What Does It Mean in the 21st Century for Fashion to Be Political?
In the words of Miranda Priestley a character in Lauren Weisberger's 2003 novel 'The Devil Wears Prada a 2006 American comedy-drama film directed by David Frankel and produced by Wendy Finerman' there is no such thing as fashion neutrality.
In essence that means even if you decide not to broaden your wardrobe horizon and follow a particular trend or style that is still a conscious decision. And as long as fashion has existed, its wearers have been readily embracing the extent to which it can be used as politics as well as aesthetics.
Dr Jonathan Michael of Harvard University has called fashion “one of the most readily available political tools” given the free access everyone has to it in especially in a time when communication is more and more visible, with citizens absorbing pictures and videos more readily than words on instagram and facebook.
What this has meant in the 21st century has been near-constant headlines about political fashion, particularly on celebrities, being used to make a statement.
New headlines has ranged from the overt – Stormzy’s Union Jack stab vest at Glastonbury, NBA football players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts following the death of Eric Garner who died in the New York City borough of Staten Island after Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer, put him in a prohibited chokehold while arresting him – to the subtle, like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez wearing red lipstick and hoop earrings during her confirmation hearings so that girls “from the Bronx” could see themselves reflected in a congresswoman.
Particularly for people who already have access to the spotlight, there is often more of a struggle to make what they wear free from party affiliation, bias, or designation. With more and more women entering political public arenas comes increased scrutiny of how they choose to dress, from Hillary Clinton Former United States Secretary of State's classic pantsuit uniform, to the media’s obsession with figures like Kate Middleton the Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex who after stepping down from her royal duties, made history by opening up about her political views, something which historically royals haven’t done, choosing to remain neutral instead. Additionally, some also say that her outfit choice for the interview was quite politically significant.
The story of recent decades, has also been one of individuals being forced to confront the extent to which there is no such thing as neutrality in what you wear, particularly in your position as a customer. Brands around the world are now under the pressure to position themselves not only in public commitments or donations on the right side of history, but in the goods they make.
But we should be realistic about the potential of fashion to be a valuable political statement and create meaningful political and social change, even with good intentions.
Political fashion, especially the mass-produced kind, often serves to make a political movement. Whether it's a feminist or BlackLivesMatter t-shirt, the large corporations normally have a bottom line at heart, regardless of how public or how optimistic their claimed political motives are.
Global capitalism has every ability to allow consumers to use goods and their voices to communicate their values. If they are going to make a declaration, why not make it a declaration that you can buy?
So if style is going to remain a powerful means of speech, instead of just making politics fashion, let's make fashion political.
SOCIETAL HAS BEEN POLITICALLY CHARGED THIS YEAR, AND RIGHTLY SO. WITH THE CURRENT SITUATION BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD, HOW COULD SOCIETAL NOT TAKE A STANCE? SOME DESIGNERS HAVE ARTICULATED THEIR STANCE MORE SYMBOLICALLY THROUGH A VARIETY OF THEMES RANGING FROM FEMINISM TO PATRIOTISM, AND MUCH IN BETWEEN, TAKING A STAND, WHILE OTHERS DID SO MORE THEORETICALLY. THEN THERE ARE OTHERS WHO HAVE OPTED TO REACT HEAD ON TO THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS, ENSURING THAT THEIR POSITION IS AS PLAIN AS THE DAY.