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  • Writer's pictureFashion and Retail Association

Fashion as Protest

By: Alex Germain

Over the course of history, activists have used a variety of means to communicate their beliefs to the world. Whether it be art, music, film, public demonstration, or even violent action, protesters use whatever means necessary to get their point across. This also extends to fashion, which has been one of the most popular and visual forms of visual protests throughout history. More recently, movements such as Black Lives Matter have used clothing to draw attention to the injustices African Americans face systemically in this country. With the recent escalation of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, it's more important than ever to draw attention to the pressing issues faced by people around the world. We’ll be taking a look back at how fashion has been used as protest, and where it’s going from here.

In the early 1900s, women known as suffragettes were fighting for equal rights for women in America, and fashion is one way they expressed their beliefs. On March 3rd, 1913, thousands of attendees of the Women's Suffrage Parade gathered in DC to campaign for an amendment which would grant women voting rights. They wore all white, which had multiple meanings. Traditionally, white represented chastity and conservatism, but their use of the color was intended to flip its meaning on its head, making it represent the desire for women’s voting rights. White was also accessible for multiple classes of Americans, allowing anyone to participate in the movement. This meaning stuck, with politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wearing white to honor the women’s rights activists of the past and their work.

Besides using colors, protest movements also have used styles of dress to get their point across. During the civil rights movement of the 60s, activists took the concept of “Sunday best” and applied this to what they wore. In Black culture, Sunday best means wearing your best clothes for church on Sunday, in order to show respect and present yourself in the best way possible. Many civil rights movements started out of churches, so the practice was already the norm. Additionally, activists took this and applied it to protest, as they believed looking their best and conforming to fashion standards to the time would help include them in white spaces, as it would make them more likely to be taken seriously and heard.. This approach was effective, and activists such as Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. wore suits when speaking in public to get their points across. This style of dress stuck, and movements such as Black Lives Matter have also worn the same style of garment to protest

More recently, fashion was used to protest against recent president Donald Trump’s election, and his allegations of sexual misconduct. The Women’s March was a protest held on January 21st, 2017, which had millions of people march across the country to protest Donald Trump’s treatment of women, and at these protests many protesters wore pink knit hats, called pussyhats. The naming is meant to reclaim offensive comments made by President Trump. These were designed by a yarn shop owner in Los Angeles, and proved very successful, with hundreds of thousands of people knitting their own. Most recently, several fashion designers have responded to the Ukraine situation, with Armani holding a silent show and LVMH donating 5 million euros to help Ukrainians. Individuals are getting involved too, with many wearing blue and yellow in solidarity with the country, such as Greta Lee on the SAG Awards red carpet. Needless to say, fashion will always be used to share messages of protest, and we can only look forward to more statements being made with fashion as our world keeps changing.

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