Pussyhat Grabs Back: Understanding the Fashion of the Women’s March on London26th January 2017
On Saturday, 100,000 people took to Grosvenor Square, London—the location of the American embassy—to protest the inauguration of Donald J. Trump (or, “Le Twat Orange” according to some protesters’ signs). It was one of hundreds of marches around the world to demonstrate solidarity between various marginalized and minority groups who have been targeted by the 45th American president. The voices came together in the name of feminism and human rights to oppose a platform that was carried forth by waves of misogyny and “locker room banter.”
All genders could express that they had a voice—through their bodies.
This piece could go under News, easily. It could slot beside “Bridges not Walls.” But, a major part of the march was that it was a visual display, a pageant of disapproval in which all genders could express that they had a voice—through their bodies.
The march itself, many admitted, didn’t achieve anything. Leah, a Londoner, told me that she was “unhappy with the way the world is going. The things we’re looking at, just really aren’t normal.” To march was to show others that they were not alone. This sentiment was reiterated by a group of young Canadian women who marched in recognition of that fact that equality could not exist until all women were equal, though women’s shackles are as diverse as their experiences. Again and again, the idea of “showing solidarity” was repeated—it was a visual example of a mass movement of signage and pinkage and pussyhats.
The march was not a violent one, the atmosphere was friendly, the typically mercurial sun even decided to shine on its legions. Around me, people discussed work, their breakfasts, how the traffic had been. Occasionally, there would be a rallying cry: “Dump Trump!” But, largely, they were dressed in what seemed to be their “normal” attire: parkas, white sneakers, jeans. In a way, this is a statement in itself: these issues class strictly within the everyday. How un-extraordinary for a woman in the workplace to be mistreated, how very common to feel undervalued. As one protestor, Edie Mayne, told me, “misogyny sleeps everywhere and can raise its head and raise its voice whenever it fancies.”
Despite how visual an experience it was, even the more sartorial participants seemed hesitant to acknowledge the role between fashion and feminism. According to one woman whose t-shirt read “The Future is Female,” fashion could be a weapon of women, it could help express an opinion as an artistic platform, but, really, clothing was interpretive and, in the end, any association between fashion and feminism shouldn’t be too closely linked.
Others were more forthcoming in their analysis. Days before the march began, one attendee posted in the Facebook group, asking if anyone would be dressing as a suffragette. And, lo and behold, as crowds around Trafalgar Square dwindled, I spotted a wicker basket emblazoned with “deeds not words.”
The carrier was the aforementioned Edie Mayne, who is a native Londoner and the great-granddaughter of a suffragette. The suffragettes, as has been recently discussed by Central Saint Martins lecturer Cally Blackman, were profoundly attuned to the influence of their clothing choices and image. Their colours of purple, white, and green, for example, represented dignity, purity, and hope, respectively. This revolutionary tricolour (not unlike that of the French Revolution) adorned banners, badges, handbags, shoes and promoted women to dress primly, demonstrating that women’s rights were fashionable and feminine.
Ms Mayne’s predecessors were highly influential for her—to the march, she wore her great-grandmother’s hat. Her great-grandmother had “spent 43 days in the Old Bailey, 39 of them being force fed” but died before witnessing women receive the vote. For Ms Mayne, purple, white, and green are the colours of her heritage, which she wears with honour. She relayed to me that she believed “in all of their mandates, and a lot of them have yet to be fulfilled, even though they were written 200 years ago.”
She dressed like a suffragette because she is a suffragette.
In short, she dressed like a suffragette because she is a suffragette, in both the historic and contemporary sense of the word. The multi-era-crossing garments that kept her warm on this bitter January day had all been made by her own hands, using traditional techniques, as part of her effort to combat “dirty water, dirty food, dirty air, and dirty politics” in the present. The seams of her clothes stitched together her lineage and a fight that has not yet been won.
Yet Ms Mayne also knew that though she struggles with many of the same issues as her great-grandmother, she needed a different strategy. In today’s world, a suffragette’s subtleties of wearing the right gemstones and burning down buildings are less effective. Instead, she suggested “conscious shopping,” to turn the marketplace into voting polls. “Vote with your pound!” she declared. In other words, making conscious decisions about the way we clothe and feed ourselves can provide a pathway toward something brighter (and less orange).
As Ms Mayne walked away from the square, a lingering group of marchers and bystanders raved—yes, raved—dancing and pounding, signs still in hand. The devolution of the day, from walking to waiting to raving only underscored that these complicated issues are—at heart—about bodies and the way we fashion them. Gendering bodies has produced variegated inequalities; women’s bodies have been used carelessly and callously for centuries. Now, we exhibit our bodies to demonstrate unity and opposition, often by the clothes that dress them. We wear and reclaim the very words that have marginalized our reproductive rights. The link between fashion and feminism is not tenuous, but tenacious. Don your pussyhat and clasp your tricolour wicker basket, knowing that though these fights are well worn, they must still be fought.