A general rule of polite conversation has always been to steer clear of topics concerning religion and politics. However, this fashion month, that rule seems to stand on its head. Not only is fashion talking politics, its flaunting it shamelessly and purposefully with models, bloggers and brands making decisive statements against the current social and political climate. With trending issues such as immigration, women’s rights and the LGBTQ movement, it seems politics has become not only a polite topic – but an extremely fashionable one.

New York Fashion Week kicked off in LA with Tommyland, the latest festival-themed offering from the ongoing Tommy Hilfiger and Gigi Hadid collaboration, with the encompassing notion of “everyone is invited”, from models, to influencers and most importantly, consumers. The show’s finale showed all the models sporting white bandanas in support of UK fashion website, Business Of Fashion’s #tiedtogether initiative, which takes a stand for solidarity, unity and inclusiveness.

Jonathan Simkhai followed with a collection that honoured feminine strength, paying tribute to the global movement wherein women are asserting their right to equality. The designer took his bow in a shirt reading “Feminist AF”. Prabal Gurung continued the slogan trend in his finale by sending all the models down the runway wearing shirts bearing political sentiments: “Revolution has no borders,” “The future is female,” and “I am a Rosa”. The last model stated “We will not be silenced,” which is perhaps the most prophetic of this season.

We also saw inflatable garments at Chromat, referencing the drowning refugees and election-style caps at Public School reading “Make America New York”. Raf Simons’ debuted as creative director for Calvin Klein with a white bandana included in the show’s invitation and David Bowie’s “This is not America” as his soundtrack. “When you have a voice, you should use it,” said Simons backstage. Even our own SA menswear week showcased politically inclined collections, with military inspired garb, a la Tokyo James and slogan pieces at Jahnkoy.

On the streets of New York, the fashion pack quite literally wore their hearts on their sleeves – in terms of politics at least. Anna Wintour and Diane Von Furstenburg wore “Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood” buttons, in support of the company, which risks being defunded under President Trump’s new policies. Various bloggers, including Chiara Ferragni and Aimee Song, sported last season’s statement Dior tee which reads: “We should all be feminists,” in reference to the iconic TED talk by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie (worth a watch if you haven’t). Designers and influencers are defending not only their own rights, but those of humanity as a whole by making statements against injustices that travel far thanks to the power of social media.

Despite its good intentions, the activist state of fashion does warrant an exasperated sigh: “Does everything always have to be political?” This is a valid question considering that fashion is often turned to as relief from reality, offering a fantasy world of beautiful and superficial things, rather than making jarring accusations against harsh realities. Certainly, there is controversy over how much fashion should weigh in when it comes to politics. Should brands take sides in debates that do not concern them and risk alienating a section of their consumers? Perhaps not with earlier generations, but Millennials value social conscience and authenticity. In order to connect to their audience and their consumers, brands need to stand up for important causes – and mean it.

Fashion, like art and literature, is inherently connected to the zeitgeist and is almost always a reflection of the times. This is not new. While NYFW was the kind of display more appropriate for a riot, it must be asked: If the runways are not the space for spectacle – where is?

Although the current conversation is centred around America, its political climate touches the world with its divisiveness and reiterates major global issues. Trump’s election has inadvertently created the opportunity for a new philosophy in protest, one of inclusiveness and equality that preaches no hate, no division and no us-vs-them.

In this digital era, brands, celebrities, models, designers and bloggers have the ability to speak up, and whether or not you agree, it is important not to remain neutral. Of course, something as menial as what you wear does not equate change, but outspokenness is a protest in itself, and although its worth is still to be determined, it most definitely is not worthless.

London Fashion Week continued the political theme with more slogans, white bandanas and rainbow-hued attire. It remains to be seen how Milan and Paris will accept the baton passed on from New York, but one thing is certain: protest fashion is here to stay.

fashion and politics

Words & Layout: Yolanda Senekal

Images: Pinterest / Instagram / SDR Photo