The 5 Most Powerful Fashion Statements In Protest History

by: Rosie Dalton | 1 year ago | Features

What began as the Women’s March on Washington last weekend soon spread to include cities all around the world, where sister marches united people from all different backgrounds under the same message of women’s rights and gender equality. Staged on the first full day of Donald Trump’s presidency, it was a heartening display of sisterhood in the face of some fairly devastating threats against women under this new administration.

As the pink pussy hat trend began to catch on — referencing POTUS’ ‘grab them by the pussy’ remarks — it quickly became clear that fashion can be a very powerful conduit for protest as well. Yes placards are great, but a hand-knitted ‘pussy’ hat is pretty damn effective, too. And there’s something about the solidarity of several people wearing them at once that really sends a strong message.

In light of that then, we’re looking back at some of the most powerful fashion statements in protest history, whereby brands or designers have thrown themselves behind a particular cause and enabled we the people to wear clothing that truly means something. Just think less Karl Lagerfeld’s faux protest for his SS15 Chanel presentation here and more sartorial anarchy in the spirit of the 1970s punks. If you’ve got something important to say, then fashion might just be the way to do it.

1) Vivienne Westwood’s climate revolution

Image: Vivienne Westwood protesting at the Paralympic Games in London. Image source.

It’s pretty common knowledge now that Dame Vivienne Westwood is an avid campaigner for the environment. But when she first launched her Climate Revolution campaign in 2012, it was nothing short of spectacular. Listed on the bill for the Paralympics closing ceremony, the designer deliberately skipped dress rehearsal that day — only to appear at the event dressed as an eco-warrior atop her float. Revealing a giant ‘Climate Revolution’ banner, she was dressed in sheer tights over bloomers and a slogan tee reiterating her message. In other words, she was impossible to miss (and so was her cause).

2) Katharine Hamnett’s slogan T-shirts

Image: Katharine Hamnett meets with Margaret Thatcher. Image source.

The protest space has been enamoured with slogan T-shirts for quite some time now. Simple yet effective, these are like the clothing equivalent of the perfect placard. But if it hadn’t been for Katharine Hamnett, we may never have had these glorious emblems of protest history. In 1984, for example, the designer wore one of her own slogan tees to meet then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street. ‘58% Don’t Want Pershing’ the garment proclaimed, in response to governmental plans to base US missiles in Britain. And this is an image (and a concept) that has been widely circulated ever since.

3) McQueen’s Highland Rape collection

Image: from McQueen’s AW95 collection. Image source.

Alexander McQueen was never afraid to speak his mind as a designer; so often his clothing also had a spirit of protest about them. For the designer’s AW95, for example, the presentation was staged in protest of domestic violence against women. Deeply affected by the abuse his sister endured in her relationship, it was an issue very close to his heart. So taking a bold stance to rally against this then, the designer referenced the “ethnic cleansing” rapes committed by the British army in the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th centuries. Models were depicted looking battered and bruised, with torn clothing hanging from their bodies — in what turned out to be a largely misunderstood and thus controversial move at the time. As with many great visionaries though, it was only really in retrospect that people were able to appreciate the political message at the core of the clothing.

4) Walter Van Beirendonck’s anti-terrorism statement

Image: from Walter Van Beirendonck AW15. Image source.

Walter Van Beirendonck is one of those designers that have followed in the footsteps of Katharine Hamnett, designing political statements that you can wear on your sleeve. But rather than being so built into the garments, the Belgian designer’s tack was to make his anti-terrorism signs really jump out at you. This was in response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings and saw models stomp the AW15 runway wearing clear tanks with explicit directives emblazoned across them, such as: “Stop Terrorising Our World”.

5) PETA’s We’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur campaign

Image: from PETA’s We’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur. Image source.

Sometimes the best fashion statement is a lack of fashion altogether. With this in mind, PETA revolutionised the protest space in the early nineties when the organisation first released its anti-fur campaign full of stark naked models. Under the banner ‘We’d rather go naked than wear fur,’ supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington stripped down to take a stand on PETA’s behalf. Which was incredibly powerful, because although some of the ladies sadly reneged on their pledge down the line, many high profile brands like Armani have now committed to going fur-free.

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