The Importance of Activist Fashion

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Figure 1: Pink ‘pussyhats’ at the Womens March in Washington, 21 January 2017

By Hannah Debson, Creative team

Looking at the runways of Dior, Public School, Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano, we can see the careful and overt spread of political messaging and slogan T-shirts into the realms of high fashion. It prompts a discussion on the role that activist fashion has had in expressing socio-political concerns, particularly during the protest marches that are becoming so frequent.

Exploring the intersection between fashion and politics is not new. We could rewind all the way back to the sans-coulottes of the French Revolution, used as symbols of the working class, or look to shapeless short skirts of 1930s flappers who expressed independence from men. During the 1963 March in Washington, black women wore denim overalls to take a stand for civil rights. Anti-fur movements have adorned bloodstained clothing to fight for animal rights. The long-haired, pierced, flared trousers and tie-dye- wearing ‘flower-power’ of the 1960s connects itself with a certain political positioning, aligning with peaceful protests, anti-war sentiments and principles of sexual liberation.

By wearing these clothes you connect yourself to those values. In the current world, arguably the power of fashion has been harnessed most powerfully by women’s activism. We can fast-forward to 2011 and the SlutWalks that dominated major cities across the globe in protest against victim-blaming rape culture. For all its controversy, this is an example of unadulterated visual, political commentary expressed through clothing (or lack of) which serves to make a statement translatable across the oceans through nothing more than the click of a camera. More recently women showed up to the polls in trouser-suits during the U.S. election to show their support for the first woman candidate of a major party in a U.S. election, Hillary Clinton. In the 2017 anti trump Women’s Marches women sported knitted pink beanies with cat ears known as ‘pussyhats’ as a symbol of female unity against Trump’s misogynistic policies.

The way you choose to dress your body is by no means the primary concern for a protest march and activist, nor should it be. But fashion holds a unique capacity to spread a message silently, powerfully and quickly, especially in this image obsessed era dominated by social media, and when combined with a political or social message this can be a powerful form of communication. This methodology has room to be employed further beyond women’s rights activists, as a potent force for positive change across all socio-political movements. A simple slogan T-Shirt, a colour, a style, a symbol, demonstrate a sense of solidarity and unification, a connecting force that communicates political opinion in a nano-second. Fashion is fundamentally democratic, and has an accessibility that lends itself to wide scale protest and influence, a power that should be harnessed to its full capacity.