Fashion has always been about making a statement. Usually we are trying to say something about ourselves with the way we dress, trying to bring our inner qualities to our outside appearance. But fashion is also used for social and political purposes. Uniformity is often found through dress codes, whether enforced by law or the expectations of society, and can be used to group people together to form a common identity. A good example of this is the military, who use uniforms to create a united group of men and women, and some would say the enforcement of a uniform code helps strip them of some of their own identity, making them easier to train and mold into a fighting force.
Fashion is also used by peace movements and social justice campaigns around the world to demonstrate solidarity with a cause, and as a way to show the vast numbers of people supporting it. Many famous and successful justice campaigns have used t-shirts, hats and colors to give people the opportunity to join a cause without having to be at a specific place or time to show their support. The campaign to free the late South African president Nelson Mandela from his Apartheid-era incarceration used t-shirts with the slogan “Free Nelson Mandela” to great effect in the 1980s. This was inspired by the styles of the time, with plain white t-shirts with a black printed slogan being popular in youth culture at the time, and worn by the popular British bands ‘Wham!’ and ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood’ in music videos and television appearances. Here we are going to look at five ways anyone can use fashion to show solidarity with a political cause, and make a statement with their style.
Fashion as a Flag
For a long time, color has been used as a way to identify yourself with something. These could be anything from your sports team to your nationality, or your gender identity and your sexual preferences. Perhaps the most famous examples of this are the Gay Pride rainbow and the Pink clothing of Breast Cancer Awareness. By using rainbow colors or motifs on Pride Parade days, or on important and significant days to the gay community, we can show our acknowledgement of the challenges they face, and solidarity with their struggle.
The Power of the T-Shirt
The humble t-shirt found its mass appeal in the late 60s and early 70s, and very quickly became a way to display a political ideology or lifestyle choice. Most t-shirts now have something written on them these days, and are often used as a way to identify with a group such as a sports team, or a profession. Political t-shirts became more and more common in the early 1970s, and have never really gone away, and still t-shirts are a popular way to campaign for causes. Here you can find out more about popular political t-shirts being made today for an important and worthwhile cause.
Accessorize Like an Ally
Lapel pins and hats have been a way of identifying yourself with a group or cause for longer than can be remembered. Just a few hundred years ago, men and women would be expected to wear a hat outdoors and the style they chose would often be according to their economic class or political leanings. Even shoes get political – the word sabotage comes from a shoe; French revolutionaries at the start of the industrial age would throw their wooden shoes, called ‘sabot’ into the machinery that was taking away the jobs of the workers, breaking their cogs and wheels and stopping the machine. A rough translation of sabotage is ‘act of a shoe’, and you too can use footwear to make a statement.
Less Can Be More
Sometimes a statement can be made by not wearing something. Fur is a good example of this, as people protest the use of fur in clothing by boycotting products and manufacturers that use it. People often do this with make-up and beauty products too, avoiding cosmetics made using animal testing. Some political campaigns have taken the whole ‘not-wearing-something’ thing a little too far for some, with nude or semi-nude protests and social movements. Campaigns to ‘Free the Nipple’, or to remove laws preventing women from being topless in public if they choose has led some people to abandon clothing all together to make their point. Sometimes it is not about what you are wearing, but what you are not wearing.
Unity is Strength
Using a uniform to create cohesion and a group identity isn’t just for the military. Many people will dress in a uniform way to show their support for a cause or membership to a group. This is sometimes done on a small scale to make it accessible to everyone, like with unity ribbons for HIV/AIDs awareness, or a small rubber band worn on the wrist that was popular in the early 2000s to show support for a number of good causes. This was made popular by the cyclist Lance Armstrong for his Live Strong foundation that supports cancer sufferers and their families.
Large scale social movements often rely on large scale uniformity, with revolutionary change in Latin American countries often having uniform apparel as a part of their protest for change. The uniform of choice was often a worker’s uniform, such as a farmer or factory worker, in order to show solidarity with the working class and their oppression at the hands of a country’s dictator.
Using fashion to challenge authority or inequality is an effective tool. Many will rebel in their teenage years and use the clothes they wear as a challenge to parents or authority figures, and we repeat the same ritual when forming mass protests, or signaling our desire for society to change its ways to adapt to modern culture. We may well already be making subconscious choices that show an affinity or unity with a group identity or cause.