In the spring of 2019, my roommate Nitara and I were part of a fashion project with the goal to create an outfit based on the vague prompt of “politics.” Nitara and I brainstormed for weeks on the topic. “Politics” seemed like a touchy subject, especially with the debate-filled environment that discussing government can produce. We found ourselves tip-toeing around sensitive topics that could anger people, and instead of picking a singular topic we decided to write “Do You Trust Your Government?” on the back of a handmade jacket and project images of riots onto it. Although the phrase did not lean into the ideas of any one political party, we found that it was just as thought-provoking. With all of the care that went into creating the jacket, we realized that skirting around political topics in order to not offend people was a problem in and of itself.
Discussing politics is often avoided since conflicting political beliefs can end in confrontational disagreements. With a president of such strong polarization in office, however, it is becoming difficult to not talk about the government, and full-blown discussions are crucial in order to educate our political beliefs. Political controversy combined with fashion is an interesting subject — to say the least, and today, politics and fashion are more connected than ever.
Many people wear their heart on their sleeves and their political views on their shirt. You can go just about anywhere and see someone casually sporting a shirt or lunch bag with an elephant or donkey, and even an “I Voted” button is political. Chain clothing stores have now released collections with political backgrounds to them and have even launched internal campaigns to encourage their employees to vote. Voting collections are featured in numerous clothing stores, including American Eagle, Michael Kors, Nike, New Balance, Aerie, Fabletics, Social Goods, Rue21 and GAP. Forever 21 has most notably changed their brand icon at the top of their website to a checkbox with “F21 Vote” next to it. The initiative that brands have taken to encourage young shoppers to take action, in addition to making political clothing more accessible, is amazing.
Patagonia is one of the most recent brands to take a bold stance on this year’s election. In their 2020 Men’s and Women’s “Road to Regenerative” Organic Stand-Up Shorts Collection, there is a hidden message on the back of each tag. The statement reads “VOTE THE ASSHOLES OUT.” Patagonia has been notable as a company that is active in reducing climate change and voicing their political opinions for years. This choice was a way for the brand to protest against politicians who don’t believe in climate change.
With fashion being such a large part of expression and politics being such a vital part of our future, it is only fitting that they would go hand-in-hand. Fashion is a visual representation of culture and society, and with the political and social tensions present nowadays, it is beyond reasonable that opinions are overlapping with fashion statements. Fashion has always been a medium for expression, and political opinion is no exception.
Another current event that has political fashion in the hot seat is Ohio’s decision to prohibit political clothing at voter polls this year. Secretary of State Frank LaRose said, “They are going to be told that they are violating the law if they come wearing a shirt or a hat or anything else. They may be asked to remove that clothing. But if they insist, just like with masks, we can’t turn someone away.” The way that regulations have been created to hinder personal political expression is not new, but tradition does not make it acceptable.
Political clothing is very well one of the most significant currently trending cultural movements in fashion and society this year. With the high stakes this election holds, clothing encouraging voting and supporting (or protesting) social movements is a form of creating discussion. Fashion is being used to educate and generate conversation now more than ever. Dr. Jonathan Michael Square, a writer and historian that teaches at Harvard University, told Refinery29, “Fashion can maintain and deepen inequality, but it also has the potential to challenge structures of power. I’m a believer in the transformational power of fashion to change how we see ourselves and our place in the world — whether it addresses racial inequality, promotes body positivity, questions gender binaries, or calls for more sustainable industry standards.”
In the end, self expression is all-American and should be seen as such. Fashion has always been a canvas for people to show their style and opinions, and politics have never been off the table. Political clothing helps by acting as a vehicle to promote change. I believe it’s critical that we be able to exercise our voice however we see fit. So, to answer the question of “What are you voting for?,” I am voting for self expression, and I hope you are too.
Coulture’s mission statement says that we aim to be a magazine for people of all shapes and sizes, for those who speak up and stand out. We recognize that it is important to hear from people with personal views, strong perspectives, and something to say. This article is part of Coulture’s “What I’m Voting For” initiative where members write about the issues they care about in the 2020 election.
- Do You Trust Your Government?: A Take on Political Clothing and Expression - October 13, 2020