The act of resistance can be shown in many ways, in which art can be utilized as a way of expressing concerns of disapproval and the need for justice. When looking at wearable art, protesting as fashion activism has been a successful method in enacting change all over the world. Here are a few of these protest fashion styles that we still see today.
Political Slogan T-Shirts
Of the popular protest fashion styles out there, the one that remains the most effective and trendy are political slogan T-shirts. It is believed that British designers were the original and notable pioneers of this trend, with fashion creators such as Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett being recognized for this political fad. It was Hamnett, however, who took things to another level. According to The Guardian, the designer took the opportunity to let then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher know how people felt about her administration by wearing a shirt that read “58% Don’t Want Pershing”; the quote came from a popular European poll against the basing of Pershing missiles in the U.K. The unified and familiar sentiment became more than a poll, but also a Kodak moment for the world to remember.
Today, major fashion designers and fast fashion fuse politics and fashion on the runway and online. With the world increasingly becoming politicized, the market for fashion activism has been on the rise as the accessibility of witnessing injustices and critiquing historical mistreatment can be found all over social media. People have become fashion entrepreneurs at home, producing creative, political merchandise to protest issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the world today. Protest fashion styles via T-shirts will never go away.
Sustainable & Ethical Fashion: The Khadi Cloth
While Western brands such as Patagonia and Esprit are credited for being pioneers of sustainable clothes in the 80s, eco-friendly fashion can be attributed to Southeast Asia, specifically India in the early 1900s. During this time, social activist Mahatma Gandhi began The Khadi Movement. This was a campaign that helped restore the Indian economy by boycotting British goods and having local Indian villages make their own clothing using commodities found in the country, such as the handloom and khadi fabric. Not only did this help employ the people of India by being self-sufficient and independent from Britain, but it also left less of a carbon footprint by taking the time to spin khadi fabric by hand and not use machinery to make clothes. These were humble beginnings and early examples of both sustainable and ethical clothing as a protest fashion style.
With talks of unethical practices in fast fashion and discussions of climate change, many people are trying to be more self-reliant and as sustainable as they can with fashion. This is a way of keeping the environment clean, saving money, and protesting the exploitation of workers on the other side of the globe. There are numerous sustainable fashion brands in 2020, including brands like Komodo and Avocado, that use sustainable resources as a route in creating protest fashion styles. Some people are even resorting to weaving and spinning their own clothes, even following Gandhi’s philosophy by picking up fabrics and create clothes from khadi to make their own fashion styles.
A protest fashion style for a true rebel has to be the black beret. Military personnel has always worn berets as a historical distinctive hat throughout the ages. While many national leaders in history wore a beret once or twice, most of them didn’t were it as often as public figure Che Guevara. Guevara was a Marxist revolutionary and physician of Argentine descent who was famously known to be against imperialism and capitalism, and one of the faces of the revolt of Batista’s rule in Cuba. The revolutionary would always make sure to wear a black beret when speaking out against Batista, making the fashion accessory his signature look and symbol of rebellion.
The protest fashion style Guevara popularized was also adopted by Black Americans several years later, specifically by members of the empowerment group the Black Panthers. Wearing the hat was a stylish way of denouncing white supremacy to unify Black people and Black communities in the U.S. It was a way to set themselves apart from the U.S. military who wore green berets and a militaristic way of operating as a group. Today, we see berets as a rebellious and chic fashion statement worn by all, gracing runways everywhere, and even having berets be named after Che Guevera himself.
The keffiyeh is a traditional scarf worn by many Middle Eastern men and women everywhere–varying in color and style from country to country. The Palestinian keffiyeh, in particular, is a black-and-white checkered scarf, historically linked to the honor and the ranking of Sumerian priests in Mesopotamia. The popularity of the scarf for Palestinians, however, was due to the 1936 Arab Revolt, where Palestinian rebels used the scarf to conceal their faces to escape arrest in the British ruled Palestine. The scarf was utilized again in two other national uprisings that followed the revolt, making the keffiyeh a protest fashion symbol.
The keffiyeh is still being worn today as a strong symbol of Palestinian identity. Moreover, it holds a great significance to citizens and is fashioned by many as a cloth of solidarity for Palestinians. The scarf is also used as a nursing cover, a table cloth, chair cover, curtain, and hijab (head covering) for Muslim women. Of the protest fashion styles, this one has also been used by fashion designers that have been ridiculed for culturally appropriating the fabric. The keffiyeh’s emblematic message has also been celebrated with the Solidarity of Human Rights dedicating May 11th as World Keffiyeh Day.