Fashion and protest: how blue and yellow could become the new black
In the middle of Milan Fashion Weekthe most inspiring street style could not be found outside the catwalks of Italy’s hottest designers, but gathered in front of parliament buildings around the world.
In cities around the world, from Tallinn to Tokyo, from Tehran to Tbilisi, protesters gathered over the weekend waving the blue and yellow signature of the Ukrainian flag to show their support as Russia declared war on its neighbor . An image of an elderly woman in a blue headscarf and yellow jacket, reportedly taken on the Moscow metro, has gone viral for the courageous message of solidarity she sent.
The first signs of the fashion industry wanting to use their voice for the cause have also emerged. Giorgio Armani held a silent fashion show to acknowledge the dark vibe. A spectator was spotted outside the Prada catwalk carrying a white bag brandishing “No War in Ukraine” in red lettering. At the SAG Awards in California, actress Greta Lee walked the red carpet in a blue and yellow Marc Jacobs ensemble that many mistook for a show of support for Ukraine.
Hearts on the sleeves
What we wear has always been a silent way of sharing a part of ourselves with others and has a long history of being used as a tool of protest. Costume designer and author of Dressing the Resistance: The Visual Language of Protest Through History, Camille Benda says, “No matter how obsessed we are with clothes as people, we send messages with our clothes. It is a way for us to share information about ourselves with other people. Add to that your political views or your militant views and your clothes can become a canvas.
In some cases, this can very literally be a message printed or painted onto clothing, as with the infamous slogan t-shirts first popularized by British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett in the 1980s. Hamnett wore the one of his own designs which read “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING”, a message against nuclear weapons at a reception with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and later created the now infamous t-shirts” CHOOSE LIFE” from the era.
Other times the message can be more subtle, using the codes and messages that already exist in the clothes. Benda noticed this in the use of Ukrainian folk clothes during the recent wave of protests. “I saw some great pictures of Ukrainian women wearing flower crowns. It is a typical Eastern European decoration for a woman getting married or a party. And then there are the scarves, I think it refers a lot to the lace and linen scarves that women would wear with the traditional folk dress. It is the idea of ’this is my country and my country is represented in folk dress and folk art.’
Costumes, secret couture and sassy slogans
During the American Civil Rights Movement, people like Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X wore suits to gain respect and elevate themselves to the same status as the President. Suits were also adopted by the British Teddy Boy subculture of the 1950s, but were a way to stand out rather than blend in. way to differentiate themselves from the older generation and now makes teenagers synonymous with rebellion against their elders.
In Nazi-occupied Paris, fashion houses were closed to shut down something so economically and culturally important to the French, but some wealthy women secretly commissioned couturiers to make clothes for them. Outwardly they would appear plain and simple, but they would know it was made with the skill and craftsmanship of a French fashion house as a subtle form of protest.
In recent years, global fashion brands have jumped on the political outfit trend. Last September, Valentino produced a hoodie that replaced its logo with the word “vaccinated”, annual LGBTQ pride collections have become a staple for brands such as Levi’s and Coach, and feminist slogan t-shirts are become a regular on the Dior catwalks under the creative direction of Maria Grazia Chiuri. Some may feel cynical about companies using strong political messages to sell clothes, but the phenomenon is not new.
Early 20th century suffragettes in Britain adopted a white, purple and green uniform, symbolizing purity, dignity and hope. Jewelry using peridot, amethysts, pearls and other precious materials representing the colors of the movement was a way for women to align themselves with the movement and in 1908 goldsmith Mappin and Webb produced a range of Suffragette jewelry for her Christmas catalog.
Although it may be a little too early for physical clothing brands to bring a fundraising for Ukraine in the marketplace, the speed at which a collection of digital clothing can be produced and released has led to the emergence of a new form of protest clothing in the digital age.
DressX, a digital clothing retailer, has created a range of AR filters including a bucket hat with ‘Act Now’ written on it, a sweatshirt that reads ‘I’m with Ukraine’, a heart-shaped dress and a pair of heart-shaped earrings, each in blue and yellow, which users can share on social media in exchange for donating to charities supporting Ukraine.
The issues we fight for as a society may change, but our instinct to wear our politics on our sleeve unites us with the people of the past who changed the world. As the war in Ukraine rages on, the blue and yellow look is ready to take over society from the red carpet to the city streets to our social media feeds.