Style and substance have a complicated relationship, particularly as they pertain to women in the public eye. We all know that there’s an expectation imposed upon women in regards to their dress sense that doesn’t extend to our male counterparts. But it isn’t always about conforming to traditionally feminine clothing conventions, such as heels and pencil skirts, either.

On the other end of the spectrum, many women who manage to infiltrate male-dominated professions are subject to similar scrutiny if they’re perceived to enjoy fashion too overtly. In certain industries, a fondness for visual flair attracts scorn or derision, which is an entirely archaic view that’s used to downgrade a woman’s intelligence or respectability should she dare to dabble in the frothy, superficial confection of fashion. Eye-rolls all round, right?

But there are a whole host of women who defy such dated ideals, and have been unapologetically doing so for decades. Women who refuse to be pigeonholed or defined by the positions they occupy or the clothes they wear, demonstrating that fashion can itself be considered an act of defiance.

Here we take a look at some of the trailblazing women who have embraced fashion as a form of rebellion, from politics to social justice.

The Supreme Court Justice: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Supreme Court Justice: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Credit: Getty

Former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s enduring legacy is immeasurable, as evidenced by the thousands of tributes that flooded social media in the hours after her passing this September. As an unequivocal crusader for women’s rights and one of the shrewdest legal minds of our time, RBG was also known for her enthusiastic yet tactile approach to her attire. During her time on the mostly-male bench, Ginsburg refused to downplay her femininity, instead opting for fishnet gloves, oversized earrings and off-beat prints. Famously, RBG used her judicial collars as a sartorial statement that signalled her dissension towards important moments, including Trump’s election and Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

shop HER STYLE:

GOLD-TONE CLIP EARRINGS, KENNETH JAY LANE, $95. shop now

The Entrepreneur: Carolina Herrera

The Entrepreneur: Carolina Herrera
Credit: Carolina Herrera

As a rising style icon in the 70s and 80s, Carolina Herrera was encouraged by the likes of magazine doyenne Diana Vreeland to start her own fashion line. Her family, however, were unconvinced that Herrera would be able to do so, given her lack of experience and limited business sense. Herrera wasn’t concerned and chose to launch her line anyway, quickly becoming the go-to designer for First Ladies including Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and is often credited with championing elegance and sophistication in a time of excessive opulence. It’s this rebellious spirit that has been bottled for the latest Carolina Herrera scent, Good Girl Eau de Parfum Suprême, which pushes the boundaries of traditional fragrance via an unexpected mix of light and shade – berries, tonka bean and Egyptian jasmine. It’s a tribute to women who dare to question the established order with style, with the iconic stiletto bottle both celebrating our innate duality and giving a nod to the label’s NYC roots.

shop HER FRAGRANCE:

GOOD GIRL SUPREME, CAROLINA HERRERA, $218. shop now

The Silver Screen Star: Katharine Hepburn

The Silver Screen Star: Katharine Hepburn
Credit: Shutterstock

Actress Katharine Hepburn is known for ahem skirting societal norms through both her androgynous dress sense and her cinematic persona. In the 1930s, wearing pants instead of skirts or dresses was far from the done thing – women could even be arrested for ‘masquerading as men’ by wearing pants in public – but Hepburn wore them anyway, citing her preference for comfort over appearing ‘feminine’.  While it’s said to have cost her parts opposite the leading men of the era, Hepburn’s refusal to wear skirts and dresses inspired a generation of women to embrace a deliberately ‘sexless’ style that subverts the male gaze.

shop HER STYLE:

SATIN WIDE-LEG PANTS, POLO RALPH LAUREN, $429. shop now

The First Lady: Michelle Obama

The First Lady: Michelle Obama
Credit: facebook.com/michelleobama

Speaking of First Ladies, former FLOTUS Michelle Obama also used fashion to flout convention. She chose to wear emerging and established American designers, but her closet wasn’t just wall-to-wall labels, either – she frequently wore high street finds such as H&M and J.Crew too. But perhaps her most notable style moment came courtesy of her consistent commitment to sleeveless tops and dresses. While it might seem like a no-brainer now, Obama’s decision to bear her upper arms caused quite the stir at the time, with many deeming it ‘inappropriate’ for a First Lady. She persisted despite the criticism, which encouraged women of all ages to also embrace garments that exposed their arms.

shop HER STYLE:

LAYERED RIBBED-KNIT TURTLENECK, BALMAIN, $1,465. shop now

The Political Activist: Angela Davis

The Political Activist: Angela Davis
Credit: Getty

A civil rights campaigner, Angela Davis is an international symbol of political activism. Throughout the late 60s and 70s in particular, Davis’ work was synonymous with her leather coats, turtlenecks and towering afro – the uniform of the Black Panthers Party. Davis and her fellow Panthers wore their hair in its natural state, often topped with a beret to emphasise their rejection of the oppressive fashion and beauty standards of the time. To this day, the Panthers’ style of dress is often referenced by the likes of Beyoncé to embody black pride.

shop HER STYLE:

INTARSIA LEATHER COAT, BALLY, $9,200. shop now

thoughts?