Fashion and Activism

Fashion Activism Fashion Revolution artwork by Psylo

Image above: 'Fashion Revolution - Fashion and Activism' artwork by Psylo.


Clothing as a Voice of Social Change Through History

Fashion has always been more than just a means of covering our bodies; it is a form of self-expression that can transcend the superficial to become a powerful medium for social and political change. Throughout history, clothing has been utilised as a silent yet resonant voice, echoing the sentiments of various movements and revolutions. This article covers this journey of fashion as an instrument of activism, tracing its footsteps through different eras and exploring its deep impact on shaping narratives of social change.


Early Expressions of Activism through Attire

Throughout history, clothing has woven itself into the narrative of social revolution, serving as a potent tool for expressing ideals and sparking change. In 18th-century France, the commoners who were part of the working class during the French Revolution were known as "sans-culottes", signifying their lack of aristocratic breeches. The term "sans-culottes" highlighted their low-class status, as they chose to wear long trousers instead of the aristocratic breeches. This fashion choice served as a symbol of their struggle for equal recognition and distinction during the French Revolution. In response to their poor conditions, the sans-culottes crafted a civilian uniform with loose-fitting garments, using fashion as a means of expressing their collective identity and resistance against the monarchy.

The uprising of the Parisian sans-culottes from 31 May to 2 June 1793

Image above: the uprising of the Parisian "sans-culottes", 31 May 1793 (source: Wikimedia).


The trousers were again a symbol of rebellion in the late 19th century. A few trailblazing women challenged social norms by wearing them, often as a statement of gender equality and a rejection of restrictive clothing. Amelia Bloomer, an American women's rights advocate, became associated with the "Bloomer costume", which included loose trousers gathered at the ankles. Although this clothing did not gain widespread popularity, it symbolised the early stages of women pushing against societal expectations in their clothing choices. During the suffragette movement, clothing choices transcended mere aesthetics. Symbolic colours – purple for dignity, green for hope, and white for purity – became the visual language of empowerment. Sashes, banners, and garments adorned with these hues transformed attire into a collective identity, a sartorial proclamation demanding women's rights.

a Votes for Women badge in the colours of the suffragette movement

Image above: a 'Votes for Women' badge in the colours of the suffragette movement - purple represents loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope.


These early instances illuminate clothing's transformative role as a medium for social and political change. Each stitch and colour told a story of resilience, reflecting a society in flux where garments became a silent, resounding voice advocating progress and justice.


The Counterculture Revolution and Anti-establishment Fashion

The 1960s and 1970s ushered in an era of counterculture revolution, where clothing became a vibrant canvas for anti-establishment sentiments. Fashion became a symbol of rebellion, reflecting a youth-driven movement challenging societal norms. The counterculture embraced distinctive aesthetics, rejecting conventional styles. The mini skirt became a symbol of women’s independence and sexual liberation. Modified military uniforms were being worn as an act of rebellion by anti-war activists. Tie-dye, with its psychedelic colours, and bell bottoms, defying the straight-laced norm, became iconic anti-establishment fashion. These garments were more than trends; they were visual statements rejecting conformity and embracing individuality.

Psylo's Zip Mini Skirt with asymmetrical hem

Image above: our organic cotton Zip Mini Skirt, with its asymmetrical hem, in a bold look.


During this era, political slogans also found a prominent place in clothing. Activists used attire as a literal billboard for their ideals. Whether protesting the Vietnam War or advocating for civil rights, individuals expressed their convictions through what they wore. Symbols such as the peace sign became synonymous with anti-establishment sentiment, transcending language barriers.

The counterculture revolution marked the evolution of protest fashion. Garments transformed into powerful symbols, carrying narratives of resistance and the desire for change. The fashion of this era wasn't just about style; it became a statement of dissent, challenging authority and sparking conversations about societal transformation. The counterculture revolution, with its kaleidoscope of colours and bold statements, demonstrates how fashion can catalyse social change, evolving from silent symbols to a louder, more assertive voice challenging the status quo.


Ethical Fashion and Sustainable Activism

As we fast-forward to contemporary times, the intersection of fashion and activism takes a conscientious turn, with a growing emphasis on ethical fashion and sustainability. The 21st century sees a shift towards clothing that not only makes a style statement but also carries a powerful message of social and environmental responsibility. The rise of movements like ethical fashion or slow fashion represents a departure from conventional consumerism. Activists and consumers alike demand transparency in the fashion industry, questioning the environmental and ethical implications of mass production. Fair labour practices, cruelty-free materials, and responsible sourcing of raw materials have become integral components of the ethical fashion movement.

Sustainable practices and environmental awareness take centre stage as the fashion industry grapples with its ecological footprint. Designers and brands adopt eco-friendly materials, implement circular fashion concepts, and strive for zero-waste production. The fashion runway transforms into a platform for showcasing not just style, but also a commitment to reducing environmental impact. Movements like “Fashion Revolution”, which was founded in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, are mobilising citizens, brands and policymakers through research, education and advocacy.

Psylo team member holding Fashion Revolution's I Made Your Clothing campaign sign

Image above: Kadek Setiawan, a member of our team of skilful artisans, joining Fashion Revolution’s campaign by holding a sign “I Made Your Clothes”. This campaign promotes transparency in the fashion industry by encouraging consumers to question their garments' origins and advocating for sustainable and ethical practices, fair labour conditions, and environmental responsibility in the fashion supply chain.


In the era of ethical fashion, clothing becomes a tangible manifestation of activism. Each purchase is a deliberate choice to support ethical practices and reject exploitative systems. Clothing as a form of activism uses fashion to raise awareness about issues like fast fashion's detrimental effects on the environment and the importance of mindful consumption.

This transformative power of fashion in fostering social and environmental consciousness is what drives ethical brands, like us here at Psylo. Where ethical fashion becomes a vehicle for individuals to contribute to larger movements, recognising the interconnectedness of personal choices with global issues. As clothing evolves into a form of sustainable activism, it reinforces the idea that fashion is not just a mirror reflecting societal values but a dynamic force capable of steering them towards a more responsible and sustainable future.


Together combined, fashion and activism become a powerful medium for expressing your values and identity. Our inspiration is designing and dressing as a form of activism to bring social change. We conclude with an invitation for you to add your knowledge and experience in the comments section below.

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