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Can protest fashion lead to Action?

With the recent political and social demonstrations happening across the country, I began thinking about the intersection of fashion, politics and protests. Specifically, how can fashion support social and political movements? Is fashion too trivial to have a real impact on cultural issues? What does it mean to protest? Protests are the voice of the people and are useful in driving change. Fashion is also a useful tool for change. Fashion reflects the cultural zeitgeist of a society and acts as one of the methods to bring attention to a particular issue.

Fashion and culture

In some cases fashion is ahead of the cultural curve. For example, three years ago designers began to send pieces down the runway with bold political statements during New York Fashion Week that foreshadowed the current political climate. Using clothing to make a political or social statement is a clever way to share a specific point-of-view on a broader platform. Everyone can relate to clothing on some level whether it's a slogan T-shirt or a peace symbol, there is always meaning behind the image.


Guys looking to show their support and speak out can use their clothing to be an advocate. Protest clothing is a way to rebel against the status quo and show individuality or "otherness". Otherness refers to the ability to be different. The ability to be different drives fashion. Combining otherness with rebellion makes a powerful statement which can start a movement. New York Times fashion writer, Alexander Fury says, "rebellion is what drives people into clothing devised to further provoke and agitate, to be highly visible rather than blandly anonymous, the power of "otherness" as a tool of protest".

Fashion in action

With real issues like sexual harassment, racism, gender inequality, workplace injustice, environment conservation and politics, can protest clothing truly lead to real action? Yes, protest clothing can lead to attention and awareness and ultimately, action, by shining a spotlight on issues. However, in a recent Business of Fashion article, Alexandra Shulman cautions, "success will partly be due to preventing message-overload, compassion fatigue and accusations of easy one-click activism. In this social media-obsessed, short attention span world, there is a danger of the clothes becoming the story and overshadowing the message".

Clothing can be a powerful ally in the fight against social and political oppression but true action will come once we legislate the changes we'd like to see. It may seem superficial to view clothes in such a powerful light but clothing has significant meaning to individuals and within society. According to Psychologist World, "the clothes we wear send strong signals to our peers and strangers, projecting the self image of us that we want to display". In some cases, our clothing is the only chance we may have to make an impression, make it a strong one. Protest clothing alone can't be the change, it's part of a broader toolkit needed to drive action.

Stay stylish friends...

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