2016 Was The Year Of Fashion Activism

As we collectively double down on our social and political engagement, fashion's love affair with the rebel has never felt more relevant

It's ironic that 'slay', quite possibly the most aggressive word there ever was, has also been the unofficial slogan for history's most weirdly unpredictable, yet alarmingly aggressive dramedy of all time: the no good, very bad year that was 2016. Brexit, Trump, Calais, Flint, Aleppo, police shootings, the loss of Prince and David Bowie, 2016 has given us much to campaign about and rebel against.

Solange on The Tonight Show
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It's been a year for doing. If we weren't handing out flyers, signing petitions, and trying to influence the course of legislation (and our future) with the EU Referendum, we were marching through Brixton, London, to protest police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. It's basically been a year for slaying – as in, doing something bold and amazing – in the face of, well, all that 2016 has thrown at us.

Marched peacefully in Brixton today with old and new friends from London, Brooklyn, Berlin and Ferguson

A post shared by Kenya Hunt (@kenyahunt) on

It would be a missed opportunity to assume that heavy times don't leave much room to think about what to wear – that fashion should be relegated to a frivolous afterthought, when actually the clothes can be the tool that makes the action memorable.

The clothes can be the tool that makes the action memorable.

I'm thinking of Pussy Riot in their primary-coloured face masks, tunics and leggings, the Sixties-era Black Panther Party in their black leather jackets and matching berets, or that famous, much-regrammed image of Maya Angelou and Gloria Steinem in the Eighties at the March on Washington, arm in arm, both serving fashion in crisp summer-cotton and head-to-toe white respectively. And recently, Solange Knowles and background singers on The Tonight Show performing music from her proudly political album, A Seat At The Table, wearing custom, connected bodysuits.

As the long tradition of protest clothing from the bras and panties of the Slut Walk to the do-it-yourself shirts and jackets of the BLM movement prove, a strong look doesn't preclude political and social action.

There has been a lot on the runway to cater to our collective desire to rage against the machine lately, with old and new rebels (Comme des Garçons' Rei Kawakubo, Preen's Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi, Hood By Air's Shayne Oliver and Balenciaga and Vêtements' Demna Gvasalia, just to scratch the surface), creating clothes that are ripe for an uprising.

Even with the rise of the season's defiantly cheery pink, ruffles and yellow, the rebel holds her ground.

Vêtements set the tone for AW16, its slogan sweatshirt declaring, 'May the bridges we burn light the way,' and that mood carried right over into SS17 with Maria Grazia Chiuri blasting her soft, ethereal debut collection for Dior with the declaration that 'we should all be feminists.' Even with the rise of the season's defiantly cheery pink, ruffles and yellow, the rebel holds her ground. Just see Junya Watanabe's girl – all blue hair, black origami spikes, denim cut-offs and ripped tights.

Or Preen's perverse frills. Or Hood By Air's scrunched leather trousers, and austere tees and shirts in baby blue emblazoned with the word 'Hustler'. There's plenty for a woman to fury in. And fashion's soft spot for the rebel and the misfit has never felt more relevant than it does now.

So as you head into the new year, and grapple with – no, dream about – the enormity of what's possible, don't rule out the clothes as you double down on your activism (whether it be of the political, social, professional, or personal variety.) Now, go forth, and slay.

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