Fashion has never been a stranger to political protests. It all began in the 19th and 20th centuries when avant-garde artists displayed their opinions of society via t-shirt slogans and anti-establishment dress codes. For example, the most notorious example that comes to mind is when Katherine Hamnett, esteemed British fashion designer, wore one of her own infamous slogan tees to meet Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in. The slogan on her tee read ‘58% Don’t Want Pershing’ which was in response to governmental plans to base US missiles in Britain. An image which made Maggie audibly let out a small shriek.
Since then the power of statement t-shirts has been widely recognised and adopted. Nowadays, consumerism has led to the death of these styles of dress being used as forms of political, personal and societal expression; they are simply being used as disposable trends.
The brand’s founder, Kerby Jean- Raymond, stated that he had been racially profiled at the age of 18 and so had a personal connection with the BLM movement. He listed the names of police brutality victims on a T-shirt he sold with all proceeds going to the America Civil Liberties Union. Projects like these show that fashion, whilst being a form of art, can be used as an effective stand against institutional racism from displaying activism on the catwalk to raising money and profile through sales.
Some shows have been criticised for their use of political motif however. The use of berets as a symbol of defiance (think Che Guevera and the Black Panthers) on Milan’s most recent runways, for example, has been seen as simply ’reaching’ and therefore anything but revolutionary.
Another example of activism becoming blurred with fashion is when Dior and Prabal Gurung launched feminist merchandise on the runway. Unfortunately, the sentiment behind the message was weakened due to people mass wearing the merchandise without a second thought, turning it into another aesthetic. The commercialism of ideas demonstrates the dangers of capitalism and how it will impose on anything to remain of importance.
The main takeaway of this article is that fashion, in its expression form, can be used to encourage social activism. On the other hand, as soon as trends arise the political message almost always gets lost, leading to any activism being completely ignored.
The most effective form of protest proves to be at live catwalk shows where designers can show their disdain for institutional practises. However, after the lights fade there is hardly any follow up by the brand. The exclusivity of having to be at the fashion show to see this message in the flesh again leaves a problem with addressing the issue. The message simply is what it always has been in this consumerism-driven society “you buy what we sell”.
Feature Image by Gillicious courtesy of Flickr, license here
Content Image by Michael Mandiberg courtesy of Flickr, license here