Fashion can unite and divide communities. It has the ability to shape and identify communities. The iconography it creates within some communities can have connotations which cannot be removed.
Communities have a tendency to be intensely insular sometimes to their detriment. Thus, fashion used to identify groups can not only unite the community wearing the items but isolate them from the communities not wearing them. Portraying fashions usage as an instrument to unite and divide communities.
Its employment as a political component or social agent to unite people against or in favour of a cause is fascinating. The use of an everyday element such as clothing to express opinions is what style should be used for. So why is it sometimes so controversial? The answer lies with what opinions individuals are distributing and whether they are alienating or unifying.
A vested interest in change
The yellow vests which identify the French grassroots movement the Yellow Vests (Giles Jaunes); their fight ignited by a tax to raise fuel prices. They now continue to fight for a multitude of social, political and economic issues. With more than 290,000 people participating during the main protest in late 2019, the item of clothing has become the icon and main identifier of this movement.
It unified these people in France to stand up against the establishment they believed to be acting unjustly. Thus, the symbol became so important and discernible that they named the movement after it.
The movements’ aims are to unite people towards its message to stand against the government and any of their legislature that is believed to be unfair to the people. This political use of fashion portrays how it can help form a community and be the main identifier of it. Albeit less controversial than the ‘Make America Great Again’ hats the Yellow Vests carry a political motive.
Pride and Prejudice
The red hat worn by Donald Trump’s supporters with the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ is now infamous. It is a controversial symbol which opposing communities have viewed with negative connotations. It symbolises a group who adhere to a set of beliefs piloted by President Trump; a supremely provocative figure.
The certain hue of red from a distance can still have those associations even if it is not a MAGA hat. The baseball cap acts to identify this community and helps this community identify each other. The sea of red hats worn at Trump rallies helps convey the power of such divisive rhetoric.
This item has the risk of becoming an even more disruptive symbol considering the most recent election results. As a political symbol Trump has employed it as an agent to divide the people of the population against each other on behalf of a political body.
However, fashion is not always a political identifier for communities. The rainbow flag and pattern identifies the LGBTQ+ community and supporters of that community. It helps unite people and highlight the message behind their community.
The rainbow incorporates all the colours of all the flags used by this community and their individual components. The unity of the flag helps to signify the unity they want to inspire in their members. It is a powerful and colourful symbol impressive to behold at Pride events.
It also helps identify which members of the public are involved in the parades and celebrations. To some, due to opposing beliefs, they have construed it as an excluding icon. However, those beliefs are, thankfully nowadays, situated in the minority. The true purpose of the flag is acceptance and unification.
Finding the right fit
Fashion is about self-expression and to combine this within communities to unite people is commendable. In a period when people are more disconnected, especially in 2020 with the unprecedented issues thrown at society, it is heart-warming to see communities unite over issues and fashion to be a beacon of this unity.
The Yellow Vest protestors sharing clothing, the rainbow worn by supporters of the LGBTQ+ community all to show solidarity with communities underrepresented and neglected. Fashion helps distinguish individuals who are part of communities discontent with aspects of society and help bring focus to those issues. Of course, these styles are controversial to some who disagree with their beliefs as the MAGA hats are to many communities.
However, that cannot dispute the fact that fashion, has been and will continue to be, used as a key identifier within parades, protests and everyday life of communities in which people belong.