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Our fashion choices always reveal something about us – even Ju

Can someone ever just wear clothes without making ‘a fashion statement’? Daniel, by email

No. Everything you wear, Daniel, is a statement about you, I’m afraid, even if that statement is: “I am so scared of anyone thinking I care about how I look that I am wearing the same gross T-shirt, Gap jeans and trainers combo I have been wearing since I was seven. I am now 41.” This is what people who make fun of fashion never understand: making fun of fashion is like making fun of water, or air, because every single one of us makes a fashion statement every day. Every clothing choice you make – from what coat you buy to whether you get a bobble hat or not – says something about you: who you are, who you want people to think you are, who you would like to be. To paraphrase Ron Burgundy, we are all trapped in a glass cage of self-expression and everything we do and everything we wear expresses some part of ourselves.

But not everything is quite the statement we might think it is. I came of age in the 90s, which was kind of a cool era for a burgeoning feminist to come of age in, fashion-wise, given that women’s fashion seemed to be entirely based on looking as unappealing to the male gaze as possible. I based my whole wardrobe on Janeane Garofalo’s signature look of floral dresses, ripped black tights and clompy flat shoes, which she perfected in The Garry Shandling Show, Reality Bites and The Truth About Cats and Dogs. (Although that last film was a bit of a kick in the teeth, with its message that Garofalo – gorgeous, slim – was an unacceptable fat troll and men would only find her attractive if she looked like Uma Thurman. Honestly, I could – and probably one day will – write a whole book about the weird messages in 90s romcoms.) Back then, people didn’t talk about actual feminism that much. Instead, it was seen as something outdated, a relic of the 70s, and this lack of interest, as Ariel Levy later wrote in her seminal book Female Chauvinist Pigs, led to the rise of raunch culture, laddism and Paris Hilton. And if that isn’t proof of the importance of feminism then there is no convincing you people.

So we budding feminists had to grab what little inspiration there was where we could find it: sure, there was Hillary Rodham out there, telling people she “could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do instead was to fulfil my profession,” which was pretty damn baller of my Hills. Alas, people got rather cross about that and a lot of top experts (ie, me) think you can trace a direct line from that quote to her losing the presidency contest 20 years later. So while it was an inspiring quote, it didn’t work out so well. Instead, what we 90s kids had was Julia Roberts’s armpit hair.

In 1999, Roberts came to the London premiere of Notting Hill, raised her arm to the crowd, showed her underarm hair and promptly created one of the seminal 1990s feminist statements, which says a lot about the 90s. Except, it turns out, Roberts wasn’t trying to do that at all. She was interviewed recently on the actor Busy Phillips’s rather charming new chatshow, Busy Tonight, and Phillips asked her about Bodyhairgate.

“I just hadn’t really calculated my sleeve length and the waving and how those two things would go together and reveal personal things about me,” Roberts said. “So it wasn’t so much a statement, as it’s just part of the statement I make as a human on the planet, for myself.”

But Julia! That is a feminist statement. Roberts might not have consciously set out that night to be the new Andrea Dworkin. But the fact that she – probably the most famous female actor on the planet back thengoing to the premiere of a movie that was literally all about how impossibly gorgeous and universally adored she was – chose not to shave under her arms was a brilliant feminist statement, because it was such a rejection of all the standardised beauty norms she was widely assumed to personify.

This column has had harsh words in the past for women (Emily Ratajkowski) who claim everything they do, from Instagramming their cleavage to pole dancing, is a feminist statement because they are a woman and, like, yeah. What is fascinating about Roberts is she is doing the opposite: insisting that her clearly feminist act is not feminist because it is just who she is. And that is exactly how feminism should be – so normalised that it is not a separate act, just a natural form of self-expression. Oh, Julia. We have missed you.