The Intersection of Politics and Fashion
One of the latest trends in the world of fashion has been the integration of political messages. This is not a new trend; political fashion is a kind of propaganda that has existed for long before the graphic tees of today.
Political streetwear, political runway fashion, and even haute couture can be a type of wearable propaganda. But should it be? Propaganda is a word with a somewhat negative connotation. People like to believe that they are making decisions of their own accord, free from outside influence. Fashion is in fact very influential on all aspects of modern life. Some people would prefer to keep politics out of fashion completely, but in order to do that it would be necessary to separate fashion from society which is not possible.
Why Fashion and Politics Are Not Separate
So why is it that politics will just not stay out of fashion? Some people would certainly prefer if they were kept separate. People feel passionately about their political stances, which is why a political piece of clothing may either push the consumer away or draw them into stores in hoards.
Fashion is and has always been a reflection of the society we will live in. As such, in times of political changes or conflict, it is inescapable for the political climate of the times to not be reflected in the fashion trends. Fashion has power. Something as simple as a T-shirt can change the world by starting a movement.
Taking a Stand
There is a lot going on in the world and in today’s society brands are expected to take a stand. A very visible way to express support for a movement is through fashion. Messages printed on shirts, bags, and hoodies are worn on the street, in social media posts, and on runways, reaching a large number of people.
Some may perceive political fashion as being disingenuous or virtue signaling. Unfortunately, some fashion brands make political messages that their own policies or business practices are not reflective of. For example, a large brand making T-shirts to stop global warming may face backlash if they do themselves contribute largely to global warming through production. If brands want to be successful with taking a stand with political clothing, they must be sure that the message is being applied to their own organisation as well.
Fashion has historically been whitewashed and cultural appropriation has gone rampant. Runway fashion has begun to knock down barriers of race and culture by celebrating diversity. Muslim models wearing hijabs on the runway during the peak of Brexit made a big stir. France has notably imposed restrictions on wearing hijabs in public, which has received a lot of backlash from those accusing the restrictions as xenophobic. Having hijabs worn in runway shows normalises them and makes them fashionable, taking a stand against xenophobia in the west.
Fashion Designers Show Their Support For Political Movements
Fashion designers are public entities and they have the ability to show their support for a movement or remain silent. Notable fashion designers have made subtle and not-so-subtle nods towards movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo.
These viral hashtags do not stop with the internet. Political and social movements are reflected in all aspects of society, including fashion. With such a large platform to make a statement, it is unsurprising that fashion designers have used their talent to show their support for modern day political movements.
How Politicians Influence Fashion
There has always been scrutiny around the fashion choices of female politicians. Michelle Obama once went viral when Republicans criticized her for wearing a sleeveless dress. During the Trump administration, the fashion statements of the first lady Melania Trump and Trump’s daughter Ivanka made the news.
With such a divisive political climate, the endorsement of a political leader from a fashion brand could make or break the sales. Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph Lauren faced backlash when they chose to dress Melania Trump. Other fashion brands made a stand by refusing to dress the former first lady.
Theresa May, the former Prime Minister of the UK, has made many headlines with her clothing. Some say that she breaks tradition too much and does not dress seriously enough for the position of prime minister. One fashion choice that she has been criticized for is wearing leopard print shoes. While the scrutiny around female politicians clothing is probably uncalled for and a little bit sexist, fashion is certainly one way to send a message.
Male politicians face a lot less pressure than women when it comes to their looks and clothing. They are not completely immune to the forces of fashion however. The labour party of the UK used streetwear to campaign in the last election. By associating their party with some of the most popular streetwear brands, they were able to double down on their image of being the progressive and down to earth political party. The campaign was successful in bringing out troves of young voters.
On inauguration day 2021, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders showed up wearing a cozy outfit with wool mittens. The photos of him, and his outfit, have broken the internet. Bernie Sanders showed up in an outfit that reminded many of their own grandfathers, and this helped to give him a lovable persona that will have an effect on his polling power in the future. Not to mention that the viral fashion statement boosted the sales for the small business who made his wool mittens a lot.
Fashion is a way for anyone to make a stand or express an idea. Many political movements have received support from the world of fashion from the runway to fast fashion and streetwear. At the end of the day, political fashion is wearable political propaganda and not everyone is going to love that.
Some designers may decide to stay out of politics completely, but of course a non-statement is still a statement in the public’s eye. Staying up to date with political trends can help a fashion brand stay relevant as long as they do more than virtue signal their support.