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When Fashion and Politics Intersect

By Autumn Schieferstein

Prabal Gurung showcased his ready-to-wear Spring 2020 collection at New York Fashion Week 2019 and made a powerful statement through his interpretation of classic American trends. 

Photo by: Patrick McMullan via Getty Image for Prabal Gurung finale

From simplistic to eclectic ensembles, Gurung’s line raised one question throughout the show –“Who gets to be American?” 

From denim and cowboy boots to representative of the American West, to all-white garments popular in the East during the Revolutionary War, to the omnipresent roses paying homage America herself, Gurung’s collection captures the historical essence of American fashion.

Each model helped emphasize the diversity within America. Various sizes and skin-tones rocked the runway, breaking the mold of the “blank-canvas” model that designers often use. 

Gurung wanted to make a political statement with this stunning addition to NYFW. Gurung immigrated to the U.S. from Nepal 20 years ago. In a TIME interview he said, “I came here to chase the American dream of hope, of possibility.” 

Photo by: Patrick McMullan via Getty Image for Prabal Gurung finale

He elaborated on the issues with inclusivity by touching on his own adverse personal experiences saying, “I said I wanted to find new America, ‘they’ said you don’t look American.” He concluded the show with each model donning a silk sash that read, “WHO GETS TO BE AMERICAN?” The statement reflected the designer’s own oppression he encountered in the U.S. “America to me is some of all things… I really wanted to celebrate that,” Gurung explained in his interview with TIME.

@HouseDemWomen on Twitter for suffragette women in white 

This isn’t the first time fashion was used as a tool to communicate a political statement. On February 5, 2019, women in the Democratic Women’s Caucus wore white to President Trump’s State of the Union Address as an act of unity with women’s suffrage.

The Twitter account @HouseDemWomen tweeted a picture with the caption: “The Democratic Women in the House are standing strong in #suffragette white-fighting #ForThePeople & the economic security of women & families! #SOTU.” 

Photo by: Frazer Harrison via Getty Images for Billy Porter

Celebrities have even taken political stances with  styling on the red carpet. The 2019 Oscars set the stage for Billy Porter to make waves in a Christian Siriano tuxedo dress. In an interview with Variety, Porter said, “I know that there is activism inside of fashion…I knew that a tuxedo gown at the Oscars would create a conversation surrounding what gender means.”

Similarly, Joy Villa at the 2019 Grammy’s wore a gown with the words “Build The Wall” designed by Desi Lee Allinger-Nelson. The gown’s inspiration came from Pink Floyd’s 1979 album cover of The Wall, and paired the gown with a red handbag that read “Make America Great Again,” paralleling the infamous hats commonly associated with President Donald Trump. In an interview with Fox News, Villa said, “I support what the president says about building the wall, so that’s what this dress represents.” 

Photo by: Valerie MacGetty Getty Images for Joy Villa

Fashion and politics regularly overlap whether it be on the runway, red carpets or on social media. It is often questioned if these fashion statements are useful to politics, but through a poll conducted on our Instagram– @thechicdaily— followers were asked to share their opinions on these two industries coexisting. 57% of people believed that a politicians’ wardrobe played a role in their popularity along with 54% of people stating that they had personally used their outfits to make a political statement, showing the spectrum of perspectives people have on fashion being used as a communicative tool. Comparatively, 86% of people supported the idea of designers expressing their political views through their designs.

These statistics beg the question on whether our perspectives on political fashion change depending on who’s behind the statement.


What do you think about the role fashion should or shouldn’t play in the political world?

Note: The fashion examples are meant to provide context to the piece and some of their sentiments do not reflect the views of The Chic Daily as a whole.

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