Should fashion statements be political statements?

Saturday 28 October, 12:0013:00, Garden RoomContemporary Controversies

Fashion today remains as popular as ever, and not just in the pages of Vogue and other fashion magazines and newspaper columns. The exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert museum, detailing everything from the work of designer Alexander McQueen to the history of undergarments, are sell outs. Notable YouTubers like Zoella and Bethany Mota have over 10 million subscribers and Instagram pages The Blonde Salad, Song of Style and Sincerely Jules attract millions of followers. It is easier now than ever for fashionistas to connect with trendsetters.

At the same time, fashion seems more closely associated with the politics of today. From the pink pussyhats worn at the Women’s March to ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirts, more people appear to be using their clothing as a platform to express their political opinions. Most notable, perhaps, was London Fashion Week encouraging models to wear anti-Trump armbands as they walked down the runway. Yet, even Trump supporters could counter by donning ‘Make America great again’ caps.

However, the industry has not avoided its own controversies. In February, Vogue was accused of the use of ‘yellow-face’ when white model Karlie Kloss posed as a geisha in their ‘diversity’ issue. There is an ongoing dispute about the industry’s attitude to body image through its use of zero size models amidst calls for more plus size models in shows. And the Ethical Fashion Movement claims that fashion should, above all else, work to eradicate poverty and protect the environment, championing the use of hemp in clothing. Fashion’s clumsy and often superficial attempts at being political have also been the object of much ridicule, for example in films like Zoolander and Brüno.

If fashion reflects the age in which it is created, what does fashion tell us about the world today? Should our clothing be used as a platform to fight for the political causes we believe in? Should the industry have a social conscience? Or is fashion an art form with the potential to push our imagination beyond our contemporary times? Should fashion be championed for its pursuit of the aesthetic? Are we defined by what we wear?