We could blame the political dressing vs. fashion confusion on the ubiquitous and pervasive public presence of the contemporary fashion industry. From the 18th century onwards, a large sector of industry has been occupied with manufacturing what dresses us: This includes garments, accessories, beauty services and products. This industry, along with advertisers, coalesced into an all-encompassing fashion industry.
It’s not surprising then, that in today’s globalized world, most people automatically identify clothes with fashion. After all, they are one of the most visible outputs of the fashion industry. Of course, the fashion industry would do nothing to clarify this; it is in their best interest to be perceived as the source of fashion.
That same fashion industry employs a global army of trend forecasters to fine-comb historical records and a multiplicity of current cultural sources and happenings. They use this data to identify what colours, styles and products people would want next season.
More concerning, though, is that fashion scholars are contributing to the public confusion about political dress as fashion. They are interchangeably using the terms dress, style and fashion without regards for their fundamental semantic difference. There is a cultural explanation for this too. Fashion is an emerging scholarly discipline, which makes it very fashionable right now. Slap the word fashion to the title of an academic article or book and readership is likely to follow.
This, however, isn’t necessarily good news. The fashion industry has a solid record of co-opting political and countercultural movements, marginalized groups and non-Western cultures, then making a good profit out of it.
There would be nothing wrong with making money this way, except that the aftermath of co-option by the fashion industry is cultural irrelevance. Just like other goods, fashion must be consumed before its expiration date.
The good news is that political dressing may be fashionable, but it isn’t fashion. Not even the global fashion industry can prevent individuals from using their dressed bodies as a tool for political discourse.
So go ahead, pick your preferred political graphic T-shirt or wear the colours of your party of choice. Just remember that isn’t fashion, unless most everybody else decides to dress the same for a while. In which case, your options are: Embrace your fashionable status or change either your outfit or political affiliation.