Fashion is political, politics are fashionable

The fashion industry is probably not what most people think of when they think of change. While styles and designs themselves are constantly changing, the industry itself has tended to remain pretty much the same for years. If you look closer though, designers are switching things up on the runway, and those changes could be far-reaching.

February is a big month for fashion. Starting in New York on Feb. 9 and finishing up in Paris on March 8, the ‘big four’ fall/winter fashion weeks are a big deal in the industry and command a lot of attention. Many big name designers show their collections during these weeks, including ready to wear styles as well as some of their more creative designs.

Sometimes the commentary is big and showy. Models at designer Prabal Gurung’s New York Fashion Week showing opened the event with red trucker hats emblazoned with the words “Make America New York,” a dig at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats worn during campaigning. The designer also opted to send models down the runway in t-shirts bearing the slogan “The Future is Female,” a popular call to arms for the women’s march, and “Nevertheless, she persisted,” in reference to Elizabeth Warren, the US senator for Massachusetts. When Warren attempted to read something other senators did not want to hear, they attempted to silence her. They said of the senator, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” and that sentence has become a beacon for feminists during the first days of the Trump administration.

Designer Jeremy Scott, showing for Moschino, sent his models out in what many could argue was garbage. One model came out in what appeared to be a dry cleaning bag, and another a pile of garbage. Reality star turned model Kendall Jenner came out as a ‘package,’ with a hat that was essentially a cardboard box. The designer himself wore a t-shirt that said “Couture is not a price point,” commenting on the need for fashion to be more about the art and less about the money. The designs in the capsule collection pointed out the disposability of fast fashion and the consumerism that has taken over the industry.

High-end Italian fashion house Missoni, used their Milan Fashion Week show to support the Women’s March. Models, including Gigi Hadid, walked the runway in the iconic ‘Pussy Hat.’ The hat, a pink knitted hat formed into the shape of cat ears, was another prominent icon at the Women’s March, again referencing Trump and his recorded comment about grabbing women “by the pu**y.”

Aside from the loud and obvious statements, several designers opted to go with more subtle commentary. The Michael Kors show at New York Fashion Week included model Ashley Graham, an iconic ‘plus-size’ model who has been featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and the cover of vogue. While her popularity would seem to make her an obvious choice for a runway show, her size would seem to exclude her from the skinny model tradition of fashion week.

Graham was not the only ‘non-traditional’ model featured this year. Dolce & Gabbana continued their tradition of featuring models of all ages in their runway show including small children, older models, and families. Several fashion houses featured hijabi models in their shows alongside the other models rather than as an overt political statement. While a significant portion of the fashion industry still focuses on tall, thin, white models, some big name labels are branching out and becoming more inclusive.

The thing about these subtle changes is that they will reverberate throughout the industry. Everyone wears clothes and, as Meryl Streep’s character pointed out in the fashion industry film The Devil Wears Prada, small changes in the fashion industry trickle down into the general population. Your cerulean sweater is based on that cerulean belt that showed at last year’s fashion week. Non-traditional models become traditional through continued portrayals by high-end fashion houses. Fashion might seem frivolous, but it can change the world.

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