Vagina Pride: On Streetwear, Feminism Gets Graphic

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Photo: Courtesy of Pete Deevakul (Cuntier hat)

It’s still hard for a woman to rep her favorite football team, but it’s never been easier for her to rep her genitalia. Over the past several years, streetwear labels and entrepreneurial screen-printers have taken the mantle of vagina pride of from the crunchy crafters of Etsy. They're populating lower Manhattan and online shopping carts with T-shirts that are graphic in both senses, advertising female sexuality with a clarity that borders on aggression. (In Slutever blogger Karley Sciortino’s case, her own vulva.) Crossing trendy riot grrrl revival with trendy luxury brand spoofing, Team Vagina gear is not exactly a political statement, nor is it just a female equivalent of sleazy menswear classics like "FBI: Female Body Inspector." En masse, it might be the fashion-world equivalent of the moment two years ago when, thanks to a sudden influx of female producers and screenwriters, critics noticed that suddenly the word “vagina” was everywhere on television. Then again, it might just be run-of-the-mill hipster provocation.

Some vagina pride shirts accompany feminist art projects, like American Apparel’s menstrual masturbation T-shirt. It was a collaboration with Petra Collins, the 20-year-old photographer and curator whose bush was banned by Instagram. "We're so shocked and appalled at something that's such a natural state," Collins told Vice, "it's funny that out of all the sexually violent or disgustingly derogatory images, this is something that's so shocking apparently." SOLID GOLD CLIT, reads a tank top created by New York artist Sophia Wallace, whose art-advocacy project "Cliteracy" also included a wall-size installation of clitoris factoids and a gold mechanical bull shaped like a clitoris.

Haters immemorial pointed to a woman’s clothing as proof of her sluttiness. Only recently have designers (MadeMe, left, and Married to the Mob, right) made clothing for the woman who’s cool with that.

Then there are the boob shirts from (left to right), American Apparel, The Blonds, and Beautilation. They put the biting commentary on objectification — or is it just an homage to Vivienne Westwood? — exactly where his (and her!) eyes are headed. 

Blame it on the Cartier parody hats, the sorority e-mail rant, or that regrettable Onion tweet — not even the C-word is taboo terminology for the graphic feminist set. Or at least its been reclaimed by House of LaDosha, the rap duo and creative collective whose plays on Tupac's Thug Life and the musical Cats are favored by Rihanna and VFiles.

Christine Quinn and feminist activists hope that reporting street sexual harassment with smartphone app Hollaback will make sidewalks safer for women. Mightn't it be faster to say it with a phallic analogy crop top (Beautilation), hearts on your sweatshirt (Hannah Is Awful), or forbidden signs on your boobs (Gerlan Jeans)?