Politics holds heavy weight when merged with fashion

Henry Trimble

Fashion can’t escape the grip of politics. For a long time now there has been an ever-changing relationship between the clothing people wear and the current political climate in the world, as it reflects their ideals or affiliation with an organization or belief. 

In the 80s, people would wear shirts featuring a picture of Che Guevara, the populist revolutionary. He was a symbol of resistance to U.S imperialism and capitalism. Wearing clothes that displayed his image telegraphed their admiration for him and his beliefs. 

Another example of protesters embracing clothing to convey what they are fighting for is after the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the more recent protests, where protesters donned the iconic image of the lone student standing in front of the tank. Today in Hong Kong, the all black outfit has become synonymous with the protesters and their defiance of authority. 

In 2017, after the Presidential elections in the U.S, Balenciaga released their fall collection. It featured many iconic pieces like the Triple S sneakers, but something that stood out a lot to people was a simple hoodie that said, “Balenciaga.” It was in the same format as Bernie Sanders’ campaign signs, and people began to speculate on why the Spanish fashion house was taking a stance on U.S. politics. It was largely brushed off as just a pop culture reference used in clothing; however, Bernie Sanders supporters used this hoodie as an alternative way to represent themselves and their ideas.  

Clothing solidifies how one identifies themselves, as well as helping to make a statement. Yet sometimes these messages can be construed and lost over time, due to saturation or the item being co-opted by people with different or opposing views. This is evident in the case of the original Che Guevara shirt. Originally, the design delivered a distinct remark that whoever wore the shirt was a leftist and anti-capitalist. However, all of its revolutionary meaning was lost in rampant Western consumerism, as these shirts were sold in fast fashion stores all across the country and became ubiquitous in every suburb.

It’s also crucial to remind fashionistas to watch out for ongoing social and political situations, since a fashion design that went astray in time is certain to lose its original meaning. Raf Simons’ iconic 2001 Fall/Winter collection, most known for the bomber jackets, was released with heavy inspiration from his time spent at marketplaces in Vienna. There, he saw Eastern European teenagers layering and draping fabrics and blankets all over themselves and their faces. This resulted in hyper-stylized Eastern European urban radicals being portrayed by the runway models. A couple months after this collection’s reveal however, the Twin Towers were destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attack, and thus a new paranoia in the U.S about anything Middle Eastern. Unfortunately, a lot of the models in Simon’s collection wore drapey clothes over their face and this look was quickly associated with that of a terrorist. This was enough to call for a major re-examination of the collection, with unfair labels being placed on the designer. People were prompted to believe he was sympathizing with terrorist organizations or pushing for an anti-U.S narrative. 

Fashion can send a political message, but fashion changes and so do politics. It is not a static space and you should be aware that what you wear, no matter how mindlessly it was put together, can communicate something. And if you hold onto that clothing long enough, be careful… because that message could change.