Rebels on the Runway
September 24, 2019
Since the 2016 presidential election, fashion has experienced a dramatic shift, changing the face of runways from Milan to New York. Fashion Week is no longer just a time to ogle expensive, bizarre clothing average people would never wear in public — now designers use the runway to broadcast political messages, raising awareness by stating their views through white shirts, bold, black letters and pink hats.
While designers have, in the past, used fashion to communicate political ideas, like Vivienne Westwood, who has protested climate change through her clothes since 2005, the 2016 elections triggered a sharp increase in politically-inspired fashion. Maria Grazia Chirui, the creative director of Christian Dior and one of the first to make a statement in reaction to the latest presidency, debuted her “We Should All Be Feminists” shirts during September 2016 Fashion Week, according to Vogue. She launched a trend that caught on during February 2017 shows, and runways saw an explosion in the number of political messages: “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” “I am an immigrant” and “This is what a feminist looks like” shirts from Prabal Gurung; “People are People,” from Christian Siriano; and “F*** Your Wall” underwear from LRS Studios.
“It’s important that [these issues] are being addressed in a mainstream way…because everyone pays attention to fashion,” sophomore Brighton Brown said.
And it’s true — after the finale of the February 2017 Angela Missoni show, when 40 models strutted down the runway in pink hats the shape of cat ears, the symbol of protest created for the January 2017 Women’s March, a larger conversation about feminism ensued.
Now, a Google search for keywords “pink hats politics runway” yields over 100 million results, its own Wikipedia page and countless thinktank pieces about women’s rights and equality. Missoni went on to donate some of the proceeds from the show to the American Civil Liberties Union and the UN Refugee Agency. In another show, models for the label Public School strutted down the runway in “Make America New York” hats, causing controversy for its targeted revision of Trump’s 2016 “Make America Great Again” slogan. By doing so, however, Public School also expanded the discussion.
Political-inspired attire has evidently spread beyond the runway and fashion world and into everyday life, raising awareness, the ultimate goal. At Palmetto, Brown herself plays a part by bringing fashion and politics to high school: the day of her interview, she wore a “Babes Against Bigots” shirt. In 2019, fashion is no longer just about aesthetic appeal. It’s about making a statement and starting a conversation.