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The Intersection of Fashion and Activism: How Style Can Drive Change




The intersections of culture are fascinating places where disparate disciplines collide and interact, often in unexpected ways. One such intersection is between the world of fashion and the realm of activism, where clothes aren’t just used to make a statement about the individual’s sense of style but are also employed to highlight social, economic, and political issues.

Understanding the role of fashion in activism provides a unique perspective on the impact clothing can have beyond mere aesthetics, and underlines the potential for style to drive change.

History of Fashion Activism

To comprehend the intertwining of fashion and activism, it is essential to take a historical tour that reflects the use of clothing as a tool for protest and awareness. Fashion activism has deep roots, often tied to periods of significant social upheaval.

For instance, the Suffragettes of the early 20th century used clothing strategically to promote their cause, adopting a specific uniform of white, green, and violet – an acronym for “Give Women Votes.” Later, during the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party used fashion as a part of their identity, with their black berets and leather jackets becoming symbols of resistance.

More recent examples include Katharine Hamnett’s political slogan T-shirts in the 1980s, which brought social and environmental issues to the fashion frontlines, and the red carpet “blackout” at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, where attendees wore black in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment.

The Power of Symbols in Fashion Activism

Symbols and colors have always played a vital role in fashion activism. They have been used to create unity, incite resistance, and stimulate conversations. By wearing a specific symbol or color, individuals can non-verbally communicate their beliefs and their commitment to a cause. This symbolic language often transcends verbal communication barriers, reaching a wider audience.

For example, pink pussyhats, worn during the Women’s March after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, became a powerful symbol of women’s rights. The AIDS awareness red ribbon, first introduced in the early 1990s, is another example of a fashion accessory that evolved into an international symbol of HIV and AIDS awareness. These items helped to stimulate conversation about their respective issues and created a sense of unity among supporters.

The Role of High Fashion

High fashion, too, is increasingly playing a role in activism. Designers like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood have used their platforms to promote sustainability and draw attention to climate change. Their work has inspired a new generation of designers to prioritize eco-friendly manufacturing processes and sustainable materials, turning the high fashion industry into a driving force for environmental activism.


Fashion weeks around the globe have also served as platforms for activism. Runway shows have been used to highlight issues ranging from body positivity and diversity to refugee crises and global warming. These events, often covered extensively by media worldwide, ensure that the activist messages reach a global audience.

Accessories as Catalysts for Activism

Accessories have always been crucial in the world of fashion, allowing individuals to express their personal style subtly or boldly. But like clothing, accessories can also be powerful tools for activism, carrying messages of change and solidarity.

One iconic example is the classic Ray-Ban aviator glasses, which became a symbol of counterculture and civil disobedience in the 1960s and 70s. In fact, their relatively small size and portability often make them more accessible and widely adopted as symbols of various causes.

Iconic Designer Accessories in Activism

Designer brands have long recognized the potential for accessories to communicate messages beyond style. Many have released iconic items that have been instrumental in promoting social causes and raising funds for charities.

The French luxury brand Louis Vuitton, for example, has collaborated with UNICEF to create the Silver Lockit bracelet, inspired by the tumbler lock invented by Georges Vuitton in 1890. For each sale of the bracelet, $200 is donated to UNICEF, contributing to the support of children in dire situations around the world.

Similarly, Tiffany & Co., through their Save the Wild Collection, which includes charms and brooches shaped like elephants, rhinos, and lions, has raised funds for the Wildlife Conservation Network, underlining their commitment to environmental preservation and biodiversity.

Gucci’s ‘Chime for Change’ campaign utilized accessories as a means to support gender equality. The Italian brand released a special edition watch, with a portion of the proceeds going towards projects that promote education, health, and justice for girls and women globally.

Power of Accessories in Grassroots Activism

Accessories have also played pivotal roles in grassroots activism. The rainbow-colored wristbands distributed during Pride events are not only fashion statements but symbols of LGBTQ+ rights advocacy. Similarly, the Livestrong yellow wristband, despite controversies surrounding its founder Lance Armstrong, managed to raise significant awareness and funds for cancer research.

The Pussyhat Project offers another example of a small accessory – a knitted pink hat – becoming a global symbol of women’s rights and empowerment, highlighting the capacity of these items to give visual identity to a movement and stimulate conversations about important societal issues.

The Impact of Social Media

The advent of social media has significantly bolstered the impact of fashion activism. Social media platforms have made it easier for individuals and brands to showcase their activist fashion, reach a global audience, and engage followers in meaningful conversations about critical issues.


Through these platforms, fashion activism campaigns such as #WhoMadeMyClothes, initiated by Fashion Revolution following the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, have gone viral. The campaign encouraged consumers to question brands about their supply chain transparency, effectively using fashion as a tool to advocate for workers’ rights.

Fashion Activism in the Future

Looking towards the future, fashion activism is likely to play an increasingly prominent role as consumers become more socially and environmentally conscious. People are beginning to understand that their purchasing power has an impact and that they can use it to support brands and designers who align with their values.

The future may see more brands committing to fair trade and sustainable practices, a wider variety of sizes and models represented in the fashion industry, and more widespread use of clothing as a form of protest and awareness. Ultimately, fashion and activism will continue to intersect and evolve together, continually reinforcing the idea that style isn’t just about personal expression – it’s about expressing what you believe in and advocating for change.

Fashion’s Power to Catalyze Change

From the Suffragettes’ symbolic color schemes to the power of the red AIDS ribbon, from Stella McCartney’s sustainable high fashion to viral social media campaigns for workers’ rights, fashion has proven time and again its power as a vehicle for activism.

As we become more conscious consumers, it’s more important than ever to remember the power of what we wear and the statement it can make. Fashion isn’t just about looking good; it’s about standing up, speaking out, and driving change.

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