Fashion's role in the game of politics

In today’s current political climate, there is much discourse and even more opinion. Tom Ford notoriously rejected the notion of dressing First Lady Melania Trump. Though his rationale had more reckoning than a resolute political stance, the others who followed him vehemently rejected the task as well, refusing to align themselves with President Donald Trump’s outlandish rhetoric.  Seen as taboo, scathing remarks are often the subsequent response to those who choose to break the invisible barriers. Scrutiny has lingered around the notion of members within the fashion industry involving themselves in political discourse for just about as long as they’ve been outspoken on the topic. However, politics in fashion, and fashion in politics, has a long and complex history. Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 1995 “Highland Rape” remains one of the most controversial fashion shows to date with his abrupt, yet poignant, take on the discussion of femininity and British ancestry. Vivienne Westwood has long been touted as the chief of political protests amongst the fashion realm, ranging from the topic of Scottish independence to gender norms. But, beyond the fashion shows is what fashion has represented in the political sphere.  From the time of Marie Antoinette, to Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, fashion has always had a voice in politics.

Though the most recent and, arguably, the most notorious fashion-meets-politico moment was the FLOTUS debacle, the last year has seen a steady rise in utilising fashion as a political platform. Think Beyonce at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show last year—her backup dancers were adorned with outfits that paid homage to the Black Panthers, to a song that has largely become the anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. As crass as many people claimed them to be, take a minute to reflect upon the "vagina hats" worn by thousands of women at the Women’s March on Washington in direct response to the vulgarity of Donald Trump’s "pussygate" tape, and to protest the conservative agenda of the current political party on women’s rights. At face value, the stark contrast of these two issues couldn’t be more pronounced, but ultimately, the most visible line of communication in a world filled with white noise, is our closets.

The role of First Lady has always been a particularly admirable, yet unenviable job in so much that beyond their respective contributions to society, their sartorial choices are left open for endless scrutiny. First ladies have always used their attire as a way of expressing themselves, and in this particular way, Melania Trump is no different from those that preceded her. The way in which she digresses largely from the traditional trajectory of a first lady however is that clothes are merely a costume to which she can be most advantageous. Her decision to emulate the late first lady, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, at the presidential inauguration was an overt attempt to obtain the same reverence as someone who remains iconic and immortal.  

Beyond the direct impact left by the clothing choices of the political class are those of the general public, most recently pressed to accommodate religious doctrines. The Arab community and the role it has played in the world of fashion has been two-fold, due to the simultaneous wealth of the region and the staunch religious beliefs of its communities. The level of affluence maintains a level of influence on luxury brands and goods they develop. But, the clash last summer over the burkini unlocked a debate between religious freedom and female empowerment, while exposing fraught tensions regarding the acceptance of religious differences amongst society. Catering to the market is by no means a new business strategy, and yet companies ranging from high-street to luxury retailers have received backlash for doing just that. When companies began to develop high-fashion hijabs and full-body swimsuits, they were accused of doing so for their own benefit.

With the rise of technology and the unprecedented access to information—or now, rather, pseudo-information vis-à-vis "fake news"—and our exposure to the dangers of extremism in politics—due to trigger finger man-babies as heads of the new world order—there is an omnipresent sentiment of responsibility to stand up for what you believe in. The polarisation of the media demonstrated throughout the latest US presidential election propagated divisiveness in the country. In turn, this has created a barricade between one political party and its respective supporters to the next, leaving the utilisation of how we dress as a platform to voice political standpoints the next best option. As illustrated in moments throughout history, clothes, though often overlooked as a frivolous matter, have been poignant in the messages for change and revolution.  Whether through a hemline, a pantsuit colour, or an emblazoned t-shirt, each has contributed to the positive disruption of politics. Fashion is art, and art has traditionally been a medium of expression, which leaves us with no other conclusion that fashion was meant to be, and remain, a powerful political platform.