Fashion Forward: Does fashion have to be political?

In this series, Impact writer, Claire Elizabeth Seah, will consider the nature of fashion in relation to other subjects. Beginning with politics, she shares her opinions on whether fashion and politics are really as disparate as one might assume them to be.

Queen Maxima of the Netherlands recently caused outcry on a recent state trip to Bavaria due to an unfortunate choice of coat, which critics and media have dubbed the “Swastika Coat”. Thus, in answer to the question posed in the title of this article, the simple answer seems to be, ‘How can it not be?’ Fashion is the superficial expression of one’s identity, even if the wearer does not intend it to be. The clothes we choose to wear on our body act as visual indicators to those around us, often, transmitting impressions, albeit unwittingly to both sender and receiver. In terms of politics, the effect of one’s sartorial choices, is that others usually make associations with what they see and what they hold to potentially be one’s beliefs or intentions.

Their calculated costumes reflect who they would like to identify with

Ironically, the politics of fashion is much subtler than usually meet the eye. Comparing the outfit choices of the Republican Party candidates for the upcoming Presidential Elections provides the starkest illustration of this. An article on the Washington Post highlights, that with the exception of Donald Trump, who only dons suits, every other candidate has opted for a much fuzzier fleece alternative at their election rallies. There is more to this choice than comfort. Fashion’s unavoidable link to identity for both the wearer and observer, and the transmission of inaudible psychological signals between humans is something politicians are no strangers to. Their calculated costumes reflect who they would like to identify with – their voters.

In August 1966, Yves Saint Laurent presented the world with its first female tuxedo, Le Smoking. Admittedly, this creation did not start a révolution féministe. Rather, Saint Laurent bore the catalyst that liberated women from the old-fashioned (pun intended) view women should not wear trousers (pants, for some) in public. His women’s menswear changed more than the fashion world; it gave women a form of wearable armour that they could use for empowerment and was a step towards gender equality. Today, the power suit remains a womenswear constant, especially for women holding positions of political authority.

Superficially, this might seem as though fashion’s relationship with politics is straining

Fashion’s ability to give visual cues allows for unspoken statements to be made, and uniformity increases the impact of these fashion statements. Hippies, mods, glam rockers, punks, goths, lads, chavs and of course, hipsters, are examples of subcultures which continue to use fashion as a means of identity. Each of these groups has distinct “looks”, which allow them to communicate a form of political message, which is that they identify with a particular group in society. White Power Skinheads, Neo-Nazis and other more politically overt sects also utilise this to their advantage.

Half a decade after the debut of Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking, men wear womenswear, most teenagers go through a some form of “emo-punk-goth” phase and most outlandish fashion choices are thankfully, not met with verbal disgust or worse, physical violence. Superficially, this might seem as though fashion’s relationship with politics is straining, but it is important to remember that with this power couple, there is more to than meets the eye. Liberalism (or at least its core principles) is an increasingly prevalent tenet of most political institutions worldwide. Thus, surely it is only natural that likewise, in terms of fashion, societies develop increasing tolerance to individual’s sartorial choices?

Claire Elizabeth Seah 

Image Credits: ?he ?oincidental Ðandy via Flickr

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