Politics and fashion have an inextricable connection; both are fueled by a desire to evoke a response, a reaction. Fashion choices and political views become a part of who we are, empowering us to, as Gandhi said, "be the change [we] wish to see in the world."
Aung San Suu Kyi was recently released after spending 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest in Myanmar. Detained for her democratic activism in a country that denies its citizens the freedom of expression, Suu Kyi was greeted upon her release by a swarm of supporters clad in t-shirts bearing her face and the words, "We Stand with Aung San Suu Kyi."
The international pressure placed on Myanmar's government by ordinary citizens from all around the world led to Suu Kyi's triumphant liberation.
Donning a simple shirt can not only attract attention, but also enable you to influence a wide range of people. Combining the power of an image or words with the power of fashion is a highly effective way to evoke a slew of emotions—rage, joy, sorrow, indifference.
Iranians are expected to adhere to traditional Islamic dress codes.
My friend's paternal family members are from Iran. During her last trip to the country, she was quick to observe the way fashion choices became blatant displays of defiance.
She was surprised to see an overall shift toward western-style clothing, with a tighter fit and shorter cut for men and women alike.
Whereas Iranians use fashion to express their discontent with the strict governmental regulations that pervade their private lives, Americans, whether we are conscious of it or not, also make political statements each time we wear a camouflage print jacket or t-shirt. Wearing camo can be interpreted as a sign of patriotism.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is known for its eye-catching fur campaign, which features famous models and celebrities au natural holding signs with catchy slogans like "We'd rather go naked than wear fur!" or "Bare Skin not Bearskin." Even the heartiest of meat aficionados (myself included) will contemplate vegetarianism for a split second after a glance at any one of these ads.
Some fashion statements are intended to be seen by foreigners as a sign of respect. Michelle Obama recently accompanied her husband to India. Though she did not don a traditional sari during her stay, she made sure to incorporate local colors and style in each of her ensembles.
For her visit to the University of Mumbai where she met with underprivileged children, Obama strategically opted for a bright turquoise brooch, a shimmering olive green shirt, a high waisted multi-colored metallic skirt, and mustard-colored flats.
After watching a video of Mrs. O dancing to a traditional Indian song, I mistook her ensemble for traditional Indian garb, as the bold colors blend in with the saris of the sea of children clamoring for the First Lady's attention.
Make an Obama shirt in the printmaking studio or wear a sari the next time you visit India. A political fashion statement allows for you to wordlessly connect with others who feel the same way as you do about an issue. Conversely, it can spark a heated conversation with those who vehemently oppose your cause of choice.
Either way, political fashion statements situate you within a larger movement that may ultimately grant liberty to a political prisoner or result in the election of the most qualified candidate for president.