The U.S is in a constant state of change and in the mire of post Roe V Wade the endless debate about our rights, equality etc… in this country is heated once again. Protests and activism are imbedded in this countries DNA and throughout history revolutionaries have used fashion as a visual vehicle to bring a movement to life. We don’t know what our country will look like in a year, nevertheless tomorrow, but we can look at some iconic movements in our history and the clothing that solidified the moment.
Today protests are very casual with people showing up in jeans and t shirts. We’ve moved away from the need to unify through fashion and it makes sense. Unlike our predecessors who came together under one leader for one general cause, individualism is strong in the 21st century.
Black American’s fight for equality in this country is an ongoing battle but one of the most historic and documented periods is the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. This era birthed many groups fighting for racial equality and each with distinct looks.
The Black Panthers might be the most iconic and lasting image of revolution and change in our history. They were a radicalized group and they wanted to let you know “we are Black and we are proud.” Where MLK’s methods revolved around integration and showing Americans Black people were the same as them, the Panthers were the opposite.
“Black activists and supporters, to express their solidarity and support of this movement, adorned symbolic clothing, accessories and hairstyles. Politics and fashion were fused during this time and the use of these symbolic fashion statements sent a clear message to America and the rest of the world that African Americans were proud of their heritage, that Black was indeed beautiful and that it was important to embrace ones African identity. “
You know a person was a Panther by their black Beret, leather jacket and strong aura. They didn’t come to play. They had a very militant look, and the way they approach politics was seen as radical. Women often wore their hair natural or up in bonnets and silk wraps. If MLK was leading one sect of the the Black Power movement, this group took inspiration from Malcom X and Black Nationalist ideas.
During the early years of Martin Luther Kings protests and rally’s the need to unify through clothes was a move against the stereotypes that plagued black livelihood. Black people were seen as less than human so men and women wore suits and pressed outfits as they marched through the streets. Everyone was an image of perfection. King wanted his people to integrate in white America.
Zoot Suit Riots
Its the late 40s racial tension is running high within the Latino communities and the result are the Zoot suit riots. Ignited after a brawl between a Mexican American and the navy, the riots were a week long racially charged attack on anyone wearing a Zoot suit. During the week, aided by the police and driven by racist individuals within the army, navy etc.. downtown LA was a one sided battleground for U.S servicemen to beat up any person of color. This came to be the Zoot suit riots named so after the iconic suit that was worn by the Mexican-American individual in the first brawl. Zoot suites made a name for themselves during the 30s when…“style-conscious Harlem dancers began wearing loose-fitting clothes that accentuated their movements. Men donned baggy trousers with cuffs carefully tapered to prevent tripping; long jackets with heavily padded shoulders and wide lapels; long, glittering watch chains and hats ranging from porkpies and fedoras to broad-brimmed sombreros.”
In White-affluent California these clothes were seen as juvenile and anyone wearing this style was a street thug and delinquent, also known as Pachucos. During WWII when textiles were limited and restricted many viewed the use of fabric as wasteful. The riots ceased and a ban was placed on the Zoot suit but it remains a symbol of Mexican American resistance.
Lets not forget the fashion of suffragettes during the fight for women to vote.
Fashion is indefinitely linked with politics. Its an identifier among allies and a declaration against opposers.