top of page

Fashion is Power: Wearable Protest in Women’s Movements by Neha Avadhani

Fashion is power. It’s art, creativity, emotion, and bravery. Fashion captures visual imagery to tell a story as no other art form can. It’s deeply personal and establishes solidarity, and as countless activists throughout history knew, seeming unified is sometimes as important as being unified.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

The suffragettes were one of the first movements to win with fashion-branding. In 1908, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, co-editor of a suffragette newspaper Votes for Women, created the iconic color scheme: purple for dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. At the time, suffragettes were haunted by the stereotypes forced upon them as too strong, too masculine, and too educated. Instead of conforming to these caricatures of glasses and galoshes, they chose to embrace femininity and avoid scandal, wearing long white dresses that were typical of the time. Votes for Women even declared, “The suffragette of today is dainty and precise in her dress.” This worked to gain support, and it slowly became fashionable to support the movement. Stores started selling the tricolor ribbon for hats, pieces of semi-precious jewelry, belts, rosettes, badges, sashes, and later even handbags and shoes. The suffragettes knew that for fashion to be successful in uniting people, it had to be accessible. The tricolor motif was perfect because it could be found anywhere and worn in any form.

Source: StartUp Fashion

In the 1960s, women started using miniskirts as a form of protest. Mary Quant was a British designer who pioneered shorter hemlines. Parisian designer Andre Courreges is credited with popularizing the miniskirt too. As women had enough of the patriarchal systems that oppressed them at every turn, from voter suppression to employment discrimination, they turned to modern silhouettes to protest. It wasn’t widely accepted at the time to wear short skirts, and they did as a form of rebellion. The miniskirt became known as a symbol of women’s liberation in ‘60s fashion.

Source: Vogue

Years later, women are using social media to cement that a picture is worth a thousand words. A powerful image can be striking, especially when it serves as a backdrop to clothing’s artistry, which young activists are aware of. Young women have lined up outside of the Capitol, offices of legislators, and even in empty rows of hearing halls dressed in the blood-red robes and pure-white winged bonnets of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in protest of anti-abortion legislation and in support of Planned Parenthood. Others have protested for stronger sexual assault laws and better protections for victims by stripping to their underwear.

Source: PussyHat Project

Similarly, in 2016, Jayna Zweiman, a design architect, and Krista Suh, a screenwriter, had the idea to create a pink hat that women could wear to marches as a statement of visual solidarity (and warmth), and let those who couldn’t march participate too. Kat Coyle, the owner of Little Knittery, created a simple knitting pattern that nearly anyone could follow and be part of the movement. Inspired by the profoundly sexist statements made by then-candidate for President Donald Trump about grabbing women by their genitals, Coyle had the idea to add ‘pussycat ears’ to the design as a way to destigmatize the word p*ssy, reclaim it, and protest these kinds of sexist comments. The P*ssyHatProject was born, and the vibrant pink continues to be a symbol of the women’s movement.

Source: Vox Source: Time Magazine

Since the original suffragette movements, women have brought back all white as a statement of solidarity and female empowerment. In 2016, Hillary Clinton wore all white to accept the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, and again in 2017 at President Trump’s inauguration. In 2019, Democratic women in Congress wore all white to the State of the Union to honor the suffragettes and celebrate the largest number of women to ever serve in Congress.

Source: Vogue

Once again capturing the power of a solid color, actors at the 2018 Golden Globes donned all black to call attention to gender inequality in Hollywood, black being a symbol of support for sexual assault survivors and a nod to the Time’s Up movement. Some women even opted for more traditionally masculine silhouettes like trousers or pantsuits as a further knock to patriarchal standards of beauty.

Fashion has always been a means of expression and strength. Drawing from surroundings vibrating with the chance for change has inspired and spurred so many iconic and recognizable looks throughout the years. Fashion remains power and a way to keep stories and movements closest throughout the fight for equality.

16 views0 comments
bottom of page