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Stephanie Nowak

November 21, 2011

Can fashion be used as social commentary into the political world?

Fashion is everywhere. As Coco Chanel herself once said, fashion is “in the streets”. It ranges from a global business and entire industry to a single commodity, a seemingly irrelevant consumer product. Regardless of what fashion is, or its common societal definitions, fashion offers much social commentary into the global landscape of politics. Individuals use clothing to express themselves and the ideas they wish to portray. In the political world, fashion is employed to represent the varying ideals politicians sell to society and the messages these ideals subtlety convey. In today’s world, the dividing line between art and commerce is blurring. The same can be said about the line between fashion and politics. Social commentary refers to the “act of rebelling against an individual or a group of people through rhetoric means”. It promotes and implements this rebellion by informing a general populace about a given problem, and then appealing to society’s sense of justice. How does fashion provide the foundation to do this? It is not a difficult question. In the 1960s, the political landscape of America was in a revolutionary upheaval. During this time, apparel was used as a powerful tool of political and social dissent. The coined-term ‘hippie fashion’ became the iconic look for the era, with long hair and floral prints taking centre stage. It was a peaceful riot against the American government, capitalism, and the Vietnam War. As anti-war demonstrations became more socially relevant, so did this fashion culture. Hippie fashion has not


wholly disappeared from modern culture; it has continued to thrive, where elements of its political ambition can still be seen today in contemporary fashion. Another take on this topic is in regards to the wearing of headscarves and burkas in many Western countries. What was once a selfless right to wear whichever garment one wanted to adorn their head with, has now turned into a fiery political debate of religion versus democracy. In France specifically, a law was passed banning the wearing of these traditional, sacrilegious head coverings in public, as the social stigma attached to them was viewed as a fashion-rooted attack on France’s primarily democratic government. Whether or not this can be believed as true or false is irrelevant, what remains true is the fact that simple pieces of cloth are causing a global uproar similar to that previously seen in the 1960s. Therefore, it cannot be said otherwise that fashion not only provides social commentary into this political scandal; in fact, within this context, fashion is the scandal itself. There are many kinds of people in the world. From dreamers to criticizers, one’s personality will reflect the values they inhibit. Fashion provides this foundation for individuals to express themselves with, and it is not limited solely to regular people. Global enterprises and brand names themselves will utilize fashion in order to further their political or economic goals. It is ignorant of anyone to overlook the rich historical context fashion possesses: from the wild social dissent of hippie style in the 1960s to today’s religious civil warfare against the wearing of burkas and headscarves in Western society. Furthermore, the social commentary this culture provides is not limited to a global political landscape; fashion reflects values and individuals as much as one’s own personality, so it is advised to wear it well.


Fashion as Social Commentary into the Political World