dressing with dissent
23rd October 2019
The month of October has been one of protest. Dissatisfied with the English government’s response to climate change, swathes of people flooded Trafalgar Square for a fortnight of organised anarchy. A temporary camp was set up and banners bearing the now infamous extinction rebellion symbol flew high above the heads of Landseer’s lions. This logo was also to be found closer to the ground; patched onto the backs of jackets and screen-printed onto shirts, it quickly became the indispensable look of the demonstration. The war was being fought with a wardrobe - and not for the first time.
Illustration by Vitoria Santos
The use of clothing as a form of protest has a long history that arguably dates back to the start of fashion itself. In modern times, however, the most prolific example is perhaps that of the tri-colour regalia adorned by Suffragettes. Purple for loyalty, white for purity, and green for hope; Emmeline Pankhurst and her fellow nonconformists had a message to say and they told it with what they wore. This campaign was hugely successful; iconic brands such as Selfridges and Liberties were quick to produce striped ribbons that could be easily fashioned onto hats, belts, and rosettes. The colours unified the marchers and their cause was strengthened.
Almost 110 years later, the feminist cause is in its fourth wave and the clothing being worn remains pivotal. A response to the crude remarks made by Donald Trump about his treatment of women, the 'pussyhat' was conceived by avid knitters Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman in 2016. It was pink, cat-eared, and iconic. The pattern to make the beanie was shared online and by the time of the 2017 Women’s March in America, it had been downloaded over 100,000 times. The following day, broadsheets were emblazoned with images of a knitted sea of pink.
The style of political dress changed again in early 2018 when female attendees of the Golden Globes came together to wear black as a mark of solidarity for the Time’s Up movement. This was in stark contrast to the usual fashion feast associated with awards season and brought about a somber tone to the red-carpet. Some public figures criticised the celebrities involved for what they saw as a ‘superficial’ response to a serious issue. Discussion about sexual harassment was encouraged in the media, however, highlighting the potential impact of dressing with dissent.
It is clear that fashion as a means of protest has contributed in the past to the success of many causes. Regardless of whether extinction rebels know it, they and their heavily logoed clothing are in fact partaking in a long and intriguing tradition of political dress.