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The world of clothing and fashion goes back as far as any history book and tells a story about mankind. Many modern influential figures use the way they dress and subtle touches to send a very powerful message to their audience. In many regards, the clothes we wear say much more than what can be seen on the surface level. In recent years, there has been a much stronger push from the consumer market to see how companies are creating their clothing without any secrecy. With activist clothing becoming very popular, we hope to see just what messages people are trying to send with their clothes and how clothing can spread a message.
When we look back in time, no period had as much to do with clothing and empowerment as the suffragette movement in the mid-1800s. Women were tired of being told how to dress and what they could wear in public. In many ways, women also felt that their suppression in clothing choice also reflected their lack of representation in the political field. Early feminists used many fashion choices and statements to make their voices hear in early days. While these fashion movements started to gain some traction, there was still the issue of a lack of representation from women of minority backgrounds.
With the suffragette movement in particular, what they wore and how they wore it sent a specific message to politicians and fellow activists. The iconic white outfits of a suffragette with hints of color in sashes are staples when looking back at the history of getting the right to vote for women. The white helped to represent the purity of the movement while other colors were added to highlight certain ideas like purple, green, and gold. These colors were either major parts of the outfit or were just seen in small traces to highlight the wearer’s alliance.
With the color white being so intertwined with the movement for equal rights, it is no surprise it is still symbolic in modern political movements. For example, many female politicians like Hillary Clinton and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have both been seen dawning prominently white outfits when speaking at important events. When words are not able to be spoken that convey solidarity, something as subtle as the color of an outfit helps women across the globe and throughout time connect their messages with one another.
In a more modern case, events like bra burning in the 1970s and the more casual dress of women in the 60s compared to past decades showed a shift in attitude towards clothing. In many ways we have seen clothing stand as much more than a desire for practicality and features. Something as iconic as jeans may be more comfortable than traditional clothes, but that is not why jeans became so popular.
Jeans were a powerful tool in early struggles for equal rights in the black community. Students and advocates for equality would often be seen wearing jeans to stand in solidarity with the black working class who wore them to work. This powerful message was similar to that of the bra burnings which saw women taking control over their wardrobes in a powerful way. No matter what the message was of clothing, it helped to show that people deserved the right to choose what they put on their body and how they live their lives.
What has begun to happen recently is a direct connection between activism and the fashion world. As clothing is used as a symbol for a greater cause, fashion labels and designers begin to use these statements as potential. A fashi0on designer may see small movements to wear certain clothing styles and then use that as inspiration for a future launch to bring that style to the mainstream. Fashion brands and the movements alike benefit from this as more awareness is created and the fashion brands are able to help create new lines of clothing.
Most recently, the BLM movement has seen a wide array of support through designers and clothing creators creating clothing with powerful messages and imagery. Activist T-shirts are very popular ways for people to wear something fairly normal that also send a powerful message with the words on them. Many movements like MeToo, BLM, and other social outcries have been embraced in the fashion world as a way to spread important messages. Major brands that rarely shared political ideas with customers are now coming out with very bold statements of solidarity that are helping to spread awareness and help their own image. While not all activist clothing is being created in an attempt to spread a good message, it is still a great step forward to see clothing companies standing behind important issues.
Now more than ever, the messages that brands are sending are more important than ever before. Social issues and inequality are at an all-time high and people are ready to stop buying from companies that don’t practice morally or ethically. As we mentioned earlier, the way companies treat producers and staff are becoming as important as the quality of clothing they produce. Companies are being met with criticism every day for unacceptable business practices and other companies are now trying to make up for that lack of accountability by helping spread important messages that matter to the consumer.
In many ways, current fashion culture is showing a consumer shift from large retailers to small and independent designer labels. This shows that people care much more about how clothes are made and the ethics of a company than brand recognition. Most customers would much rather buy an activist t-shirt from a smaller company with strong values than be recognized wearing a major fashion brand.
Now more than ever, we can use clothing and the internet to send meaningful messages. The suffragettes had their sashes and white dresses, but we now have social media and companies that care. The time to make a change is now and activist clothing will help us make it.