If you are a fashion enthusiast, chances are you have somehow shown at least some interest in politics. Although most people think that the two fields are unrelated, it is closer than one might think. From Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress at the 2010 Video Music Awards (VMA) to Billy Porter’s tuxedo gown at the 2019 Oscars, people have been using fashion to express their views and beliefs regarding major issues in the world of politics.
Fashion has played a major role in politics as early as the 18th century when silks were vital in the series of wars between the British and the French. The British felt that the silk industry in the two empires were in constant competition, so they lobbied against free trade and blamed the French’s silk industry when it comes to market swings, hoping to hinder the progress of French silk makers.
However, British silk industry came to prominence in the middle of the century when they created beautiful silk designs that were different than the traditional designs of the French. This have added more “power” to the British empire, and employment in the silk industry increased as a result.
Additionally, the silk industry in the British empire received political praise because of the diversity in their labor. In France, only men were permitted to be designers. British silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite was praised not only because she designed beautiful silks compared to the Frenchmen, but because she was a woman – this was one of the earliest examples of how fashion and gender influenced politics.
In the 21st century, fashion has not only influenced politics, but been used as one of the main mediums for raising political awareness. The calls for increasing sustainability within industries have been a political conversation for years now, but the fashion industry has begun making these changes since 2001.
While some fashion designers still firmly believe that materials such as exotic leathers and furs provide their customers with the idea of exclusivity, fashion houses such as Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, and Rag & Bone believe otherwise. These brands have managed to provide luxury without the additional toll on the environment by being sustainable in the production of their products.
Stella McCartney refuses to use fur and leather in its designs and has increased its use of organic cotton, ethically sourced wool and recycled textiles. Vivienne Westwood has used her well-known brand as a platform to increase the awareness of climate change by presenting various protest collections with strong messages like “Climate Revolution.” Denim-focused fashion house Rag & Bone partnered up with Cotton Inc’s Blue Jeans Go Green in 2017 to start a denim recycling program that allowed its customers to receive a 20% discount on full price jeans if they brought their old jeans to the store to be recycled.
In Maria Grazia Chiuri’s spring 2020 collection for Christian Dior, the creative director of the brand did a collection entirely based on the idea of “women empowerment” to increase the awareness of feminism. Powerful slogans such as “What If Women Ruled the World” and “DIO(R) EVOLUTION” were displayed on the runway and some of the clothing pieces worn by the models.
This fashion show has shattered people’s perception of association the word “odd” or “strange” when it comes to the idea of women rights and femininity. In an interview with former Victoria’s Secret model, Doutzen Kroes, Chiuri said, “Dior is close with femininity and whenever I am in Dior immediately, I understood how big our platform is [because] Dior is very well-known around the world. And I think it’s very important to share this platform with other women.”
Fashion has played a role in issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement as well. Fashion designers all over the world have shown support for this movement and helped increase awareness of this issue on social media by posting pictures of a black backgrounds to honor the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and 162 other Black people that were shot by U.S. police within eight months in the year 2020.
Contrarily, fashion brands such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and H&M have been criticized and received boycotts from consumers due to past designs which some said amplified racism. These issues have somewhat fallen out of public consciousness, but the gravity of those actions still lives in the mind of some people, especially people of color.
Michael Kors just released his “YOUR VOICE MATTERS” campaign in early September in conjunction with next week’s presidential election. Michael Kors decided to use his platform to increase public awareness by creating designs with slogans such as “VOTE” and “YOUR VOICE MATTERS” can be seen on every clothing pieces in the collection.
Even though people in the fashion industry tend to be more liberal, fashion has impacted politics in many different ways and future political issues will inspire the fashion industry and consumers to take action.