Fashion in the Time of Trump: The Politics of Clothing
On Nov. 18, women’s clothing designer Sophie Theallet released an open letter on her Instagram denouncing Melania Trump, the future first lady. Theallat, who designed many of first lady Michelle Obama’s stunning gowns throughout President Barack Obama's administration, wrote that President-elect Trump campaign’s values and actions did not align with those of her brand.
In addition to Theallat's letter about Melania, attention to Ivanka Trump’s own collection has increased. Some claim her brand, which promotes strong women in the workplace, is contradictory to the words and actions of her father, the President-elect. In response to this, a California-originated campaign #GrabYourWallet is urging customers to boycott Trump brands, as well as pressuring retailers to remove the brands from their shelves. Over 200 million people have tweeted with the hashtag, and Shoes.com and Bellacor have both dropped the Trump name from their merchandise.
These recent happenings represent the much larger sentiment of the fashion industry throughout this past election. Much of the fashion industry, including Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and designer Diane von Furstenberg, supported Clinton and fought for her win. With Donald Trump taking office soon, fashion’s relationship with politics just got that much more interesting.
Upon reading about these new forms of protest, I began to wonder about the relationship fashion should hold to politics. Theallat herself noted that involving her brand with the recent election may not be a smart move business-wise. However, she also noted that it was a family business and she wanted to promote what she believed was the right thing. But patrons of fashion pushed back, arguing that style and politics should not intermingle and remain separate in their individual worlds.
Why shouldn’t brands, and designers, take a stance on these issues? Furthermore, as consumers, how do we continue to connect style with candidates with whom we don’t necessarily agree? Does an opinion, popular or unpopular, control our willingness to buy from that brand?
Frankly, it is not uncommon for brands to take a stance in current affairs, and fashion almost always plays a role in any overtly-public phenomena. We cannot pretend that the two worlds do not coexist, and that the everyday brands we touch and care about don’t influence us immensely. First ladies have often been under the scrutiny of the public and media: Jackie Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have all drawn attention as fashion symbols of their times. Furthermore, people relate certain styles to politics, such as the pantsuit that has been synonymous with Hillary Clinton.
However, pantsuits aside, this last election has brought a new lens through which consumers can interact with brands. Melania, Dolnald Trump and daughter Ivanka all maintain brands under the Trump name. The name bears relation to a men’s collection which was formerly sold at Macy’s, a skincare line and QVC jewelery line. The Ivanka Trump collection features clothing, shoes and handbags sold at several retailers.
Given the close relationship, the fashion world should be involved and speaking out. Designers — specifically the ones that claim to oppose the Trump administration — will have learn to navigate these seemingly murky waters after the election. My opinion: Designers need to leverage their voices and get involved with the politics. Consumers connect deeply with brands, and designers should use this relationship to promote customers towards education, involvement and passion. Fashion may not seem directly related to politics, but it has the voice to influence people, and most importantly, influence people to take action, whichever side they lay on. In addition, it is the perfect opportunity for consumers to connect with the brands with which they resonate on a level deeper than just style.
Undoubtedly, style is a great way for individuals to express themselves. In times of political unrest, it is just another way to translate a message, and to have a voice. Brands represent so much more than a name, or symbol. Having a personal connection to the product, and therefore brand, makes us susceptible to its stance. With this ability to motivate its loyal consumers, designers and brands should use this channel of communication to motivate people to be knowledgeable, to be aware and to develop viewpoints on the current state of politics.