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Fashion inspiration from the Second-Wave feminists in Cynthia MacAdams' book 'Emergence.'
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In her 1977 book Emergence, the photographer Cynthia MacAdams turns her camera lens to the women who make up the nascent women's-lib scene. These women confront the camera straight on: strong, self-assured, and rocking some insanely incredible looks. The kind of looks that make you go, "Note to self, try out socks with Birkenstocks," even though your whole life you have told yourself that "socks with Birkenstocks" are "no good."
In her introduction to the book, the writer, artist, and feminist activist Kate Millet describes them as "a new kind of woman. You haven't seen them before. Neither have I." Even four decades later, we recognize that these women have figured something out, something that maybe we have figured out too, but we're not strong enough to adopt. The women we are used to seeing staring back at us from movies, magazines, and even art are often glossily perfect. "Those are women seen. Not seeing, seen," Millet writes. "We are not meant to see ourselves in the other women selected to 'guide' us." The women in Emergence are not just static images waiting for the viewer to define them. They have their own stories. Whether they are posing for the photograph or seemingly caught mid-smoke, they are active women, they are alive. They are not stereotypically beautiful, because they have rendered the stereotypes useless. Who needs stereotypes when you've got the real deal staring right at you?
There were many women in the book who I fell in love with immediately: Jeri Chocolate Harris, a lineswoman, photographed wearing her work attire, a tool belt slung low on her hips. I imagine her climbing a telephone pole and feeling the breeze on her face while doing a job that to this day is mostly held by men. Cheryl Swannack, coordinator of the Woman's Building in LA — a landmark of the feminist art movement in the 1970s that functioned as a nonprofit and art-education space — is caught mid-conversation, her small frame heightened by massive platform shoes that peek out from under her voluminous trousers. Colleen McKay, owner of the Women's Saloon (a feminist restaurant where everyone got paid the same, waitresses weren't made to smile or be "perky," and women could feel comfortable dining alone), sits on a stool, defiantly looking at the camera. She is at ease, but in control. The way we all want to be.
We will never be these women, not exactly, but here's how we might inject some of their sartorial flair into our wardrobe and, in the process, absorb some of that power.
You'd be surprised at what a difference a perfect-fitting pair of trousers can make. High-waist, flared styles, like the one Jeri is wearing, can definitely be found on eBay and Etsy (search for "high-waist vintage jeans" and go from there) and in your local thrift store. If you don't have time to hunt, Madewell offers some really good options. But that's not the whole story: are the legs too long? Is there slightly too much fabric around the crotch? Get thee to a tailor, and have them turn the jeans into your dream pair! Sure, it's a pain, but honestly, it will probably be cheaper than you imagine, and considering how long jeans can last in your closet, definitely worth the investment. After that, pretty much anything you pair with your jeans will look killer, whether a button-down blouse or your most favorite forever-old tee. Consider a multipurpose belt in place of carrying a purse or fanny pack.
There are a couple of things going on here, and we're gonna break it down.
1. Power suits are called power suits for a reason, and no one can illustrate that quite as perfectly as Cheryl does. And listen, maybe you don't need a whole suit — maybe just a jacket is the thing that will up your power factor — but she makes a really good argument for a full look. Topshop usually has some great suits on offer, they're slightly less stuffy than what one would wear in a corporate setting, but without losing any of its power.
2. The button-down shirt opened all the way to there. This is such an easy way to denote power and pizzazz. Hunting for a '70s-style wide-lapel vintage shirt is certainly worth it. It just adds a different vibe, whether you're wearing it with a suit or with a pair of your perfect jeans (see above). A thin scarf wrapped around your neck turns the whole thing into an aphrodisiac. I don't know what the science behind it is. I just know it does.
She is hands-down the most badass woman in the book. Look at Colleen's perfect crown of hair; look at her super-chill pose, holding a cigarette in one hand and a drink on the other; look at her woolly socks worn with her Birkenstock sandals. Everything about Colleen says: "I'm in control," and you know what? We want to be in control too. The button-down shirt is one of those pieces annoyingly touted as a "basic" by every single fashion magazine editor ever, but listen, they're not wrong! A slightly oversize slouchy blouse automatically brings about a certain relaxed vibe to your look. And honestly, we were on the fence about Birkenstocks until we saw this photograph, but the look is undeniable. Plus, it really allows us to indulge in one of our favorite useless vices, buying funky socks.
Laia Garcia is the associate editor of Lenny.
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From: ELLE US