Fashion’s everlasting role in social movements

Emma Defot, Staff Writer

The late 20th century is known for its various distinct styles of fashion, spanning across decades of trends. High waisted trousers, denim jackets and bright colors are staples of iconic ‘80s fashion, contrasting Y2K trends like low-rise jeans and colorful tank tops. Fashion has changed in many ways over the years for many reasons but often overlooked is the impact of social movements on these trends. For example, the feminist movement during the ‘50s and ‘60s led to the introduction of the mini skirt, signifying women’s independence and strife in reshaping societal views regarding their roles by rebelling against traditional expectations that women wear modest, floor-length skirts. This is only one of many instances in which fashion has made a statement about societal issues and started a revolution.

During the African American Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, activist groups found numerous ways to protest white supremacy and showcase Black pride. Among them, the movement integrated elements of fashion, which can be seen with the formation and effects of the Black Panthers Party. The uniform of choice for the Party was all-black attire, wearing items such as black leather jackets, black berets and dark sunglasses. As more women joined the Party, they started wearing their hair naturally in Afros, redefining contemporary beauty standards dominated by white women of the time. The use of fashion in the movement allowed for greater Black Influence in American society and accessibility to support the movement.

The rise of punk subculture ushered another prominent period of fashion, originating in the United Kingdom during the ‘70s. The punk movement itself represented nonconformity, rebellion and anti-capitalist beliefs, defying traditional standards of family and gender. Punk fashion expressed these rebellious ideas and a “do-it-yourself” attitude through clothing, seen in ripped graphic t-shirts and denim, statement hairstyles, metal spiked jewelry, heavy eyeliner and lots of leather. Punk culture was known for its vulgarity and aggressive nature, a reaction to the hippie culture of the 60s. Punks disliked the hippies’ “love and peace” attitude towards social change, as they saw no real action had been taken through this approach.

Social movements throughout history have relied on fashion to send messages about injustice and inequality Fashion has been popularized in these movements because it can be a symbol of struggle and can advocate change in a way that is easy for anyone to join. The more mainstream a movement’s fashion became, the more support and coverage was brought to their cause. This is clear even with contemporary social movements, such as Black Lives Matter which took inspiration from the aforementioned African American Civil Rights Movement. The reemergence of Black Culture in fashion allowed for empowerment for Black people in America against racism and discrimination. Based on these trends of the past, social movements may be relevant to the fashion of the future.