On the Fashion of ‘Non-Fashion’

I watched some video coverage of the ‘March for our Lives’ that took place here in Washington, DC and in other cities around the US and the world yesterday. It was more than impressive to see a national political movement emerge out of the tragedy of Parkland, FL within weeks, to listen to the powerful voices of the students, and to witness, just perhaps, the beginning of a changed discussion about gun control in this country.

The images showed a colourful and enthusiastic crowd. And with the exception of some orange hats and the Gays against Guns who joint the march in New York City dressed in white shrouds, nothing seemed to indicate any particular sartorial symbolism as part of this protest movement.  The Women’s Walk last year had its ubiquitous ‘pussy-hats’

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(Copyright: Linda S. Bishai)

Last year also saw women dressed up as Handmaids in reference to the Margaret Atwood novel and now Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. And in 2011, DC and other cities saw women dressed in intimate apparel in order to protest against sexual harassment and violence. In all these cases, sartorial code played a significant role as a symbolic amplifier of the women’s message.

There was no such vestiary signifier visible at the March for our Lives. Hoodies, sweatpants, jeans (regular, distressed and ripped) and sneakers prevailed among the main protagonists. Yet upon reflection, this itself becomes part of the March’s message: ‘we are not going away’. Handmaid costumes return to the closet and pussy hats now gather dust in wardrobes. As powerful as these items were as symbols of protest, did they perhaps add an element of spectacle to the protests and marches that fades once the they are over?

The March for our Lives was spectacular in a different way, with forceful messages and in one case an even more forceful 6 minutes of silence focusing our attention. And if the ordinary dress code expresses anything, then it might be that these messages will not be confined to this event. The students will look the same and dress the same way in their day-to-day lives, and the boundary between the  singular event in DC and political action at home blurs. The uniform casual dress code of high school students is now the dress code of a political movement, present in the lives of their communities. This is as powerful a fashion statement as any.

There was only moment of levity and it came just before the most dramatic speech of the day when Emma Gonzalez apparently showed of her ripped jeans from behind the lectern. After all, it was a March for Life.

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