The 2018 Golden Globes red carpet was a sea of black cloth. Save a tiny handful of attendees, everyone was dressed head-to-toe in black to support the Time’s Up movement, the goal of which is to raise money for and stand in solidarity with victims of sexual harassment across every industry. In response, E! Network decided that, rather than asking women which designers they were wearing, they would ask them the specific reason that they chose to wear black. This event was the perfect example of protest fashion: fashion not just for fashion’s sake, but instead fashion meant to spur a conversation about injustice.
Protest fashion has a long and storied history, but in recent years, it has become a trend, from marches in the streets to the floors of the senate to high school proms to runways during fashion week. The 2017 and 2018 women’s marches were flooded with pink pussy hats, worn to clap back at Donald Trump for his infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” quote.
After a female reporter was stopped from entering an area outside the House Chamber in July 2017 because of her bare shoulders, congresswomen began to wear sleeveless outfits to challenge the antiquated dress code imposed on grown women. Shortly after, in Austin, Texas, young Mexican-American women stood on the steps of the state capitol building in their quinceanera dresses with sashes that read “No Hate” and “No SB4,” in reference to Senate Bill 4, which allows police officers to ask for proof of legal residency at any time.
Brands have also capitalized on protest fashion. Vaquera, a fashion label started in 2013 as a reaction to the lack of diversity in the current fashion scene, released a Handmaid’s Tale inspired collection and runway show, using fashion to reinterpret the Margaret Atwood novel and the recent Hulu series about a dystopian society in which fertile women are used as sex slaves. Furthermore, from a $25 Forever 21 shirt that reads “Feminist” to a $710 Dior white cotton tee shirt emblazoned with the words “We Should All Be Feminists,” retailers have certainly taken note of the ways in which they can capitalize on the political fashion trend.
This wave of protest fashion has certainly started conversations, but not all of them are complimentary. In response to the pussy hats worn at the women’s marches, the Facebook page for the march in Pensacola, Florida, posted the following status, which received over 1,200 shares: “The Pink P*ssy Hat reinforces the notion that woman = vagina and vagina = woman, and both of these are incorrect. Additionally, the Pink P*ssy Hat is white-focused and Eurocentric in that it assumes that all vaginas are pink; this is also an incorrect assertion.” Additionally, many thought that the black dress protest at the Golden Globes didn’t go far enough, as women still shouldered the burden of talking about these issues, while many men were, per usual, asked about their professional work. And after Dolce & Gabbana poked fun at the waves of protests sweeping the nation with a $245 shirt reading “#BoycottDolceandGabbana,” Atlanta-based musician Raury staged a protest while walking in the brand’s show and later said that the shirt made a mockery of boycotting, which actually has the power to change things.
Although some forms of protest fashion have been met with criticism, there is something to be said for those who choose to wear clothes that express what they see as an important message. Vogue’s chief critic, Sarah Mower, asked the question, “Can fashion be used as a valid form of protest?” Across the country, protesters and rebels are answering her with a resounding yes.