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Dressed to protest? Six ways clothes have been used to make more than a sartorial statement

Colours, clothing and slogans have all be used to make a point in public. Credit: PA/AP

Clothes are often a fundamental part of a protest movement.

Such is the provocative power of dress that what you wear can get you locked up in certain parts of the world, whether it’s sporting a red beret in Uganda or wearing black in Hong Kong.

But there are many different methods to make a sartorial statement, sometimes with unintended consequences.

Here's a look at six ways outfits have been used to fight a cause...

  • Fashion a clear idea
Extinction Rebellion made a scene at London Fashion Week with performances and sombre funeral attire. Credit: PA

Designers and demonstrators haven’t always been so friendly.

Extinction Rebellion protesters disrupted the start of this year's London Fashion Week with a ‘die-in’ performance covered in fake blood while other members dressed in sombre funeral attire.

Yet some fashion designers can be credited with paving the way for fashion activism.

Designer Katharine Hamnett notably wore a slogan T-shirt stating “58% don’t want Pershing” to protest nuclear weapons coming to Europe in the 1980s.

She shocked then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with her anti-nuclear message originally hidden underneath her top.

Fashion designer Katharine Hamnett said it with her shirt as she met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Credit: PA

But politicians have since gone on to adopt this statement-led attire.

In 2014, MP Harriet Harman encouraged her peers to take a selfie in the Fawcett Society approved "This is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt.

However, the top was later criticised for allegedly being made by women in poor working conditions.

Then deputy leader of the Labour party Harriet Harman wore a feminist T-shirt during PMQs in 2014. Credit: PA

Now designers have moved on to include grassroots movements in their work such as Stella McCartney who joined forces with Extinction Rebellion models to help promote her sustainable winter collection.

The move was welcomed by the campaigners fighting the fast fashion industry.

  • Choose a symbolic colour
Black-clad protesters hit the streets of Hong Kong as part of pro-democracy rallies. Credit: AP

The mock-funeral trend has gone global with hundreds of people dressing in black to mourn the glaciers lost to climate change this year.

Black has also been worn in solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong who risk arrest for wearing not only clothes of that colour but also masks.

A women unafraid of what she wears is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a statement in white. Credit: AP

She made headlines for turning up in an all-white outfit when she was sworn in as the US’ youngest ever congresswoman.

The outfit was a nod to the suffrage movement which is represented by three colours - white, purple and green standing for purity, dignity and hope.

The congresswoman called it a “wave of white” in opposition to President Trump’s comments on women.

And the powerful pantsuit looks to inspire the next generation, as a fundraising page with over £20,000 donations hopes to produce an action figure of her in that same iconic outfit.

  • Take action through accessories
Pink pussy hats appeared throughout the crowd of anti-Trump protesters in Washington in 2017. Credit: AP

Whether it’s a suffragette sash or a clean white jacket, sometimes one item of clothing is all that’s needed to show support.

Feminists marched on Washington in hand-knitted 'pink pussy hats', created after a recording of President Trump's comments on grabbing women was made public.

While supporters of Ugandan pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine don red berets in his trademark style.

Pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine's supporters could end up in prison if they wear his signature red beret. Credit: AP

The head wear used as part of his ‘People Power’ movement against long time President Yoweri Museveni was banned by the government last month with the threat of jail.

In a similar style, the military look featured heavily throughout the black power movement.

Americans Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos raise their gloved fists in a human rights protest. Credit: AP

Notably when African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos proudly raised black-gloved fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympics.

While enormously provocative at the time, the iconic protest has been echoed by today's entertainers as a symbol of fashionable resistance.

Even today's artists can be seen with black gloves and berets like Beyoncé who wore a Black Panther ensemble for her halftime performance at Super Bowl 50.

Beyoncé echoed the dress of protest in 2016's Super Bowl show. Credit: AP
  • Reference popular culture

From big cats to copycats, many movements have borrowed looks from TV and film.

Fans of both book and TV programme ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ have been sporting the same red robes and white bonnets worn by the oppressed female characters.

Popular TV and book series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has influenced pro-choice campaigners across the globe. Credit: PA

The costume was adopted by abortion rights campaigners in Northern Ireland who reckon today’s events mirror Margaret Atwood’s dystopian world.

The hacktivist group 'Anonymous' have also harnessed another alternative world, wearing the Guy Fawkes masks made famous by the 2005 hit film ‘V for Vendetta’.

Guy Fawkes masks have become both a symbol of protest and cheap commerce. Credit: AP

Ironically, the chosen anti-capitalist symbol is owned by media conglomerate Time Warner so each sale pays a fee to one of the world’s largest media companies.

  • Unite in uniform
France's Gilets Jaunes stand strong with their eye-catching attire. Credit: AP

In a similar way, putting on a uniform as a united front can bring power to a campaign.

The punk rockers of the 1980s distressed aesthetic which protested recession and the Establishment is seen as a must for any anarchist’s wardrobe.

In France today, the citizens protest movement ‘Gilets Jaunes’ – which stands for yellow vests – has challenged President Emmanuel Macron's policies.

The movement became popular as the fluorescent high-vis jackets are required to be carried by all motorists by law.

  • Strip off or wear nothing
Kristen Stewart left her shoes behind at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. Credit: AP

But for some, the best way to cause a stir is by removing your clothing or sometimes wearing nothing at all.

Kristen Stewart strutted down barefoot on the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival against their strict dress code.

The actress kicked off her shoes in 2018 to rebel against the high-heel only rule she thought was unfair.

And she's not the only one stripping off, animal rights activists have taken it one step further by bearing all to protest against fur.

PETA supporters have stripped off to make their point. Credit: AP

PETA supporters have been known to go nude for their campaigns as have Russia’s best-known feminist punk-rock group Pussy Riot.

The group even got in trouble in 2013 for clashing with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel completely topless.