This five part series is a celebration of what we love about vintage and how the social climate often makes us sad for the gaps that exist within it. We're entrenched in vintage's history and like many of you, are obsessed by the endless possibilities that lay before us and the ability for us to start carving our own unique identity and deviate from a mainstream society that *still* aren't catering to us.

 

But what lies among vintage are some quite ugly truths & something which is so subliminal and unobvious unless you are involved with the clothing on a day to day basis.

Think about the current political climate & the progressive steps we've made in the last 5 or so years. Gay marriage has been legalised here in the UK, BLM protests have stormed the world all in the name of progress. It's quite crazy for us to assume that if these rights were only accessed in the last few years, that capitalism would be considering vintage clothes for these groups 40, 50 or 60 years ago.

Under a patriarchal system, women have suffered greatly, although some have revolted. This week we wanted to take a deep dive into the history of women & look in to the cultural significance of the Spice Girls, how their relevance & position in the 90s has had longevity to present day and understand how these milestones have impacted vintage fashion.

 

the spice girls at a cd signing

A PRE SPICE GIRLS ERA (1900s - 1959)

Before we discuss how and why the spice girls were so culturally significant, we wanted to give you some context and some background to the landscape of women prior to this moment.

Given that women were not allowed to vote until 1928, it's no surprise in the years that follow that women were seen as submissive and inferior beings. I think people forget that when a marginalised group is granted rights, that it is not the end of the fight for equality & infact it's only the beginning. There are decades of work that follows to garner equal rights and unpick past unconscious behaviour. In the years that followed 1928, a culture of gender pay gaps and lack of visibility ensued.

When men went to war, women were required to fill in for them, though when they returned they we disposed back to their traditional housewife role. Due to the uncertainty of war, a lot of women narratives in media centred around finding hard working men who would love and protect them. In the 1950s, Disney capitalised on this with their depiction of cinderella and sleeping beauty and this trend would last decades  A lot of fashion at this time centred around women looking beautiful and pure for their husbands whilst doing housework so included lots of lightweight fabric and long line dresses in a sheer or mesh fabrics. 

 

1950s vintage housewife

 


A PRE SPICE GIRLS ERA (1960 - 1994)

Fast forward to the 1960s and 1970s where the second wave of feminism really took the bull by the horns. Prior to the 60s, feminism was about women's rights from a political stand point whereas the second wave focused on social rights & shifting women's narratives from one that said you were perverse if you didn't want to be a housewife. This decade bought around cultural revolution and some vocality from marginalised groups. Homosexuality is legalised, and women start to fight against the sexism and double standards they were encountering.

Fashion as an industry and a communicative language, responds to the landscape and cultural happenings & for the first time women start to wear trousers to deviate from the innocent, pure, damsel in distress objects they have become and betrayed to be through a male gaze. They also used trousers and suits as a way signifying power. In the 60s, Mary quant (an icon) introduced the mini skirt for the first time and speaks about it as a way to rebel through clothing. This then extended into the androgyny aesthetic  in the 70s, 80s and 90s which helped free women from hyper feminine styling.

 

Mary quant exhibition

 

The 90s embarked on the start of the third wave feminist movement; spear headed by the riot grllss. The Riot grllss stomped onto the music scene in their doc martins, encouraging girls to do, read, see and hear things to challenge themselves and gain knowledge and community to be strong voices. The musicians embraced gender neutral garments and bold graphic messages, reclaiming feminine motifs, such as the colour pink, giving them a new tougher, feminist meaning. The guerrilla girls were also prominent within the art scene and continually challenged male voices who spewed messaging that women equality had been achieved. Anonymously, they would post graphs of things such as the number of art critic reviews of woman vs. men to counteract their point. icons 

 

the guerrilla girls and their anonymous feminist posters

 

However, some say this decade was anti feminist because prettiness became a thing for the male gaze. The 70s and 80s received backlash from men who said nobody would want to date hairy androgynous women. In response, women began to sexualise themselves and framed it as if it were 'for themselves' but it translated into an adrenaline filled, hostile response to mens disapproval. This allowed men to take what they were doing and begin the process now known as '90s bitchification' , pitching women against each other, criticising everything from their careers to their clothing and viciously labelling them sluts, whores, trash, prudes, “erotomaniacs,” sycophants, idiots, frauds, emasculators, nutcrackers and succubi, at the same time gaslighting them into believing this is the visibility they wanted. Out of all this manifested an image of an unattainable perfect girl ideal that infiltrated everywhere.

