On 7 January a host of actors, actresses, musicians and members of the film industry took to the Golden Globes red carpet wearing all black. However, this wasn’t a symbol of mourning. It was a mass political statement using fashion, started by 300 women who work in film, television and theatre to protest sexual harassment and assault by powerful people within the entertainment industry.
In the wake of many sexual assault allegations, namely those against Harvey Weinstein – a man who has yet to be uncharged – there has been a huge cultural awakening in regards to sexual harassment, gender inequality, and the power imbalances that allow such structures to exist. The TIMES UP website declares that the movement is a “unified call for change from women in entertainment to women everywhere”, with desires to address “the systematic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential.” Actors and actresses such as Angelina Jolie, Viola Davies, Steve Carrel, and the young cast of Stranger Things all took to the carpet wearing black in protest of such inequalities.
Of course, there isn’t a profound newness to using fashion as a means of protest. In the 1790s, after the Reign of Terror, a cluster of mainly male Parisian youths appeared, using fashion that enlarged, padded and stretched the body out of proportion. The French christened them ‘Incroyable’, or in English, ‘Incredible’. This movement later served as the inspiration for the New Romantic style of the 1980s.
In more recent years, namely during the 1960s and 70s, the beret was used as a symbol of the Black Panther movement in a similar way to how a uniform demonstrates ones affiliation. In 2012, Dame Vivienne Westwood closed the Paralympics with her Climate Revolution campaign in which she wore sheer tights over boxers and a t-shirt with the campaign’s title emblazoned across it. Pink pussy hats have also dominated most pictures of the women’s marches that have taken place internationally since Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2016.
This isn’t the first time that fashion has been used to make a statement, specifically at awards shows. Actress and political activist Jane Fonda wore an Yves Saint Laurent suit to the Oscars in 1972 so as to bring the focus of her Best Actress award win to the war in Vietnam. Fonda later commented on her iconic fashion choice, saying “I wore something that made a statement. It was not a time for showy dresses. It was a time for seriousness.” At the 2003 Academy Awards, which fell during the Iraq war, many of those attending wore black, including Nicole Kidman who famously asked, “Why do you come to the Academy Awards when the world is in turmoil? Because Art is important.” At the Globes last year, actor Lola Kirke and the writer of ‘Transparent’ Jill Soloway wore badges declaring “Fuck Paul Ryan”, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
Fashion has always been used as a means of protest and in a time when the fashion industry is often dismissed as material and a shallow reflection of the world’s desire for consumption, the use of clothing as a means by which to infer serious political inclinations demonstrates both its power and reach. The use of clothes as a means of protest at the Golden Globes this January illustrates this point, and offers an answer to a question not often asked of the decadent fashion choices on the red carpet – why?