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Is 2017 the Year of Political Fashion Statements?

February 19, 2017 5 min read

The volatile political atmosphere is already so deeply steeped into 2017 that it has inspired the spirit of protest to make it onto the runways of many designers during this season's fashion weeks. In the eye of history, looking back at this period of time could potentially give us insight into the way political fashion statements have been a way to unite individuals and to make a stand for different movements. There's a lot to say about the way designers have woven political statements into their shows and how the fashion choices of celebs has impacted the turmoil. Some choose to participate in movements of resistance while others demonstrate their own resistance to the current political "counter-culture," which we saw with Joy Villa's Pro-Trump MAGA dress at the 2017 Grammys.

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Many people believe that anyone with a platform that reaches a wide audience has a duty to spread awareness of important causes (or, at least, the ones they personally support). And that's exactly what has been appearing over and over again this season, leading many to join in solidarity and proudly sport the same statement clothing.

Political Fashion Statements: are designers real allies?

One question that has been buzzing in the minds of many is whether or not these designers are simply edging in on a social trend for their own profit. It's difficult to definitively say whether or not this is true when designers like Jeremy Scott have emblazoned their collections with pro-feminist statements and the phone numbers of every US state representative so that people may be inspired to call in and speak up. And it can at least be said that the fashion world does have a business-oriented stake in the way events will play out worldwide, as Racked reviewed in their article, "Trump's Presidency Could Change the Way You Shop." Though the situation is complex, the direct reactions that fashion designers are showcasing make it clear that they are concerned and want more people to support their causes. Ever since the Women's March on Washington (and other sister protests), the #IStandWithPP movement has gained traction– and this showed up in a major way on the runways.
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Divisive to some, the designers supporting these campaigns are overwhelmingly working towards a more united United States. Feminism focuses on ensuring that women and men achieve equality and that men don't have to suffer from social constructs that pressure them as well. Designers standing with Planned Parenthood are pushing towards expanded and protected women's healthcare rights. And including models like Ashley Graham in the Michael Kors show and Halima Aden in the Yeezy Season 5 show, who represent diverse women physically, spiritually, and ethnically, is a push towards stronger inclusivity and diversity on and off runways. If you noticed a white bandana adorning the wrist of designers, celebs, and models alike, you have witnessed part of the #TiedTogether campaign. Focusing on unity over all, these participating designers hoped to remind audiences that everyone is bonded together regardless of race, citizenship, sexuality, religion, and gender. Though some designers are choosing to make bigger statements with plain shirts featuring bold font, campaigns like #TiedTogether make joining in more accessible. However, the question still remains if these political fashion statements, like putting on a bandana or safety pin, are really motivating those same people to make calls or donations to make change actually happen. In smaller ways, we've seen designers like Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen speaking up through their brand, The Row, with sweet and simple stitched-in messages like "hope" and "unity" in their Fall 2017 shows.  

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Even the ultra-mainstream brand, Nike, has taken stance with their Equality campaign that aims to be a uniting factor that underlines the motto: "Worth Outshines Color." Similarly, Barneys New York has been unapologetically progressive with their #GirlPossible and #WeWillBe campaigns to support the success of women in their endeavors.

Designers are Advocating for Inclusivity

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It's interesting to note, though, that the fashion weeks so far have been focused on feminist and other unity movements, with only a small number of designers making mention of disabled or native rights even during times of large-scale protests against the North Dakota Access Pipeline. The divided nature of the fashion week movements could also bring suspicion and scrutiny to their movements, as fashion campaigns in favor of Black Lives Matter, LGBTQA+, disabled, and native rights were few and far between. Even in the face of progressive movement within the fashion world, it's still clear that more care should be taken to equally represent and fight for groups that are often overlooked systemically. However, some designers are taking more action that just designing clothing with popular protest slogans; some, like Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano, are donating parts of their proceeds to organizations like the A.C.L.U and Planned Parenthood. In these cases, it's excellent to see the actual positive repercussions of fashion tackling politics– with money going to organizations who are very much in need.
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So what are we to make of this back-and-forth? Political fashion statements are nothing new. Fashion has always been a medium for political discourse, visible even with the flapper movement in the 1920's, when women shunned traditional cultural roles and dress for women. Today, companies are stepping out of their typical boundaries and making political statements of their own, which is atypical for businesses since it risks alienating potential-buyers. Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, TJ Maxx, and Marshall are at the center of some current controversy for pulling Ivanka Trump's clothing line just a few weeks ago. Though these companies stated that Ivanka's lines were pulled due to poor selling performance, some insist that it was a calculated political move and are reacting with protests (or celebratory shopping sprees, like Chelsea Handler).
We're only a few months into 2017 and it's clear that this movement of resistance is going to be sticking around for a while, with more fashion weeks lined up in Milan and Paris and as protests are being scheduled by concerned citizens. We predict a continuation of the political statement influx from the fashion world, at least for the time being. What do you think?   Feature Image Courtesy of Cody Williams via Flickr

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