Finding Our Voice: Political Fashion

Fashion and politics…are not mutually exclusive. So why is it so difficult to quantify? When we think of fashion today, we could fall down an endless rabbit hole of Met Gala Looks, fights over deconstructed fashion resales on Grailed, or what Kylie Jenner is wearing in that Hollywood Fix photo. This is what we’ve effectively surrounded ourselves with, a sort of high-octane luxury echo chamber that we can’t escape with the help of TikTok and Instagram feeds. It almost makes one wonder how often we’re actually in touch with the current state of fashion around the world. We’re just as out of touch as the legacy fashion houses we love to mock. It’s important to keep this in mind if we’re ever to truly improve anything relating to fashion and current events of our world. 


We love fashion because it is freedom in a pure form, unmitigated autonomy to express ourselves and what we think. The late Vivienne Westwood was masterful at using her fashion to speak her mind on the politics of the seventies up until her passing this year. She was constantly using her designs as a platform to discuss politically-tied events in the world, issues of the past as well as the present. Westwood’s collections and various projects included rhetoric covering pro-Scottish independence, fracking, ethical labor conditions, restrictive gender norms, and even mocking Margaret Thatcher. Vivienne Westwood cemented herself in fashion history as a fearless creative and a stubborn inspiration to countless designers who desire to speak their minds about issues affecting the human concept of freedom.


We told ourselves at the turn of this year that we wanted to be storytellers. So, let’s tell a story. For a story to be completely understood, it is important for the audience to have context.


Siaqa is a 25 year old woman who currently lives in Afghanistan. In 2019, she registered for university after passing her Kankor entry exam. She was able to attend university in Afghanistan, take arts courses, and wear whatever she liked to her classes - no dress code required.


In August of 2021, news had broken of the Taliban’s seizure of large territory of the country and had established security. As this news was received around the world, many had fears for the return of the draconian government that citizens of Afghanistan had known throughout the 1990’s. This was directly felt by the nation’s women through strict dress code. At first, women in Afghanistan were forced to wear long black garments. To follow were mandatory hijabs and face-covering masks. Less than two months ago, in December of 2022, the Taliban’s appointed minister of higher education effectively banned women from attending public and private universities. As of today, Saiqa is hoping to immigrate to the United States to complete her university education. 


“When the Taliban banned university I completely lost my hope -  if a person loses hope, he or she doesn’t have anything. If I am able to have this opportunity, I can completely change my life and can achieve my lost dreams.”


The United States higher education system is one of the best in the world, which is reason enough why the plethora of universities attract many international students to begin with. High school was also banned for women and girls in Afghanistan under the Taliban in late 2021 as well. Although the Taliban had repeatedly “reassured” the rest of the world that this ban was temporary, these were empty words. The highest level of education available to women and girls in Afghanistan as of 2023 is grade 6, akin to the tail end of primary schooling in the United States. These bans are an increasing gateway to further, more aggressive bans on women and girls around Afghanistan under the Taliban’s control.


Education, along with food, water, shelter, clothing, and community, is a cornerstone of higher quality of human life. In the 21st century, education is necessary to survive. In Saiqa’s situation, along with thousands of other Afghan women, she will either become a statistic, or we can start communicating strongly about these issues and fighting for women’s rights to be reinstated, one woman at a time. 


“...this is the only way that we can build our future and achieve our aims. Maybe, it will be hard because the education system of the USA is very different from Afghanistan, but it is my only dream.”


While Saiqa’s journey and story is her own, the story is shared by many Afghan women who have had their education halted by the oppressive bans set by the Taliban in recent years. This is a story that is worth sharing, and calls for action.


We want to be storytellers and firestarters, like what Vivienne Westwood was able to create in her lifetime. If fashion is our medium, one of freedom and autonomy, we are honor-bound to use our medium fiercely when the autonomy of our roots is threatened. Our story is one of strengthening women around the world to the fullest extent of equity, we are only in our first few chapters. We need to challenge our audience to listen and understand the perspective of what we show them - we can’t rely only on runway photos and social media captions to tell our stories in earnest. The ideas and art behind a fashion collection aren’t really something that can be condensed easily, especially when it comes to more politically or philosophically-driven work.