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The deep-rooted influence of politics in fashion

BySulakna Herath

Feb 7, 2021

Politics and fashion seem like two sides of a coin, but in fact, they are far more closely related than we realise. Fashion is not just a means to look good or a trend to follow. Fashion is a statement. It is a 2.5 trillion-dollar industry that allows us to express ourselves. Often fashion can be used as an extension of our character, and so our beliefs. It is with this use of symbols and colours, the choice to wear or not to wear that a story can be told.

Politics is everywhere: the books we read, the screens we watch, the marches we walk and the clothes we wear. It is the silent hand that dictates our fate, and amongst others, it has also impacted fashion. From the rise of feminist T-shirts, to catwalks being the stage to stand against unjust politics, Nike standing with Colin Kaepernick in support of racial injustice in America, and Stormzy’s bulletproof Union Jack vest at his Glastonbury performance – emphasising the knife crisis in Britain.

Fashion garners attention and by doing so it exemplifies the voice fighting for social change and injustice. In a world of social media, where a picture can reach all corners of the world in mere minutes, it is one of the loudest and most readily available political tools.

Fashion has always been a communicator for change, throughout history movements like the suffragette who fought for the right to vote as a woman in the US, associated itself with the colours of white, green and purple. It is not a coincidence that Kamala Harris wore ‘Purple for dignity’ for a moment once thought impossible for a woman and a person of colour: her inauguration. A tactical approach to commemorate the battles fought before and represent the power of social change.

Artists like Keith Haring used their talents of pop and graffiti art to sell clothing advocating for safe sex and AIDS awareness amidst the epidemic that ravaged the streets of America in the ’80s. Fashion allows a conversation to begin, and with conversation comes the voices of thousands demanding for change.

In more recent years, design and activism have grown, with a better understanding of the power of fashion and its ability to unite like minded people.

It can also be used to make a point without words: Hilary Clinton’s suit during her presidential debate in 2016 was the strategic use of power dressing; a style designed for a woman to showcase authority in an environment dominated by men. It goes to show clothing isn’t mere pieces of fabric but is rather a potent device when used appropriately.

The 2018 Golden Globes; the day Hollywood graced the stage in black, once again fashion was used to make a statement, a protest against sexual harassment and in support of the #metoo movement. The unity and strength of the protest were exemplified by the very political tool of fashion.

The rise of thrifting and second-hand shopping on apps like Depop, fuelled by Gen-Z’s pushing forward the need to cleanse the fashion industry to move towards ethical consumerism and the reduction of fast fashion.

Along with the call for greater diversity brought on by the BLM movement, with independent creators of colour being given more attention. The power of fashion is changing, it is now a much more diversely used medium.

Fashion is a powerful response to politics; it is much like a gentle nstrument with a deafening noise. After all, fashion is a statement. History has proved that various political movements have shaped trends as well as founded most fashion staples. The chicest way to show you are politically sensitive? Dress with power!

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