25 Jul The Unlikely Relationship of Fashion and Politics
The widespread media coverage during fashion week that transcends newspapers and magazines to social media has shone a light on the underrepresentation of minority groups on the runway. Equal pay is slowly rising, but so should equal representation.
Fashion and politics: two words that are rarely seen together, but does that mean that there is no relationship between the two? Fashions favourite new trend is to speak up about accountability, acceptance, and equality. The new wave of designers, influencers and models are demanding a change, from Condé Nast refusing to work with photographer Terry Richardson, to Ashley Graham becoming the first plus-sized model to be in the top 10 highest earning models list and James Scully, a casting director, who used his platform to open our eyes to the dark side of how some models are treated.
2017 saw a mass of political statements threaded into collections. Prabal Gurung’s Fall/ Winter 2017 collection finished with a finale of models wearing t-shirts with political and empowering statements printed on them. Bella Hadid led the model pack with “The Future is Female”, followed by “I Am An Immigrant” to “Revolution Has No Borders”.
This was not the end of Gurung’s statement with a t-shirt stating, “PG x PP” showing his allegiance with Planned Parenthood. He took his bow whilst wearing a top that read “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” in front of a standing ovation. Meanwhile, Raf Simons chose to open and close his debut show for Calvin Klein with the song “This is Not America” by David Bowie.
Across the pond, in October 2016 Maria Grazia Chiuri debuted the widely popular “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirt just giving us a glimpse of what she was going to do. The Dior Fall/ Winter 2018 collection was set against a backdrop of mid-20th-century magazine clippings, quotes, and photographs from pro-feminist rallies. The show opened with a knitted jumper with the phrase “C’est Non, Non, Non, et Non” on the front, hinting to the audience that Mrs. Chiuri has not finished using her platform as a voice for change.
A statement of equality was made during Max Mara’s FW18 runway show, where the Somali- American model Halima Aden wore a hijab whilst walking the show. The first sign of a wider cultural acceptance on the runway.
When Donald Trump won the election to become the next President of the United States of America, many designers (Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs) did not shy away from sharing their opinions or stating that they would refuse to dress the first lady. Whereas, Ralph Lauren took the opportunity to dress Melania Trump at the inauguration in a powder blue dress and coat (extremely similar to Mrs. Kennedy’s outfit) and Dolce & Gabbana clothed her for the official White House portrait.
But the combination of using fashion for politics is nothing new. In 2005, in response to the anti-terrorist legislation Vivienne Westwood produced a t-shirt “I AM NOT A TERRORIST, please don’t arrest me” as part of a campaign against the government. The t-shirts went on sale for £50 – and she even went on to create a £20 one-piece for children.
The ultimate example of fashions place in politics was in 1961 when Jackie Kennedy became First Lady of America. Though her husband was only in the White House for two years, it was enough time for Mrs. Kennedy to secure herself as arguably the most fashionable lady in America. Her fashion choices, with the help of her personal designer Oleg Cassini, enabled her to surpass what was expected and hail her close to royalty.
The outfits worn by Mrs. Kennedy were not just a platform for the latest clothing, but she was at the forefront of changing the style of women during the 1960s into a more modern and sleeker style. The new modern style that she wore highlighted her husband’s different, more forward-thinking approach to the new America that he wanted to initiate – a want for change and wider acceptance of individuals and groups.
There is a negative side to this combination if it is not handled with care. In June 2018, Melania Trump was seen in a khaki Zara parka with the phrase “I really don’t care, do u?” painted on the back, on her way to a southern Texas immigration centre. This caused a global uproar. The lack of consideration about the context seemed distasteful. It was an example of how fashion is so powerful, and that cannot be forgotten.
It is argued that we spend too much time wondering what we should wear, but what if we don’t spend enough.
Whether it be the choice of clothes, fighting for equal representation or fair treatment, making an effort is important and necessary. It is a time for change, and every effort puts us one step closer to our aim.