 

90s white girl runway models



1990s was a decade of lad mag culture. The more women decided to be vocal and come into their own, the more society pushed back by reducing them to gruesome sexual fantasies, misogynistic stereotypes and unrealistic expectations.  


Enter the spice girls.

HOW THE SPICE GIRLS CHANGED EXPECTATION  

This section was hard to write because there are no tangible goods that the girls delivered that was overtly groundbreaking; its more of an energy. There were no laws passed, they didn't riot, they didn't organise marches. Except, what they did do was a complete juxtaposition from the expectations that came before them. The landscape of society has always required women to be appealing to the male gaze and it seems many girlbands or female singers fell victim to this prior. The Spice Girls however, although manufactured to the heavens, had an unrehearsed, unpolished and unapologetic nature that really broke through the successful band formula and the combination of the two created sweet melody. It's no surprise that the girls were elected to be spokeswomen for an entire generation of girls, something so powerful that it still carries some weight 25 years later.

 

the spice girls at an award show

 

The individuality of the five girls really has allowed their  'girl power' slogan to stick, not only just in the time where they were incredibly successful, but right through to present day. What's so refreshing about the spice girls is that it doesn't seem like they were trying to be political, they were just trying to be five girls in their 20s, discovering themselves with the permission to do whatever they pleased. Their movement was politicised by a society that didn't advocate for womens individuality and own voices at that time. The Spice Girls also were juxtaposing against feminism at that time during the 90s which featured a very aggressive 'ladette' energy whereas the spice girls approach was more assertive (AE's therapist would be proud). The problem with aggressive feminism is that it's very easy to be manipulated whereas assertive feminism that comes from an eternal place is harder to tear down because it's not a reaction.

 

the spice girls live music show performance featuring the red British flag tea towel dress

 

Men and the media were able to take down women individually, but they were no match for 5 headstrong women, all with completely different aesthetics and ways of thinking and speaking. The spice girls had collectively decided that the representation of women in media wasn't representative, so they would embark on a new mission themselves no matter how hard & inspire a generation of people around the globe. 

Until this point women were given boxes of acceptibility & the Spice Girls disregarded them. Right from the beginning the girls knew exactly what they wanted & used their cheeky silly humour to garner such incredible success. The spice girls were harmless rule breakers and challenged status quo regularly. They are notoriously known for stealing their original masters for Wannabe from their first manager and fleeing into the night never to be seen again, purely because they didn't feel like they were receiving the respect and attention they needed to catapult their career. They then fired their second manager for creative differences. Geri famously kissed prince Charles as dared by the girls as it was strictly prohibited that anybody touch the royals.

 

the spice girls with prince Charles

 

They commanded their own unique aesthetic and presented five different types of women who were the best of friends on the backdrop of a one size fits all, catty, bitchy aesthetic we were seeing women as & demanded writing credits and participation over their music, something even boybands of the 90s hadn't been successful in doing. The girls allowed women to feel visible. 

The key thing about spice girls fashion and aesthetic is that it never felt like a response to patriarchy or men. The Mary quant skirt was rebellious, The androgynous aesthetic was to deviate from women's idea of being pure and sexual to men, the sexuality of the 90s was to prove to men they were still sexy. Spice girls aesthetic was loud and individual because that represented the type of girls that they were. It deviated from a 'this is how you need to be' to 'how am I feeling?' and that resonated on a deep and spiritual level because it had never been done before. From Mel C's sportswear aesthetic, the girl next door energy of baby to the high fashion, strong silhouette, well put together energy of posh, the girls created options for their fans and communicated the endless possibilities for them. Most fans emulate their favourite bands, but fans of the spice girls were completely individual. They may have had baby's pig tails, but the rest was their own to command. It doesn't seem like much of a big deal now, but never before did 90s kids raised on pretty princesses and tom boys realise that actually they had the option to be both. 

 

spice girls fans outside a concert

 

Again, unlike the Kardashians of today, spice girls fans didn't see a fashion staple from the girls and then immediately replicate it. Instead they took the energy the girls were bringing and curated their own aesthetic inspired by them. However, the girls were responsible for catapulting some well known 90s nostalgic fashion pieces & each girl, thanks to their assigned name by top of the pops correlating with their own aesthetic were partly responsible for different pieces:

 

Sporty

The clue is in the name babe. Mel C's aesthetic was super casual athleisure wear. From track pants, to two piece tracksuits to spaghetti vests, Sporty's style was cool casual and classic. Some of her staple brands include Ralph Lauren, Adidas and Kappa to name a few.

sporty spice in an all blue outfit

Baby

Emma Bunton's aesthetic was often based on innocence and really reminds us of Daphne Blake meets that girl in your high school that just vibes with the boys and the girls on an equal level. Baby is most known for pairing staple Buffalo trainers with innocent slip dresses whilst always having a puffer or denim jacket out back to accessorise. She also donned the Versace platforms that have recently made a comeback and was rarely seen without a pony tail or two.

