A not so fashion-conscious intellectual once said: “style is knowing who you are, symptoms what you want to say and not giving a damn.”
Throughout the last century, fashion has been used not only as a medium of self-expression but to convey political ideologies. Cultural, social and political factors help influence fashion and visa versa. Designers have used their collections at fashion week to spark a political conversation as well as to attract attention and the headlines. Sometimes it’s the stage that strikes the conversation (Chanel SS15, designed as to depict a feminist revolt on the Parisian streets), and other times it’s the models that are used as the canvas for freedom of creation and expression (Pyer Moss AW16, models carried signs with “My Demons Won Today I’m Sorry”). Statement T-shirts have been a trend for seasons, some with more substantial meaning than others. But designers are now taken the issues that people face; racism, homophobia and religious persecution into their own hands by confronting the issue in a shameless manner.
There are two specific acts of fashion activism that have stood out in the last year. Both have taken the stigma out of the issues and forced them into the public eye. Their designs are simple and their impact is instant. This is to not cloud the issues in patterns and passive conversation. Particularly, I am focusing on are the “Repeal” jumper seen in abundance throughout the streets of Dublin, and the “Immigrant” T-shirt designed and donned by Ashish Gupta an Indian-British designer.
Ashish Gupta used the Spring/Summer 17 London fashion week to make a colossal socio-political statement. His collection for SS17 was an intermingling of both British and Indian culture, a mixture of sportswear and saris, collared shirts and beaded skirts. But it wasn’t until the end of the show when Gupta took his bow that the message was laid out pretty clear. “IMMIGRANT” in giant black letters across Gupta’s T-shirt provoked the conversation about the stigma immigrants face in the wake of Brexit. Race-crimes had been on the rise since the announcement of the referendum on Brexit. What Gupta wanted to make clear was that immigrants had a major role to play not only in the fashion industry but in wider British society. Being an immigrant is not something to hide or be ashamed of, in fact it is something to wear with pride, literally.
Across the Irish Sea the “Repeal” jumpers were made available through the partnership of activist Anna Cosgrave and the Abortion Rights Campaign. The “Repeal” is in relation to the 8th Amendment in the Irish Law that constitutes a ban on abortion by giving explicit recognition to the right of life of an unborn child. What the “Repeal” jumpers did was force the topic into the conversation and allow a platform for the discussion to be opened There have been demonstrations across the capital and all around Ireland for free, safe and legal abortion for the women of Ireland.
Politics and culture have influenced fashion trends season after season and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. The jumpers have become wildly popular since its launch and support only seems to be growing.
Fashion has helped with the open discussion of many social injustices, ranging from feminism to racism and although this may seem like a fashion trend, it truly is a fashion statement.
Written by Niamh Cavanagh