Feature · fashion
From the streets to the runway: How to dress for a revolution
On the streets and on the runway, fashion has long been used as a tool of resistance.
On Feb. 1, University of California, Berkeley canceled a planned appearance by inflammatory right-wing commentator and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos
following violent protests
that caused $100,000
in damage to the campus.
A statement from the university placed the blame on "150 masked agitators" -- members of an anarchist group known as the Black Bloc -- who had escalated the otherwise peaceful protest, throwing rocks at police, hurling Molotov cocktails and smashing windows.
The group's attire -- black jackets, hoods and masks -- drew as much attention as their actions. With the ubiquity of CCTV and iPhone cameras, the all-black uniform is often a means to keep authorities from identifying and prosecuting participants. It's clothing as a strategic tool and symbol of defiance.
Fashion is often dismissed as a shallow world of conspicuous consumption and celebrity endorsements, but for many, clothing can have serious political implications.
"The fashion industry is often criticized, and sometimes rightly so. But at the same time, fashion can be an effective political tool," said Jane Tynan, a professor of Critical Studies at Central Saint Martins college in London.
"Using fashion is a potent way to protest because it is creating a visual spectacle that can be seen by all, regardless of class, race, education, or social standing. It is every bit -- if not more -- effective than just waving a placard around."
Protests come in many forms. Where the Black Bloc aimed to avoid identification, Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman sought hypervisibility when they launched the Pussyhat Project
following Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 election.
By providing the patterns for simple pink hats, Suh and Zwiman hoped to give participants in the Jan. 21 Women's March in Washington with a "means to make a unique collective visual statement which will help activists be better heard," according to their mission statement.
Missoni Autumn-Winter 2017 Credit: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Indeed, the bobbing sea of pink hats made for unforgettable visuals at the Women's March.
"We chose a hat because we knew there would be aerial cameras and a hat would be more visible than say a scarf or a badge," Suh said.
Suh said the hats themselves were inspired by another protest garment: the Phrygian hat. Also known as the liberty cap, the conical hat was worn by American and French revolutionaries as symbols of freedom and liberty - "Values we hold very dear, especially now, since they are so imperiled," Suh said.
Two boys wearing Vivienne Westwood Destroy T-shirts. Credit: Universal Images Group Editorial/UIG via Getty Images
Away from the grassroots movements of the streets, a number of high-profile fashion designers have made statements in subtler ways, using their runway shows and collections as vehicles for their political views.
In 1984, British designer and activist Katharine Hamnett showed up at 10 Downing Street wearing a T-shirt that said "58% DON'T WANT PERSHING" (a reference to stationing nuclear missiles in parts of Europe) -- much to the surprise of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who she was there to visit.
In 1977, Vivienne Westwood designed, sold and wore a T-shirt emblazoned with swastika and an inverted image of Christ on the cross, supposedly as a protest against the establishment.
"(We) were just saying to the older generation, 'We don't accept your values or your taboos, and you're all fascists,'" Westwood told Time magazine
"Westwood really understood that interesting fashion statements come from the streets and from the body politic, not from the designers," Tynan said.
With her Autumn-Winter 2017 menswear collection, shown last month in London, the designer took aim at what she called the "rot in political systems" sending models onto the runway in deliberately torn garments, hinting at a dystopian future.
"Bad politicians are all the same. They are the ones who always get into power. We want people power and democratic rule," Westwood told CNN at the show.
In a more delicate move, Raf Simons used David Bowie's "This Is Not America" to soundtrack his Americana-inspired collection at Calvin Klein earlier this month.
"Yes, I think (fashion) can be a form of resistance," Simons told GQ
in the lead-up to show, his first for the brand. "But no more than any other person taking a position or speaking up."
Expressions of pride
Last September, Delhi-born, London-based designer Ashish Gupta seemed to take a cue from Hamnett when, after showing a luxurious collection that celebrated Indian culture and craftsmanship and contemporary sportswear, he took his bow in a T-shirt emblazoned with a single word: "IMMIGRANT."
"I was so angry about Brexit and the hate crimes that have happened since then against minorities," he said in an interview with Teen Vogue
after the show. "I felt like it was so important this season to demonstrate how much richer we are as a multicultural society, and how immigration is so misunderstood and maligned."
Ahead of his follow-up collection, Gupta is optimistic about fashion's political power.
"Silence is no longer an option. If fashion speaks loud enough, then policy can change," he told CNN in an email. "I find hope in the thought that art usually becomes a voice of dissent in times like this."