Fashion and politics have been intertwined for thousands of years. From the purple stripes that adorned the togas of Roman senators to the ‘BLM’ printed on political T-shirts today, fashion has been a way to express status, political opinions, and views on society. Who could forget Lady Gaga’s famous meat dress that she wore to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards to protests industrial meat production?
Still, fashion has been a way for people to make statements on all sides of the spectrum. Even the red MAGA hats today have become more than just a hat; they are a symbol. When you see someone donning the red hat you immediately know what their political affiliation is. The same goes for the BLM shirts, as the movement has become closely associated with left-wing politics.
Political fashion is in vogue right now, especially as the election draws nearer. Now is the time for celebrities and common folk alike to express their views through the clothes they wear. But can fashion really influence politics and culture?
What is Fashion?
Fashion is the popular aesthetic of an era that is deemed to be well-regarded by the society one is dressing in. As society changes, values and expression also change – and fashion changes with it. Even things like make-up and body proportions can be considered fashion.
Hundreds of years ago when most people were farmers and laborers, it was a symbol of status to be pale and overweight. This is because it meant that you did not have to work in the fields like everybody else. If you weren’t a laborer, it meant that you or your family were wealthy. Since wealth is a form of status, many people considered this look to be fashionable.
As industrialization happened and the labor industry moved indoors and food became more readily available, the trend reversed. Now it’s considered fashionable to be tan and skinny as it shows you go outside and have self-control over your diet. But even this is now changing as the body positivity movement is occurring, and people are being told that it’s okay to be a little overweight and that all bodies are beautiful.
Fashion is an ever-changing phenomenon that reflects the values of a society. As people are becoming more involved in politics, whether by just reading the news or engaging in online forums, fashion has become a medium for their political values.
How can Fashion be Political?
Some may argue that fashion is inherently political by its own nature. Even by choosing to not dress in a way that delineates your politics, you are making a statement. The style you choose to dress in often reflects your income level, your community, and who you choose to associate yourself with.
People who dress in camouflage in rural areas are likely to be right-leaning, while camouflage in urban areas is simply a trend that has separate connotations so it can be tricky to pin down. You have to consider the circumstances that one is dressing under to accurately evaluate the meaning behind their style.
While the camo example is a more subtle way that politics can tie into fashion, some examples are more direct. We’ve already mentioned the examples of MAGA hats and BLM shirts, two very opposite yet direct ways of expressing your political values.
Political fashion sometimes takes the shape of a uniform, like the black leather jackets and berets of the Black Panther movement. This combination of clothing has evolved to have a deeper meaning because of the values of the people who wear it. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the white hoods of Ku Klux Klan members, which are now a taboo and is associated with hatred and racism.
Even where you source your clothing can have political meaning. People who only buy clothes made in America are making a statement regarding their values of community, and may even be opposing the horrible labor conditions of sweatshops in developing countries. Those who buy from small, independent clothing purveyors are making a statement opposing the large clothing industry altogether.
Your clothes say a lot about who you are and what you believe in. Even if you aren’t intentionally trying to make a statement, your clothes will reflect a part of you and who you are.
How does Fashion Influence Politics and Culture?
The relationship between fashion, politics, and culture is a complex one because it is a two-way street. For example, celebrities may wear certain clothing that expresses their political beliefs in an effort to support candidates of their political leaning and may persuade their fans to do the same. If even a single vote is changed through this means, then fashion has influenced politics on some level.
On the other hand, politics may influence what you decide to wear as well. If you are a nationalist, you may choose to buy American clothing that fits in with American trends and styles. Likewise, people in Asian countries who want to resist the westernization of their culture may avoid American trends and choose to wear something more traditional that is more reflective of their native values.
Political fashion has always existed in some form, but now that people have access to all sorts of colors and materials it is trendier than ever. The color pink is almost inseparable from the LBGT movement, and so has the rainbow flag and colors.
If society began to embrace the color pink, would it still have the same meaning? Perhaps it is only because a marginalized demographic wears the color that it has the power it does. If everyone started wearing pink, it would either mean that society has accepted the values of the LGBT movement or that the color lost its affiliation with the movement.
We live in a consumer culture and fashion is a large part of it. A part of culture is fashion, so they cannot be pulled away from each other. As society changes, so too does the dressing that people wear, and sometimes people wear things in an attempt to make it change faster.