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From the Women’s March to the March for Life, apparel is the vehicle of choice for many of the Marchers’ messages from the profound to the profane. I had a really interesting conversation about the merchandising of the March with a few friends. We discussed how, while the March is a positive platform that amplifies the collective voices of thousands of activists, it also provides a fun Instagram moment. A huge part of creating that photo-op is the clothing connected with the Womens’ March: pussyhats, slogan tees, the color pink. I wondered if, in wearing the clothing connected to the March, we are amplifying the messages behind them or making them essentially meaningless.

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Image: pussyhatproject.com

It’s always seemed kind of whack to me that we buy apparel that advertises political movements, instead of donating directly to that cause. Yet I understand the appeal: Politically charged garments declare what you support (or don’t support) and reflect who you are. They have the ability to spark dialogue while also being cute and comfy. Rather than making a statement, why not just wear one?

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My head has been spinning around this wearable-protest phenomenon for a few days. Are “Ovary Gang” tees and pink pussyhats delegitimizing political movements by their preciousness or irreverence? Or are they providing much-needed feminist representation? Are they clever conversation starters, or does the true meaning get lost in translation?

Perhaps we can answer these questions by way of examples. First up, the “Boycott Dolce & Gabbana” t-shirt:

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Image: footwearnews.com, Courtesy of D&G

During the 2016 election, Dolce & Gabbana received criticism for dressing Melania Trump and supporting the Trump administration. In response, they released this $245 shirt, along with an entire Instagram campaign to go with it. This attempt to capitalize on criticism isn’t a new trick. In 2012, Marc Jacobs produced t-shirts depicting his vandalized storefront and in 2016 Beyoncé sold “Boycott Beyoncé” t-shirts as an ironic answer to those who perceived her Superbowl performance as anti-police. In the case of Dolce & Gabbana, I deem this antic rather childish — but maybe that’s just because I disagree with the statement they’re making.

Then, there’s this iconic photo from the Balenciaga menswear runway this year:

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The back of this jacket advertises “Balenciaga 2017”, emblazoned in the style of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign logos. In the top right, you can see Rei Kawakubo — legendary founder of Comme des Garçons and notorious recluse — scowling darkly, perhaps disapprovingly. Mimicking political branding and applying it to fashion doesn’t exactly mock that political movement, but it might detract from its significance.

On a more commercial level, this Sugar High Love Stoned tee made waves this year:

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Image: sugarhighlovestoned.com

It says “Eat the Rich” … and it’s $76. Pretty radical, also pretty hypocritical.

But what about positive examples? Well, at New York Fashion Week 2017, designers and influencers like Prabal Gurung, Bryanboy, and Aimee Song knew they were going to be swarmed by paparazzi, so they harnessed the moment, and the paparazzi, to disseminate their messages.

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Image: Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images

They are just a few examples of post-election Fashion Week being a conduit for political discussion. “Right now, women and their bodies are under attack,” Tome creative director Ryan Lobo told Vogue. “I think it’s important, that no matter whether you’re a fashion designer or an activist, that you make a statement and speak whenever you have the opportunity—all of our choices this season were very deliberate.” I recommend this Forbes article if you want to review the other American designers who used their art to comment on  current events.

A more commercial example is Everlane’s 100% Human campaign:

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Image: everlane.com

A leader in environmentally-friendly and accessible fashion, Everlane recently “launched the 100% Human Collection to support two things that matter to [them]–human rights and remembering that we are more the same than we are different.” For each 100% Human product sold, Everlane donates $5 to the ACLU.  Whatever your political views, this example of ethical entrepreneurship is pretty effective, not to mention cute.

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Fashion is self-expression, and we should feel comfortable to express ourselves in the most concise and clear way possible: through the words we wear across our chests. Utilizing fashion as a way to positively represent one’s beliefs is empowering and effective. It’s even better when your purchase gives back to the causes you support. At the same time, we must also be mindful that wearing tees like the examples above can really only communicate the crux of very nuanced messages, and that the wearers of these tees must go above and beyond a slogan to make a true difference. Wearing your “The Future is Female” tee is cute but meaningless if you don’t follow through by voting for persons who support similar sentiments.

Of course, there’s a fine line between mockery and sincerity in this situation, as with any type of art. There’s the whole faux/parody political thing that Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana are peddling, and then there’s meaning what you say, or rather, what your shirt says. For both the wearer and the message, it’s easy to overlook the degrees of irony that separate the two. When it comes to statement tees, smart and fun should be the goal.

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But what do you think about political statement tees? Let us know!

We also asked our FAST student designers to reimagine the political statement tee in their own way. The results are what you see above! Check out the full editorial shoot, right here on the FAST Blog.

This project was inspired by a similar shoot by HOOT Magazine at Columbia University called “Worn,” which you can check out here.  


FAST Blog Team

Photographers: Adley Wechsler, Hannah Rexinger
Photo Editing: Hannah Rexinger
Models: Azure Gao, Tieranie Hawkins, Danny Kim
Designers: Sabrina Martinez (“Don’t Shoot”), Ryan Chowdhury (“Bounce”), Angaea Cuna (“Immigreat”)
Blog Editors: Kristy Pirone, Elizabeth Kim
Special Thanks: Genevieve Finn
Sources:
https://fashionista.com/2017/06/boycott-dolce-gabbana-tshirts
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/fashion/rei-kawakubos-commes-de-garcons.html
http://www.hootmag.org/blog/2017/10/22/cu-closets-elaine-xie/
https://www.forbes.com/sites/karenhua/2017/02/17/designers-who-made-political-statements-at-new-york-fashion-week-2017/#625b931128b5

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