Like a picture, fashion speaks a thousand words. It goes beyond simple self-expression to showcase our beliefs and our world views. Fashion has been a huge part of activism for decades, so let us revisit certain iconic moments that showed us how fashion was used to make a difference:
One of the earliest instances of fashion as a political and social statement was seen in Alexander McQueen's autumn-winter 95' collection Highland Rape. It was deliberately a provocative collection. It spoke volumes about sexual assault of women- McQueen drew his inspiration from both the 1800s incident of the English committing ethnic cleansing on the Scottish, and his own personal life. Feminine dresses were ripped and worn, pieces revealed large amounts of skin, and the models were made to seem battered. At the same time, he featured strong pieces that carried elements of masculinity reflecting his desire for women to be tough and his hope to create a look that would empower their actions and character. The entire collection reflected his versatility as a designer and also shone a light on the social issues of rape and brutality against women. Highland Rape was a collection that secured McQueen's reputation as a provocateur.
Fashion activism has only expanded since then, with recent years reaching a peak in its proliferation. Maria Grazia Chiuri took over as artistic director of women's collections at Dior, and she immediately made a bold statement with her first spring 17' collection. Her "We Should All be Feminists" t-shirts, with a percentage of proceeds going to The Clara Lionel Foundation was one of the most talked about designs and became immensely popular.
However, fashion activism extends beyond the runway. It is seen in the streets made by protesters with just a message and a marker, and seen in the pieces of amateur designers. During New York Fashion Week 2016, the ladies of an activist group Slay for a Change used fashion to challenge police brutality- helping to advance the Black Lives Matter movement even further. The penguin suit with the names of police victims painted on in white was a bold statement that immortalised the victims and the cause. Combing classic outerwear staples with Black Lives Matter slogans, they elevated fashion and what it brought to conversations.
We also saw the use of slogans on clothing during the 2016 March for Women in Los Angeles. Celebrities and normal citizens alike all came together for a cause, sporting fashion pieces that reflected the principles of the movement. Vanessa Hudgens rocked a white crop top with the simple phrase "Yeah Pussy" on it, pairing it with fishnets under a pair of classic jeans- a look popular with so many 'it' girls today.
The nature of street protests has transcended beyond mere banners, posters, and chants. With the growth of the millennial generation's social and political engagement, traditional mediums are no longer sufficient. Fashion as a platform for expression is more relevant than ever. Moving from runways to the streets, fashion is used as a tool to make social movements iconic and memorable. Everyone now uses statement pieces to shake both the fashion and non-fashion world without even saying a word.