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How Clothing Can be a ‘Tool of Resistance’

What you wear says something about what you mean. Because of that, clothing and style can play important roles in social movements. Tanisha C. Ford is a professor of history at the City University of New York who studies social movements. She talked with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about the influence clothing has had on movements of the past and of today. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Kai Ryssdal: Do me a favor, would you, and give me some examples from history of fashion and protest movements and how they’ve kind of aligned.

Tanisha Ford: A few highlights to me, and thinking of clothing as a tool of resistance, I think of the suffragettes and their sashes and their use of white dresses, the Black Panther Party and their wearing the black leather jacket and black berets. I think of Act Up and their “Silence equals death” T-shirts. And also more recent examples include the hoodies and “Assata taught me” T-shirts that Black Lives Matter activists have worn, and even those very bright and iconic pink pussy hats of the Women’s March.

Ryssdal: I said “fashion” and you said “clothing.” Is there a difference in your mind as it comes to protest movements?

Ford: To me there is a difference because I think that most often, activists, when they think about a symbol for their collective politics, they think of something that’s already a part of the everyday wardrobe of that group. For example, if we use that hoodies example, again, those hoodies were things that were part of the hip-hop culture and hip-hop ethos of style. And so when activists are wearing them, they’re not necessarily wearing them as a fashion statement. They’re wearing them as a symbol that represents very organically the group of people who are mobilizing against something like police brutality. So what happens oftentimes, though, is that corporations, fashion brands, they take those things and then elevate them to fashion, if you will. So they make it so that the everyday person wants to buy a hoodie, you know, a black hoodie with white writing or lettering on it.

Read entire article at Marketplace