7 Ways Fashion Joined the Political Conversation in 2017 - Fashionista
From slogan tees to suing the president.

Fashion and politics have always been intertwined, as has been made evident in everything from the history of the bob haircut to the path that led to women wearing jeans. But there are certain eras wherein that connection becomes much more in-your-face than others, and 2017 was definitely one such period. It was a year that saw one of the largest organized protests in American history, horrifying sexual assault claims that upended the longstanding power structures of culturally significant men, geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Russia and North Korea and scientists saying that climate change will kill us all even sooner than we thought. Considering all of that, it's no surprise that those in the fashion industry were inclined to think about more than "just pretty dresses" this year.

"Anyone who's upright and breathing understands that this is a cultural moment like none other — the deep divisions we see in our government are mirrored and reflected back in sports, the arts, truly every facet of our culture," Brent Franson, CEO of retail data firm Euclid, told Fashionista via email. "Fashion and retail are no exception."

Whether fashion people responded to the current state of the world in ways that were effective or ineffective, heartfelt or opportunistic, the one thing they had in common was that they responded. Here, we outline some of the most memorable ways that fashion, as an industry, chose to engage with politics and current events in 2017.

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Increased Accountability

While major publishers cutting ties with photographer and alleged model abuser Terry Richardson struck many as a belated and half-hearted attempt to avoid public scorn in the wake of Harvey Weinstein's dethroning, other strides toward eliminating human rights abuses in fashion seemed more genuine. Casting director James Scully caused ripples by speaking out about the poor treatment of models, and eventually partnered with luxury conglomerates Kering and LVMH to draft a charter intended to protect models' rights. 

On the supply chain side of things, this year saw the beginning of an initiative to map and index every factory in Bangladesh to increase transparency in the world's second-largest garment manufacturing capital. Later, nonprofit Nest convened a United Nations summit to address the often-invisible role of artisans in the global fashion industry.

"To effect real and lasting change, businesses and industry groups should make themselves publicly accountable and work cooperatively to formulate and implement best practices," The Model Alliance founding director Sara Ziff said to Fashionista via email. "Industry and company guidelines that lack periodic trainings, awareness raising efforts and adequate enforcement mechanisms will not ensure positive change."

Protesting

When the organizers of the Women's March mobilized what became the largest single-day protest in American history in response to Trump's inauguration, fashion was not absent. Some brands shut down for the day so their employees could attend, while others donated all the profits made that day to causes like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Fashion media outlets attended the event in full force. 

Later, high-profile models like Gigi and Bella Hadid joined a #NoBanNoWall protest in New York City in response to Trump's proposed immigration ban, and Bella joined a "Free Palestine" protest in London later in the year, too. Despite the fact that many of these actions seemed to be inspired by genuine outrage and an earnest desire to make things better, flubs like Kendall Jenner's ill-advised, tone-deaf Pepsi ad felt more like an attempt to commodify and capitalize on a spirit of resistance. 

Political Reporting

A wide range of fashion glossies have made political reporting a part of their repertoire for decades. But increased interest after the 2016 election meant that many publications doubled down on the content to which both editors and their readers were increasingly drawn. This was so true for Teen Vogue that it became as known for its political takes as for its style editorials in 2017. In the fall, the publication featured Hillary Clinton on its cover.

"Maybe a decade ago you'd think, 'Oh, I'm going to read my politics and then my fashion news and then my health news,'" Glamour Executive Editor Wendy Naugle told Fashionista earlier this year. "Now, people see how those all go hand-in-hand. Something that's decided in public policy could affect any of those areas."

Representation

In a year when the president called transgender people a "burden," slowed down immigration and repeatedly attacked female political opponents' looks, some fashion insiders used diverse model castings to distance themselves from Trump's rhetoric and to fight back in actionable ways. 2017 saw more New York Fashion Week runway representation for models of color, plus-size models, non-binary models and models over age 50 than ever before. Condé Nast launched Them, its first ever LGBTQ-focused media brand; GQ had a banner year in terms of POC cover stars; Ashley Graham became the first curve model to join the top 10 highest-earning models list.

Still, more time in the spotlight for underrepresented groups is a mixed bag. "We've definitely had more visibility this year for people of color and gender non-conforming people, but that isn't necessarily to say these chosen models are getting equal payment or, you know, real equity for their participation," writer Arabelle Sicardi told Fashionista via email. "Visibility isn't equity [and] representation doesn't pay the bills, literally." Sicardi explained that it's "super helpful to just make someone's life easier in a material way rather than congratulating them for being 'brave' and 'out there' when doing so can make their lives more difficult and expose them to a lot of hate on the internet."

Runway (and Red Carpet) Statements

If there was one thing that characterized the first NYFW after Trump's inauguration, it was the sheer number of political statements on the runway. From slogan tees reading "Feminist AF" to soundtracks including songs like "F Trump" to a show opening that featured the organizers of the Women's March, designers made clear how they felt about the new president's takes on immigrants, the environment, queer people, women and more. 

Showgoers also got in on the action by wearing "Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood" buttons that were distributed by the CFDA or white bandanas that were meant to symbolize "inclusivity, diversity and unity" as part of Business of Fashion's "Tied Together" initiative. On the red carpet, celebrities took a similar approach by donning blue ribbons in support of the ACLU and the Dream Act.

Activism and Boycotting

As the political climate in the U.S. became increasingly dissatisfying to both Republicans and Democrats, citizens often looked to brands for leadership — and let retailers know when they didn't agree with a particular stance. Shortly after the election, that meant boycotting L.L. Bean, New Balance and Under Armour when the companies' leaders made pro-Trump statements. Other brand leaders, like those at Patagonia, didn't wait for customer action, but rather took activism into their own hands by suing the Trump administration over an attempt to reduce public lands and monuments. 

"Influential brands are collectively restructuring the way we do business as an industry, and new houses are born natively into a more socially responsible space," VP and founding director of The Fair Fashion Center Cara Smyth told Fashionista via email. "While there is a tremendous amount of work to do, fashion is hard-wired for change."

Homepage photo: A look from the Prabal Gurung Fall 2017 collection. Gurung was one of many designers who used the runway to make political statements in February. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

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