Whether it was the Barbie movie or the Renaissance tour, it seemed that 2023 was a year for celebrating girlhood and uniting over the shared experience existing as women and femme presenting people. ‘Girlhood’ was a running theme that sparked trends, sold out movie theatres and broke records in ways unseen before. Whilst on the surface, we rejoice over heightened visibility and appreciation, is everything really as it seems?

The coquette trend rose to exponential prominence over the course of the year. In a WhoWhatWear article, the coquette aesthetic is referenced to being a celebration of femininity and an “ode to connecting with our younger selves”. Balletcore, shades of pink, ribbons and pearls are key components of what it means to dress coquette.
In this way, coquette styles are arguably an expression of girlhood. Romanticising nostalgia and leaning into a childlike fascination with ‘pretty’ things, like lace, ruffles, silk, heart motifs and jewellery.
As designers, Sandy Liang, Cecilie Bahnsen and Simone Rocha are poster girls of what it means to be a coquette fashion icon. Sandy Liang’s SS24 collection was a tribute to the whimsy of girlhood, referencing Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’. Cecilie Bahnsen’s Pre-Spring 2024 collection “draws on the electric flashes of heightened emotion and connection that teenagers experience”. Simone Rocha’s SS24 Ready-to-Wear collection was ‘a declaration of overwhelming love’. Rightfully, the designers have received rave reviews for their artistic expressions of femininity, youth, and love.
Whilst these designers exist and create in their own rights, it’s difficult to not compare them in an industry that is fuelled by competition and exclusivity. On the flip side of their (Liang, Bahnsen, Rocha) individual successes, 2023 also saw the departure of legendary Creative Director Sarah Burton from Alexander McQueen. This made way for her successor Sean McGirr to step up, meaning that every Creative Director position at the Kering group is now occupied by a white man.
Whilst we dress fashion in fancy frills and tie bows onto its facade, we polish the turd of an industry with a rotted core of inequality and prejudice. Without even factoring in the intersections of sexuality, race and abilities, we fall so short of being represented as a gender in sectors that thrive from our consumption. In ‘Fashion: It’s a White Man’s World. Here’s Why’, by Aya Nöel for 1Granary, this discrimination is found to exist at all levels from education to senior leadership.

2023 was a year for women in music that saw so many incredible releases across all genres. Mitski, Raye, IceSpice, Boy Genius, Lana Del Rey, Megan Thee Stallion, Pink Pantheress, Little Simz, Clairo, Olivia Rodrigo, the list could go on and on. Pop powerhouses Beyoncé and Taylor Swift both had record breaking tours with Renaissance and Eras respectively. Ticketmaster crashed, shows sold out in minutes, and additional dates were added for both tours. Demand for tickets drastically exceeded supplies, and to satisfy fans movies made of the live performances hit cinema screens as compensation.
Specifically with The Eras Tour, Taylor Swift is said to have brought in $1 billion, breaking the record total of any tour. With flights, hotel stays, bonuses, staffing and outfits, the tour is also credited with contributing up to $4.6 billion to the US economy. In cinemas, the concert movie grossed over $250 million at the box office. Regardless of personal taste or interest in Taylor as a musician or celebrity, she has achieved incredible things both this year and throughout her career in its entirety.
So why is it that whilst we admire the success of female musicians, scream lyrics that resonate with our female experiences, dance to beats cultivated by female DJ’s, the music industry continues to be disproportionately dominated by men? In 2023, Sky News Analysis found that just 18% of headliners at the top UK festivals were female. The Brit Awards failed to recognise any female in the Best Artist category, snubbing the likes of Charli XCX, who stated “we’re doing everything right, I don’t think it’s our fault, I think it might be theirs”.
As with fashion, the music industry is notoriously difficult to ‘make it’ in. Barriers of entry can begin with class and wealth, extending into experience and education. If the deprioritization of women begins within these foundations, it is only more likely to be exaggerated further down the line. “There’s still a lot of sexism, and that can be overt or covert, and a lot of stereotyping, which is restrictive to women”, says Vick Bain, Founder of The F-List for Music.

There are an infinite amount of references that could be made when it comes to considering the success of women across various industries. Women truly thrived in 2023. So why does the celebration of girlhood feel so tainted to me? Why can’t I just be happy for our wins, and not bitter about their wider significance? Because we’re not playing on a level field. The start line for men is so much further ahead. The start line is then pushed back further and further when accounting for other intersections besides sex.
I am no genius when it comes to gender dynamics and the deep rooted power imbalances between men and women. I am a person observing trends and making inferences based on my own lived experiences. I also know that for me, a CIS white woman, I speak from a position of immense privilege when race and gender identity become factor. I know that this essay doesn’t delve into nearly enough of the immense societal criticisms that exist. There is so much to say, and so many elements to do justice. I hope that this resonates in some way, and that we do what we can with the tools that we have to uplift and support each other.


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