26-Jul, 05:32

08:22, January 18 282 0

2017-01-18 08:22:15
Fashioning Protest for the Women’s March on Washington

Elizabeth Azen, owner of the clothing line Dynasty — emphasis on the last two syllables — has designs on dressing the women who turn out to protest at the Women’s March on Washington. A few days before the event, she was busy filling online orders for bright hats inscribed with the phrase “Already Great.” Other hats, bright red beanies, just feature a boldface “NO.”

The accessories are, she said, “a typographic gut reaction” to the results of the November election, an enduring symbol of which was President-elect Donald J. Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” hat. “Who gets to own a color?” the Brooklyn-based designer mused.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to visit the nation’s capital to march against the new administration of Mr. Trump. There will be plenty of signs — and, presumably, plenty of shouts — but the clothes and accessories that the marchers wear, from bright red beanies to peace pins to cat-eared knit hats, may also do some talking. Though there is an official Women’s March hoodie, created by Bob Bland, a fashion designer in New York and the event’s co-chairman, and sold through the march’s website for $55, a number of other designers and craftswomen have been inspired to shape their own forms of wearable protest since the organizing began.

Ms. Azen said she and her business partner, Jessica Wingate, were driven to make their hats by a desire to create “statements that can last in people’s minds and become a part of the vernacular.”

“We really need that right now,” she said.

For American women, clothing has always provided a means of visual resistance, beginning with those who believed in dress reform, or the right to wear pants, in the 1800s. At the 1963 March on Washington, thousands of black women opted for denim, overalls and natural hair, resisting sartorial protocol and rejecting expectations. When women showed up at the polls in pantsuits last November, they were not only referring to activists of the past but expressing their support for the first female presidential candidate nominated by a major party.

This march will not be about pantsuits, nor have there been many calls to wear white, the suffragists’ signature. Instead, more literal sartorial messaging seems to be in style.

In the past, textiles alone — denim, plaid, leather — were most often used to telegraph a woman’s politics and reject notions of what femininity should look like, according to Tanisha Ford, an assistant professor of history at the University of Delaware and the author of “Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.” Now text-based protest apparel, from Dior’s “We Should All Be Feminist” shirts to $2 “Nasty Woman” pins on Etsy, is on the rise, she said.

We live in a digital culture, she noted. Words photograph well.

“I think one of the benefits of using clothing as a sign of one’s politics is that it allows other people who may not get to places like Washington, D.C., to show that they are in solidarity” with a movement like the Women’s March, Ms. Ford said.

Can what you wear be a form of substantive activism? Ms. Azen thinks so. She thinks people have always used the clothing they wear to send a message about who they are and what they believe.

“You can choose to wear Levi’s on your pocket or Michael Kors on your bag,” Ms. Azen said.

She paused: “Or you can choose to make a statement.” Literally.

In an election season some say was ruled by sound bites — “Nasty Woman” and “Bad Hombres” — any enterprising observer could turn off-the-cuff utterances into words of marketable protest. Still, one of the most conspicuous accessories at the march may be wordless. The Pussyhat Project, an online collective of knitters, is trying to crowdsource 1.1 million bright pink cat-eared hats for people attending the march to wear.

The hat is a pointed play on Mr. Trump’s past comments, which became public in a leaked “Access Hollywood” recording, about grabbing women by their genitals.

With more than 60,000 knitted so far, Jayna Zweiman, a founder of the project, said she wants women in bright pink hats to be a strong visual signal on the day of the march.

“We thought about that drone view from above,” Ms. Zweiman, 38, said in an interview.

Then there are those accessories that prioritize American unity over statements of subversion. Kate Lind and Nate Stevens created the website Pincause to sell $5 pins for the march. They live in Ann Arbor, Mich., where they often run into people who voted for Mr. Trump.

Their pin, which showcases the American sign language symbol for “I Love You,” is meant to symbolize a desire to heal the gulf between those with opposing beliefs. Over 10,000 have been sold.

“People are very excited to be able to gather around something positive,” Ms. Lind said. She added that she has been hearing from customers who “don’t have this desire to, like, scream and yell at people.”

Unity may be easier said than worn. Plans for the Women’s March have been fraught with discussions about race and the need for a brand of feminism that reaches women of all backgrounds. What women choose to wear to communicate their myriad beliefs on the day of the march is likely to be as multifaceted as the issues involved.

“I don’t think that there is one symbol that can hold that diversity of political thought,” Ms. Ford, the author, said. “I don’t think there should have to be.”