Today was the British general election. As I cast my vote and had my say in who I want to be running my local area, and, ultimately, the country, I began thinking about the relationship between politics and fashion. The result being a slightly different post today. I wanted to explore just how the two can intertwine without us even realising.
There is a social scepticism of how well fashion and politics mix. Fashion to the politico is often seen as being for the vain, the superficial. However, this is a severe underestimation of the power fashion has on our society. Fashion is a statement of who you are, where you are going and what you believe in. And if I am not very much mistaken aren’t these the same values that underpin politics? After all didn’t the youth popular culture movement’s of the 1950’s onwards define themselves by not just what they did and the music they listened to, but what they wore?
We make statements everyday by what we wear. However, there are also times when clothes have been used and design houses sprung into action to make a deliberate statement of political belief. I have pulled together a selection of noticeable moments where fashion and politics became intertwined and were designed specifically to make a statement through what we wear about what we believe …
Peta campaign, 1994 – “We’d rather go naked than wear fur”
The charity Peta’s (People’s Association for the Treatment of Animals) 1994 poster campaign is one of the most memorable moments when fashion has been used to express a political/social belief. Involving a whole host of super models, and with its evocative imagery this campaign really stuck in people’s minds.
AW95 Alexander McQueen – ‘Highland Rape’
This controversial catwalk show by Alexander McQueen for his AW95 collection was designed specifically to provoke thought about how society views and treats women. The torn clothes, haunting make up and distressed/disoriented looks on the models’ faces, exacerbated by the bruised, battered make-up, was designed to shock and make you think about how women and their bodies were viewed.
There was an additional message in this, one that came to the fore again last year with the Scottish Independence Referendum; McQueen used the combination of these graphic designs and tartan print to symbolise the ‘raping’ of Scotland by England. The use of tartan to symbolise national identity and a Scottish desire to break free from England has been seen more recently in the shoes the current Scottish National Party (SNP) party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, chose to wear for the ‘challengers’ leaders debate this electoral campaign.
It would seem that even politicians themselves are cottoning on to the power of fashion to make a political statement …
2014 – ‘This is what a feminist looks like’
Whilst the ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ campaign was, admittedly, ill-fated, it does, however, prove that politicians are recognising the power of clothes to make a statement. The British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, were both seen sporting the shirts. Whilst the Prime Minister, David Cameron, received a lot of media abuse for refusing to do so. This simple piece of clothing created a huge media buzz and generated support for feminism despite its infamous ending (the shirts turned out to have been made in sweatshops – which tells us that a campaign shouldn’t be marketed as something so pure without doing it’s research – lesson learnt I hope).
Paris AW15 Fashion Week – Walter Van Beirendonch – ‘Stop terrorising our world’
Following the attacks on the Parisian cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, designer Walter Van Beirendonch had models walking in his show with defiant messages emblazoned across them, such as ‘Stop terrorising our world’. He contrasted this with other models wearing the slogans: “Warning: Explicit Beauty” and “Demand Beauty”, and the Egyptian style eye make-up of the models. The aim being to show that despite the ugliness of the world there are still some beautiful aspects.
Paris SS15 Fashion Week – Chanel’s feminist riot
At the SS15 Paris Fashion Week Karl Lagerfeld staged a feminist protest in what was one of the most openly political fashion shows of all time. Led by Cara Delevingne the Chanel models walked down the ‘rue de Chanel’ brandishing signs with political statements on such as ‘Feminist but Feminine’. This caused a huge stir in the fashion world and consequentially the messages were branded across newspapers and magazines around the world – now how is this not a powerful message that has the power to reach people not traditionally engaged with or interested in politics?
These are just a few choice examples of how fashion has been used to transmit a political message, and ultimately even influence policy by drawing attention to an issue. The message here is that fashion is not just a superficial industry, there’s a lot more to it than beautiful clothes, shoes, and bags. And with the power of the media, especially social media, on the up this will surely only grow.
I hope this has provoked a few thoughts in your mind about what fashion is in a wider sense, enjoy it and use it to show who you are and what you believe.It is, as Alexander McQueen famously said, a way to empower women (and men). If you do want to read a bit more on this subject then I thoroughly recommend this article from the Newstatesman.