Fashion, Venue

Fashion and feminism: #whywewearblack

This month’s Golden Globes ceremony saw actors sartorially united in black, a statement against the sexual abuse which has until recently been the elephant in Hollywood. Time’s Up, actresses said as they accepted and gave awards. In years to come, red carpet images will be clear marker that this was the year of allegations and revelations of the film industry’s abuse of power. The fallout from these events will be a hard stain to remove from Hollywood’s history,  and rightly so.

Sometimes, admittedly, sartorial statements are more superficial than effective. (A $250 “eat the rich” T-shirt, anyone?) Some of the individuals who walked the Golden Globes’ carpet dressed in black have also refused to speak out against Woody Allen or condemn other peers who have abused women or are known to have made misogynistic remarks. Many asked whether, if paired with a lack of addressing assault at a daily level, black clothes were meaningless.

Writing in Prospect, Johanna Thomas-Corr praised the Golden Globes’ blackout for placing a principle “before froth, fantasia and designer name-dropping.” It symbolised grief, power, and dissent, she wrote. It could not be ignored.

Last year, millions of women took to the streets of cities across the world, to protest against a misogynist being inaugurated into the highest office of the United States. Pink “Pussy hats” appeared regularly in shots of crowds snaking along the demonstration routes for Women’s Marches. The sellers of the Pussyhat, now trademarked of course, say the hat is “a symbol of support and solidarity for women’s rights and political resistance.”

In 1984, the designer Katharine Hamnett was pictured shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with a slogan-tee opposing the stationing of nuclear missiles in the country. The image of the pair, with Hamnett in a huge white T-shirt emblazoned with the words “58% Are Opposed to Perishing” was the most widely-published image of the year.

The slogan-tee has survived the test of time, with the rails of H&M packed with ‘the future is female’ and ‘feminism’ slogans. The hypocrisy of some retailers has not escaped attention, however: the 2015 general election campaign saw Ed Miliband and other politicians lambasted for wearing grey ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirts allegedly made by migrant women paid less than a pound an hour.

Sartorial statements can easily slip from effective to performative. Nonetheless, throughout history men and women have used their clothes to make political statements. The fashion writer Hettie Judah, writing for Art Net News, concluded that wearing a political statement, allows “the body itself to become the site of protest and symbol of solidarity, to be visible and counted when others perhaps would prefer you not to be.”


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May 2021
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