The rise of protest dressing: how fashion and politics are more intertwined than ever

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), dressed in white in tribute to the women’s suffrage movement, arrives for the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 5, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) When the women of the US Democratic party dressed in unanimous white at President Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union speech, they made a powerful statement that the status quo in Washington will be challenged. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez explained that they wanted the president to see “a wave of white” – a colour which historically has associations with the Suffrage movement and was worn by Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign. It was a striking yet simple way for the female Democrats to assert their presence as the majority force in the House and to serve warning to Trump and the Republicans that they will fight them at every opportunity. Trump may have referenced bipartisanship in his speech but the women’s adoption of white protested his brand of toxic, divisive politics and defined their mission to clean up government. The tradition of protest dressing isn’t new, but it has been revived dramatically of late, with incarnations including the appearance of women dressed as Margaret Atwood-inspired Handmaids in Washington to protest Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment, the “Pussy” hats adopted by thousands of women on marches after Trump’s election, and the wearing of black on the red carpet at the 2018 Golden Globes for the Time’s Up campaign. It seems that everything from gender inequality to racism to workplace bullying is now being protested via fashion. Social and political tensions globally have re-asserted the role of fashion as a vehicle for protest. Scandals and discord in institutions such as Hollywood, the Catholic Church, the US government and the Brexit-stricken UK House of Commons have shaken beliefs and provoked a visible reaction, particularly from women. Now choosing what to wear is no longer simply about style. Fashion is a vivid and fascinating reflection of popular culture and social trends. Our clothes are more than a modest shield from the elements – they denote social rank, status or political and class affiliations and aspirations. Every day when we get dressed we choose which identity we present to the world – now that said world is in a state of crisis, it is not surprising that people are re-assessing the messages conveyed in their clothes. From the Gilets Jaunes of Paris to the red capes of the Handmaids to the ubiquitous REPEAL jumpers, statement-making clothes have been adopted as a potent form of expression and protest. The have stated: “The more we are seen, the more we are heard.” Adopting a bold colour, like vibrant pink to protest within a male-dominated space, is empowering because women are simultaneously making themselves more visible and subverting the traditional associations of pink with passive femininity.” Delete ‘Pretty in Pink’ as the mood board for S/S 2019 and replace with ‘Protest in Pink’ instead. Even what […]

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