Although New York Fashion Week ended on Feb. 16, fashion month (yes, an entire month) continues in Europe, kicking off in London before heading to Paris and Milan.
And if you thought the marriage between fashion and American politics would be limited to the NYC circuit, you’d be wrong. Just as sister Women’s Marches took place outside of America’s political capital, European designers are showing solidarity with the liberal causes American designers like Prabal Gurung championed on their runways.
On Feb. 20, English designer Ashish presented his Fall 2017 collection, complete with unsubtle sequined Americana get-ups; USA baseball (Mets, Cardinals) jerseys and jackets had uplifting sayings such as “unity in adversity.” But most strikingly on the gluttonously glittered runway were the rebukes against American President Donald Trump: “More glitter, less Twitter”; “P**** Grabs Back;” and “Nasty Woman.”
During the New York shows, everyone from emerging designers to industry stalwarts participated in their own versions of political activism, featuring slogan T-shirts on runways and providing Planned Parenthood support pins to showgoers. And much of the commentary has come in the form of strong rebukes against President Trump, both directly and indirectly.
Of course, politics in fashion is nothing new. At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. sent Pershing missiles, medium-range missiles that were capable of carrying a nuclear or conventional warhead, to West Germany. The military decision was politically divisive, and activists launched their own antimissile campaigns in protest.
A few months later, fittingly in 1984, the anti-Pershing movement migrated to England, when designer Katharine Hamnett wore a now-iconic T-shirt to meet then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The shirt’s message: “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING.”
Of the literal fashion statement, Hamnett said, “Slogans work on so many different levels; they’re almost subliminal. They’re also a way of people aligning themselves to a cause. They’re tribal. Wearing one is like branding yourself.”
Since then, bold political messaging has periodically cropped up in fashion. In 2005, Vivienne Westwood — one of the most notable activist designers — sold shirts that read, “I am not a terrorist, please don’t arrest me” to protest antiterror legislation in the U.K.; 10 years later, Walter Van Beirendonck branded his fall/winter 2015 collection with the words “Stop terrorising our world,” in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. In September, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri designed “We should all be feminists” white tees.
At NYFW, clothing continues to be an outlet for political expression, seemingly without respite from the onslaught of all Trump, all the time. Designers are leaning heavily into themes of feminism, equality, and patriotism.
It’s worth mentioning that some of this year’s most politically explicit shows come from international designers: Calvin Klein’s Raf Simons hails from Belgium; Prabal Gurung was born in Singapore; Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim is a first-generation American whose parents are Korean, and her co-founder, Humberto Leon, comes from a Peruvian and Chinese family.
For all of the political posturing, T-shirts don’t equate to tangible change. Hamnett admits that people who wear their politics on their sleeve have “the feeling that they have done something when they haven’t.”
Whether the NYFW shows are “opportunistic philanthropy” or earnest endeavors towards engagement, we’ve yet to see. Designers may be quick to weigh in, but real change doesn’t happen on a runway alone.
Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style and Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.