The Power of Fashion as a Tool for Social Change

The Power of Fashion as a Tool for Social Change

Fashion is a powerful tool for expressing more than just personal style. In addition to giving people a glimpse of someone’s personality, fashion has long been used to convey powerful messages about people’s opinions concerning causes that are close to their hearts. Topical issues such as racism, feminism and economic injustice have often been accompanied by fashion statements that reinforce people’s sentiments, in ways that result in tangible change. This week we take a look at the many times that fashion has been used as a tool for making more than just fashion statements. 

Black attires for the #Metoo movement

Sexual harassment and abuse are a sensitive issue that continues attracting attention around issues to do with women’s rights and the creation of safe spaces to speak openly about abuse. Several campaigns have been dedicated to this cause, and one such campaign is the #Metoo movement. The #Metoo movement sparked a wave of outpourings of the ordeals suffered by survivors of sexual abuse in various spheres. In 2018, Hollywood celebrities went to the Golden Globe Awards dressed in black, in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. Contrary to most years where the focus was placed on highlighting which designers produced the best work, the aim for that year was to openly condemn sexual abuse. As such, the night became an opportunity to shed light on issues of discrimination, harassment and abuse in Hollywood, and beyond. 


Complementary to the fashion statement at the Golden Globes in 2018, many people wore black to the American State of the Union Address. More than 65 members of the Democratic Women’s working group wore black in solidarity with victims of sexual abuse. 

The Rise of the Women’s Suit to Symbolize the Progressive Woman

The women’s suit was inspired by renowned designer Coco Chanel. Her designs coincided with the Suffragette Movement which was in full swing around 1910. The movement protested for the recognition of women’s rights, an act which was seen as civil disobedience during that era. Rallies and marches were seen to not be sufficient on their own, as such the protests were complimented by fashion statements. The Suffragette Movement adopted 3 colours: white, purple and green. Purple represented dignity, white denoted purity, while green stood for hope. This saw many women pinning ribbons of these colours onto their hats, belts and tack rosettes as well as badges to their coats and lapels. The feminists encouraged women to adopt these colours in their dressing, in support of women’s rights. The protests were accompanied by the hallmark Suffragette Suit for women, and this in turn became the symbol for a modern progressive woman. It was in this era that Coco Chanel became a renowned designer for women’s suits by substituting women’s uncomfortable corsets with tailoring. The suit originally designed for men, was transformed and it became modernized, carrying a sense of glamour and femininity. More than just fashion, the suit represented the voice of feminists and the uplifting of women.  

Beyoncé’s Performance at the 2016 Super Bowl

In the 2016 Super Bowl, famous celebrity Beyoncé Knowles was seen paying homage to the Black Panther movement, celebrating their 50th anniversary as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. Both the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black Panther movement are renowned for standing up for the rights of people of colour in America, tackling various kinds of discrimination faced by black people in various facets. Beyoncé conveyed her support for these two movements by wearing black clad berets, leather suits and natural hairstyles which referenced the work of the two movements. The attires were specifically reminiscent to the dress code of the members of the Black Panther Party in the 1960’s. Through her performance, Beyoncé reminded people that justice is a key component to liberation. 

Slogan Tees

Slogan Tees are another important tool for communicating various injustices in societies across the world. One of the people who have used slogan tees is designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, who presented a t-shirt with the slogan “We should all be feminists”, a line referencing African author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book of the same name. The t-shirt was paired with a floor length skirt and flat sneakers, juxtaposing ideas of femininity and masculinity. The designer showed an edgy side, by taking her feminism convictions to the runway where they could be heard by a wider audience, as it is a platform that attracts the much-needed attention. 

Pink Pussy Hats for the Women’s March

Also dubbed the pink pussy hat protest, the women’s march was an extension of the #Metoo movement, where women in America protested the derogatory remarks by the former American president Donald Trump. In one of his statements, the politician implied that he had the liberty to touch women’s private parts without their consent. Outraged by the remark, women in America marched in knitted pink pussy hats, in a show of feminism and power, reiterating that women’s sexual rights deserved to be respected. The campaign harnessed the power of social media to spread awareness of the colour and pattern of hats that were to be worn during the protests. The beauty of the hat was that it had a simple pattern which could be conveniently followed by both novices and experts. Women across America showed up for the noble cause of women’s rights, and successfully demonstrated the social and fashion statement in a very visible way. 

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The Power of Fashion as a Tool for Social Change

Oct 13, 2021
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