When fashion comes calling for social change

This is not the first time that the red carpet has become platform for protest.

By Sujata Assomull

Published: Sat 13 Jan 2018, 6:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 13 Jan 2018, 8:55 PM

We want people to start having this conversation that women are just as valuable as men," said actress Debra Messing, who was one of the first to arrive at the Golden Globes last week. Dressed in a custom-made Christian Siriano ensemble, she did not speak about the dress or the designer but why she was wearing it. It was a "black-out" when it came to talking about fashion at the Golden Globes - the first award show of the season - as nearly every woman attending came dressed in black. It was a collective show of solidarity for the "Times Up" movement, started by women in the entertainment industry in protest against sexual harassment and inequality faced by women in various industries. It is a part of the #metoo campaign.
This is not the first time that the red carpet has become platform for protest. Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn purposely dressed down at the Oscars - fed-up of the studios showing them off as their bit of glamour. And of course, let's not forget the 1990s when wearing the red ribbon became de rigueur to raise awareness for AIDS, a campaign spearheaded by Elizabeth Taylor. Women know the impact fashion can have on social and cultural issues, and women in entertainment know because of the glamour surrounding their industry they are able to use the red carpet as a runway to highlight causes that need to be addressed.
Many leading actresses even came with female activists as their "plus one". Meryl Streep walked with Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Michelle Williams came with Tarana Burke, the founder of the #metoo movement. Both actresses were nominated but chose to use the occasion to bring the spotlight on women who work to promote equal rights.
They didn't talk about their labels, and it was a win for fashion. It proved that fashion can be much more than simply what you wear.
Clothes reflect social values and cultural choices, and this is the reason why costumes are studied and held highly in academic circles. At the Golden Globes, a handful of woman chose to wear the tuxedo. Leading the pack was The Crown's Claire Foy who wore a black tuxedo by British designer Stella McCartney with extra tall Christian Louboutin shoes, hair swept back and bright red lipstick. It was a 2018 take on the 1920s, a time when women first started cutting their hair and wearing trouser suits. At that time this controversial style of dress was one of the ways upper class English women expressed their belief that women deserved to vote on the same terms as men. So wearing a tux, in support of the 'Times Up' movement sent a strong message. But not everyone decided to go androgynous. Jessica Biel chose to wear a Dior Couture tulle ball gown with Bulgari bling and Dakota Johnson glittered in a Gucci dress that was teamed with Nirav Modi jewellery.
By wearing black how they wanted to also spoke of the freedom that fashion gives you - it lets a woman express who she is.
There is no question that the black dress code did what it set out to - gave a voice to the #metoo campaign. The choice of a colour like that can be both glamorous and austere, and 'on point', as fashion instagrammers would call it.
But it also had another hidden message that fashion is a serious business, and should be treated as one.
Sujata Assomull is Consulting Fashion Editor at Khaleej Times  

More news from