an iconic item of clothing that our generation may take for granted. Ubiquitous in Western culture, the term ‘miniskirt’ sounds rather dated, but the freedom to choose the length of female clothing owes a lot to the revolution of the 1960s. Its influence is still resonant in fashion, even if the miniskirt as a concept was swept away with the Spice Girls.
Synonymous with sexuality, freedom of expression and rebellion against rigid, conservative styles of the past, the miniskirt represents our ability to express ourselves through fashion – but do we still acknowledge how important this freedom is? In East Africa the right to wear the miniskirt, which has become so intrinsic to Western female fashion, has been stripped from women; a controversial step to be taken and one which adds to Uganda’s extreme policies – including their laws regarding homosexuality.
In December 2013, news broke that the Ugandan government had banned the miniskirt, making it an arrestable offence for women to be seen wearing the garment. As reported in the Telegraph, the Ugandan Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, defended the policy: “There are people who dress very provocatively, stimulating and provoking persons of the opposite sex as if to say they are available, they are ready and therefore would at any time go for a sexual act. This is what we want to ban.”
This ruling may seem controversial to our Western values, and appear as an infringement of women’s rights. But it also taps into the discussion surrounding sexual provocativeness, as Lokodo continued to state that “any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas that are of erotic function, is outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt we will arrest her.” The miniskirt carries sexual connotations in global culture, and the ban in Uganda certainly highlights the clash in cultural attitudes to sexuality and ideas of modesty.
“There are people who dress very provocatively, stimulating and provoking persons of the opposite sex as if to say they are available, they are ready and therefore would at any time go for a sexual act. This is what we want to ban.” Simon Lokodo
Looking back to its defiant origins in the 1960s, Mary Quant spearheaded the ‘miniskirt revolution’, symbolic of the sexual revolution, youth culture, and the plight for equality modern women were undergoing. The revolution spread worldwide, swallowing Europe, East Africa and many other countries in its grip.
But does the miniskirt still carry the gravitas it once did? Grace Lant, studying a BA in Fashion Design at CSM, believes the miniskirt’s impact has withered over time: “From a fashion perspective, it’s gone out of style now. In the ’90s the denim miniskirt was a huge thing. But now it is just a really iconic piece, almost on a par with the little black dress.”
But surely the ban, and all it symbolises to women, should be acknowledged by the fashion industry – even if the miniskirt sounds slightly cringeworthy to today’s young adults. For instance, can you imagine the uproar in London if our government banned a piece of clothing that we barely even consider as provocative anymore?
“If someone told me that I couldn’t wear the miniskirt I would not be happy,” says Lant, reflecting just how ingrained the freedom of style and clothing has become in Western society – especially in the liberal minds of UAL students.
It is not the first time that modern modes of female dress have come under fire, with the idea of ‘sluttiness’ being linked to sexual assault and blame culture. In 2011, Toronto PC Michael Sanguinetti caused outrage when he advised women to “stop dressing like sluts” in order to avoid falling victim sexual harassment and assault. His comments were deemed regressive and misogynistic, and prompted the SlutWalk movements – beginning in the United States and eventually reaching across to the UK. During these SlutWalks, women exercised their freedom to dress how they pleased, en masse, in protest.
So is it likely that a similar movement will take place in the UK to create discussion of the ban in Uganda? Joshua Cooper, a BA Fashion student at CSM, suggests that the ban in Uganda is unlikely to spark heated debate in the fashion industry: “It is not because the ban is insignificant, but rather because Uganda is not known for its fashion. Unfortunately, I believe the banning of miniskirts in Uganda will be largely overlooked.”
Lant echoed this sentiment, comparing the mild media reaction to the ban with the hypothetical uproar that would occur if a similar restriction were to be put in place in a ‘fashion capital’. He said: “Uganda isn’t really a place with a big influence on fashion. And it always tends to be four or five main fashion capitals where if the ban had happened the reaction would have been crazy.”
“The French veil ban was a really big issue,” Lant reflected, “but I have barely heard about the miniskirt ban. I think people should be more aware of, just in general, the situation that females find themselves in around the world. I just don’t think people really think about it that much.” The miniskirt ban in Uganda represents a plethora of complexities, and because of the cultural symbolism of the miniskirt, it seems a shame that there isn’t more of a discussion surrounding it.
Once, the miniskirt resembled a progressive leap towards equality, marking a feeling of control for women. But perhaps the fleeting trends of fashion act as a hindrance when acknowledging the political changes in countries further afield, especially when they concern a garment considered to be somewhat dated. However, women’s rights are still at the forefront of universal progression, and they deserve to be talked about. So this fashion week, perhaps take a minute to appreciate the freedom of expression and the freedom of exposed limbs, and imagine life without those rights.