Clothing as symbol in protests

The Dress Codes of the Uprising

Almost every protest movement has its visual signifiers: images etched in the collective memory that crystallize the causes for which they were fought. The white dresses of the suffragists and the women’s rights movements. The neat black suits and white button-up shirts of the original civil rights protests. The Black Panthers in leathers and turtlenecks. The followers of Mahatma Gandhi in Gandhi caps and khadi shirts. The sans-culottes of the French Revolution and the yellow vests of the French revolt centuries later.

The organizers of the South Carolina march specifically used fashion to communicate a set of values and implicit references.

Their aim was to connect to the civil rights leaders of the past and pay them homage; to repudiate old racial stereotypes and attempts by some media outlets and the far right to paint them as antifa (a movement that has its own all-black dress code); to offer a silent riposte to the only other uniform otherwise on view: that of the National Guard and the police.

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