Fashion’s long history with politics has never been so divisive

Fashion’s long history with politics has never been so divisive

In 2024, the most impactful way to make a political statement is via your clothing. Politically charged T-shirts are still a ubiquitous sight, fuelled by an increasing anger towards world leaders and their policies. Case in point: the model Emma Ratajowski wearing a Platform T-shirt printed with an image of Stormi Daniels on the day that Donald Trump was pronounced guilty of 34 charges (Daniels had testified for the prosecution). In 2005, a visit to refugee camps in Chad prompted Ryan Gosling to wear a ‘Darfur’ T-shirt to the Teen Choice Awards, in a bid to raise awareness.

(Image credit: Getty Images/ Ryan Gosling at the MTV Movie Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. June 4, 2005)

In 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the catwalks groaned with T shirts featuring feminist slogans, most notably Dior’s “We Should All Be Feminists,” inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book of the same name. In 2021, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended the Met Gala in a Brother Vellies gown featuring the words “Tax the Rich”, a stunt that many condemned as ‘tone deaf’. Ocasio-Cortez was unrepentant, maintaining it was a way of making the conversation front of mind.

Dior Catwalk 2017 - We Should All Be Feminists

(Image credit: Getty Images/ Dior, Spring/Summer 2017)

This was certainly the case at Cannes Film Festival, where Bella Hadid took to the Croisette in a distinctive red and white printed dress constructed from traditional keffiyeh scarves. A vintage piece designed in 2001 by Michael and Hushi (who also made Carrie Bradshaw’s black and white keffiyeh halter top worn in season four of Sex and the City), it was further proof, if any were needed, of where the model’s allegiances lie. Hadid’s father, Mohamed, was born in Palestine.

Hadid wasn’t the only attendee to make a sartorial statement about the Gazan war. The British actress Pascale Kann wore a dress emblazoned with the word “Palestine” in Arabic, designed by the Palestinian brand Trashy Clothing. A more oblique and unconfirmed example was Cate Blanchett’s Haider Ackerman x Jean Paul Gaultier gown, whose colours seemed to echo that of the Palestinian flag. It was all a far cry from New York’s high-profile Met Gala, held three weeks before Cannes, where the only form of protest took place on the streets outside.

Cate Blanchett Cannes

(Image credit: Getty Images/ Cate Blanchett in Cannes May 2024)

Fashion has always been political. In the middle ages, laws prevented commoners from dressing above their station, while in the 1900s, the suffragettes wore a purple, white and green sash to symbolise their struggle as they campaigned to secure women’s right to vote. When the designer Katharine Hamnett wore a “58% Don’t Want Pershing” T-shirt to meet prime minister Margaret Thatcher at a Downing Street reception in 1984, she kick-started an era in which T-shirts became cultural signposts; visible ways of broadcasting your message via a stylish medium.

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