The clothes that shook the world

For centuries, clothing has been armour for those who feel alienated from the mainstream, whether because of their views, gender, class, race or sexuality. From the red ‘Liberty’ cap worn by the sans-culottes in the French Revolution, to the ripped denim and slogan T-shirts of the hippies, and the pink pussy hat of the Women’s March, clothing has been used by marginalised groups as a tool of resistance, and in order to be seen and heard by those in authority.

These are looks that have generally developed within popular movements, though in our politically tumultuous times they are increasingly appearing on the catwalk, inevitably leading to accusations of commodification. But a new exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, which explores the manifold ways in which fashion can exert power, suggests the relationship is not always so simple. Resistance clothing can be fashionable, and the runway can be an effective tool of protest.

“It’s always been in the interest of a movement to have a kind of visual cohesion,” says Emma McClendon, curator of Power Mode: The Force of Fashion, who cites the Suffragettes as an example. “They wore white to bring them together and provide a cohesive identity on marches.”

The white would often come in the form of a feminised version of the ultimate symbol of male civility, the suit. It was a sartorial demand for equality tempered by the purity of its colour, which emphasised that the women were still ideal citizens.

By Cath Pound, BBC

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