The Inverted Feminine Fashion of Riot Grrrl

To preface this topic, the Riot Grrrl movement was the product and embodiment of third wave feminism and punk. Occurring throughout the 1990s, bands like Bratmobile, L7, Bikini Kill, Destroy Boys, Le Tigre, and countless others modified the stigmatization surrounding women in the punk community. Music and zines were the main types of media utilized to present the beliefs and practices of Riot Grrrl to the public, but the artists themselves displayed its spirit with their clothing. Often mislabeled as the inception of kinderwhore, the fashion introduced by the musicians of Riot Grrrl was an attempt to manipulate women’s sexuality to present a contrast between what the clothing is perceived as versus what it is meant to depict. The following photographs illustrate how the Riot Grrrl movement redefined sexualization of female performers, as well as creating a radical way to approach fashion and image portrayal. These feminists recognized that sartorial self-expression, like all other forms of self-expression, could be a powerful political weapon.

Pictured is Allison Wolfe and Erin Smith of Bratmobile, one of the leading bands of Riot Grrrl. One can see from the photograph an inverted display of what female performers are expected to wear and the music they are playing. Wolfe and Smith are presenting themselves in babydoll dresses and short skirts, typical fashion associated with the idea of feminine. They combine this with powerful boots and quasi “trucker” sunglasses to illustrate the contrast of femininity and how it can be utilized in punk music.

Here, a miniskirt is combined with a shirt showing a muscular male torso in an early picture of Kathleen Hanna, frontwoman of Bikini Kill. Sexuality was often emphasized, though through an aggressively female point of view. An oversexualized presentation was utilized to drain the outfit of it’s negative connotations, as well as to preempt the thoughts of young men looking at them. This turned the Riot Grrrl movement into a social commentary, while kinderwhore, the fashion sense often connected to Riot Grrrl, was more of an artistic and aesthetic movement.

Makeup wasn’t considered taboo for third wave feminists. Judging by concert photos, many young Riot Grrrls wore red, pink or unusual (purple, neon, black) lipstick, with black eyeshadow. Accessories tended to be more associated with the typical definition of “girly:” hair ribbons and bows, little purses, charm bracelets and lockets, chipped red or pink nail polish, or bitten fingernails. In this way Riot grrrl fashion incorporated feminine archetypal elements, yet inverted it to display as part of a political statement.

These photos are historically important because they display what the purpose and execution of third wave feminism related to punk rock looked like, an integral part of many people’s adolescence in the 90s. The bands and women pictured I have long adored, because of their fierce refusal to conform to the stereotypical representation of female performers. Instead, they invert these expectations and bring overt attention to the crucial topics, such as sexism and the patriarchy. In this way, they are using a quasi respectability-politics approach, since they take advantage of the over sexualization expected of them and force one to recognize one’s own thoughts and prejudices. Basically, I love the Riot Grrrl movement, and wish it was more known and appreciated, because it accomplished a lot in relation to feminism and punk.

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