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Five Times Fashion and Politics Have Collided

Miriam Baker

Posted on August 15 2019

“I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris,” John F. Kennedy made this historic statement during his presidential trip to France in 1961. He was visiting President Charles de Gaulle, but de Gaulle and the rest of France were dazzled by Jackie Kennedy, thanks to her style, charm, her ability to speak French, and her fashion. She clearly outshone her husband, because who remembers what else he said on that visit? 

Fashion is politics. Politics is expressed through fashion. Whether it was the Nehru minimalist jacket worn by India’s prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru or more recently, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and the other women of the Democratic party who dressed in white for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address - what you wear tells the world what you think or support. Here are five times fashion and politics have collided.

 

U.S. democratic women wear white to the State of the Union


Photo taken by J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Who can forget the 2019 U.S. State of the Union address when the cameras cut away to women Democrats, sitting in solidarity and dressed in white, the colour associated with the early American suffragettes. They wore white to highlight how the Trump administration handles issues such as health care, equal pay, and #MeToo. Ocasio-Cortez wore a pantsuit with a cape, red lipstick and her classic hoop earrings, the latter indicative of her Latina heritage, while Representative Ayanna Pressely accessorized her outfit with a kente cloth clutch.

 

Pussy hats in Washington, D.C.


Photo via wikimedia

Was the Women’s March intersectional? Nope. Did it make an international statement? Yes. Was it political? Oh yes. The Women’s March began as a way to generate social change. The pink knitted pussy hats started as a pattern by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, so marchers could create a powerful visual statement at the protest in Washington, D.C.

 


The Uniforms of the Black Panther Party


Photo via BlackPower.EDU 

Yes, the costumes in the Marvel movie were an amazing visual statement but we’re talking about the Black Panther Party which was founded in Oakland in the 1960s. It was during the civil rights movement, and the Black Panthers were front and centre of the Black Power movement, aligning themselves more with Malcolm X versus Martin Luther King Jr. Members of the party wore a uniform that was very military-inspired: a black leather jacket, black pants, a black beret and sunglasses.

 



Michelle Obama’s everything

 
Photo via Nicholas Kamm

A state visit with Prime Minister of India? Wear a dress from Indian-American designer, Naeem Khan. On election night in 2012, re-wear a Michael Kors dress that Obama’s been photographed in twice before. Michelle Obama has a knack for wearing the right outfit for the right occasion, choosing to highlight American design where possible and wearing designers from other countries during related state visits. It’s fashion politics at its best since Jacqueline Kennedy Onasiss.

Also, a special shout-out to Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, who champions Canadian designers like Smythe, Dean Davidson, Editions de Robe, Ela bags, Sentaler and local Canadian brand, Aritzia.

 

Trudeaumania paper dress 


Photo via Waddingtons

Speaking of Trudeaus, let’s step back to 1968 when Pierre Elliot Trudeau was making his bid for leadership of the Canadian Liberal Party. He was charismatic, good-looking and the man loved clothes. Can you remember any other Canadian prime minister wearing a cape? He went on to win but here’s a fashion moment that wasn’t about PET’s personal wardrobe: a paper minidress with his face on it. This dress acted like a wearable campaign poster for Trudeau.

 

People who say that fashion is nothing but fripperies for vacuous people lack an understanding of the power behind an outfit. Yes, clothes make you look and feel good but what you wear also makes a powerful statement about who you are, what you believe in and what you’re willing to fight for. Best of all, fashion accomplishes this without saying a word.

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