Women in the Public Eye - Using Fashion for Good

We all know that as women we are judged on how we look and what we wear. For women in positions of power, this media focus on appearance can detract from their work and reinforce the unequal playing field that exists between men and women - especially in politics.

Jacinda Ardern wearing huia feather earrings

But it’s inevitable that clothing will be noticed so, if chosen well, women can harness the traditionally negative and sexist focus on appearance and turn it around, reclaiming the power of their sartorial choices.

For women in politics, the clothes they wear can be a vehicle to reflect their beliefs, policies and leadership style - a tool that’s more open to women than men. Co-leader of the Green Party Marama Davidson, mainly wears second hand clothing walking the talk of her party’s environmental policies while Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, co-leader of the Māori Party reflects the values of the Māori Party by wearing the best of Māori and Pākehā designers.

Much has been written about Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style which combines strength with kindness. And while we have traditionally assumed leadership qualities to be ’masculine traits’ like hunger for power and risk taking, research shows that effective leadership is about collaboration, team building and inspiring people to work for a common good. Wearing clothing and jewellery by Aotearoa designers is good leadership, encouraging local and sustainable business and contributing to the Aotearoa that these three politicians want to live in.

Illustration credit: Kathryn George / Stuff

Recently, Stuff published a graphic of Jacinda Ardern which prominently featured Remix Plastic’s Huia Feather Earrings. Clothing and adornment have always been used to show status and in Maori culture huia feathers were worn as head adornments to signify chiefs and people of great mana. The artist chose to use the earrings to represent Jacinda’s leadership and symbolise her international status as a rangatira with great mana.

For us, Jacinda Ardern’s choice to wear Remix Plastic’s Huia Feather Earrings shows the power that influential women have to change society. In this situation, it's not that talking about Jacinda’s earrings detracts from what she is saying. This is because she is primarily in the news for her work but also because her clothing choices reinforce her message.

Being judged on appearance can often detract from the words and works of high profile women and it does mean they have a responsibility and opportunity to use this attention for good. 

As do we all. All of us make choices about what we wear - if we choose sustainable, local, environmentally friendly fashion that supports the NZ economy we can reclaim the power of our clothing and answer the question “where did you get those earrings?” with confidence and pride.


Other interesting articles on this subject

Jacinda Ardern's years-old top on Time cover 'a big day for a little NZ made thing' - designers 

The Power of Fashion: Decoding World Leaders’ Sartorial Choices - Vogue

The rise, role and responsibility of powerful women - University of Fashion

Karl Stefanovic's sexism experiment: Today presenter wears same suit for a year

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