 

monogram baby spice in a cute pink slip dress and buffalo trainers

Posh

The 'I take fashion incredibly serious' addition to the spice girls. Most of the girls aesthetic was very loud and in your face, which complimented Victorias quite well and showed some versatility within the group. Posh is probably most famous for her little black dress, her monochromatic looks, her simple but well fitted silhouettes and every trendy Y2K baby top silhouette you can think of.

posh spice in a neutral brown Dress with brown belt

Ginger

The mom of the group. Probably the most eclectic of style out of all of the girls, sometimes a bit mumsy, sometimes a bit fancy dress, sometimes the most daring but one things for sure is that the versatility Geri Haliwell displayed really was crucial to the authenticity of the group. For Ginger, no dress was too short, no neckline too low and no platform too high to conquer. She was undoubtedly the most fearless and the most political dresser on that Spice Girls stage. She if famously known for her Union Jack dress, as well as being queen of red.

 

ginger spice in the 1998 iconic tea towel skirt and matching briefs

Scary

Mel B's aesthetic really does not get the credit it deserves! Famously known for her animal print, particularly leopard (other prints are available), Scary spice was also no stranger to bright colours and the revealing of the most skin out of all five girls. Scary's style was unapologetic and unpredictable and always had to put her own spin on things. She often wore glasses and tied her afro curls up like little horns. She was also often wearing looks with long hemlines or with boots that matched the look for a top down, dominant aesthetic. 

scary spice with red orange and yellow sequined two piece with bralette

 

WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE VINTAGE CLOTHING?

The spice girls opened up the idea of the varied woman and although in 2021 we are not at perfection levels, the last 20 years have seen a varied woman in ways that vintage era's could never. We love the visibility women are beginning to receive and are equally in favour of the clothes being created with women as individuals in mind & not a male gaze in sight.

Despite women's dressing being through the male gaze in vintage eras, the great thing about feminists like Vivienne Westwood is that they have taken a lot of the symbols of a vintage woman (particularly in the UK) and turned them into something political, progressive, rebellious and therefore relatable. She parodied traditional English looks, taking traditional fabrics such as tartan, tweed and the sheer and mesh fabrics from traditional housewife garments and reconstructed them as a form of rebellion. Her earlier work of the 70s saw graphic pictures of women's naked bodies, the queen with safety pins through her mouth and rubber dresses and spiked stiletto heels made specifically for sex workers. However even so, quantities available today would be limited as this was a subculture and not a mainstream style of wear.

Whilst many silhouettes and motifs can be redefined, the gap in vintage lies more in representation of a varied woman from a pop culture , nostalgic and leadership perspective. Yes we have spice girls vintage in the form of merchandise, dolls etc, but it kind of stops there. As only a single example, the representation of Women in music a is still wildly low, with only 22% of artists in the music industry being women, compared to 12% of artists on average during vintage eras (pre 2000s). For producers? Only 2% of them today are women. The domino effect that this has is that when creative fields such as music and fashion collaborate, a practice seen for years and years, we are predominantly seeing fashion from a male perspective. Male singers on t-shirts, male lifestyle, male opinion. When there's no equality with industries, we only see limited perspectives in everything around us. When only 1.2% of women went to university during vintage eras, the decisions that are made that trickle down into media, fashion and lifestyle consumption are seen through a very restricted lens. Vintage clothing, like many other forms of media, has unfortunately become a victim to this.

So what's the solution? Well, to begin with it starts with having open conversations about how women end up in these positions, education on how we can keep ourselves safe and navigate out of them as well as ensure internal collaboration and female perspective are being heard in senior positions. The rest will play out from there. 

Until next time,

AE x 

 

 

 

 

References 

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/spice-girls-channel-4-documentary-b1920183.html

https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.co.uk/&httpsredir=1&article=2743&context=theses

https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/multimedia/2020/2/infographic-visualizing-the-data-womens-representation 

https://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/35528

https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/how-the-spice-girls-changed-feminism-37483613.html

https://www.weareyugen.com/blogs/stories/feminist-fashion

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/feb/26/when-kathy-acker-met-the-spice-girls