Vestimental Activism and the Memory of Political Body Practice in the 20th and 21st Centuries

A Research Contribution to an Aesthetics of Resistance

Austin, Texas - July 14, 2013: an African American woman holds pictures of Trayvon Martin and a hoodie in the air during a protest in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder trial of Trayvon Martin. Photo: iStock

The discussion of the political dimension of clothing urgently needs new perspectivizations and new definitions. This statement is surprising, because clothing as a political statement is vouched for in the historiography of fashion [1], primarily as a vestimentary figuration of the homogeneous, of collective connectedness in communal, especially political, action.

Since the French Revolution, namely the Sansculottes, vestimentary mise-en-scène has been an extremely important mobilization resource for political protest, forming a basis for collective protest identity. Clothing has an immensely high socio-cultural and political-participatory function in the context of demonstrations, protests, performances as well as happenings as a material and visual means of political confrontation and symbolic politics. For some years now, there has been an absolute increase in this politically motivated vestimental practice: for example, on March 21, 2012, thousands of demonstrators dressed in hoodies marched through the streets of Manhattan in the so-called "Million Hoodie March" against racism and vigilante justice. The march was triggered by the shooting of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a hoodie when a "self-appointed neighborhood watchman" mistook him for a burglar and shot him. A TV presenter blamed the hoodie "at least as much for the death of Trayvon Martin as (...)" [2] the perpetrator. This example shows that wearing a hoodie - of course in combination with other external characteristics with negative connotations in Western social orders, such as skin color - can contribute to being perceived as a criminal in a specific situational context. The demonstrators drew attention to this stereotypical connotation of the garment by wearing the hoodie as a sign of their protest against the acquittal of the perpetrator and, by extension, against racism. [3]    

Increasingly, as in protest actions, 'clothing signs' (specific garments, accessories, textiles in specific colors, e.g. pink caps at the 2017 Women's March, etc.) are used as symbols of a common expression of opinion.

The research project assumes that clothing and its use has a socio-cultural relevance that goes beyond fashion and, especially in recent years, an increasing importance in the context of protest culture. So far, this aspect has only been presented in isolated studies, among others on the vestimentary practices of various political and subcultural movements, on specific items of clothing and textiles, on habitualizations (hairstyles, etc.), in the context of studies on protest culture (among others. a. o. Hebdige 1979 [4]/ Doresthal 2012 [5]/ Hopf 2007 [6]/ Tulloch 2019 [7]), but not yet - as it is the aim of this research project here -, systematically investigated with a focus on the performativity of vestimental-aesthetic resistance, discussed and presented in a publication.


[1] Concerning the present use of the terms clothing and fashion, which often flow into each other, we would like to specify here in summary that we understand clothing in general as a system of things and signs whose use is inscribed in cultural practices, while under the term 'fashion' we subsume the temporal, stylistic-formal and medially mediated phenomena of change in different sociocultural contexts, including clothing.

[2] spiegel online:, accessed 3/11/2020.

[3] In the wake of the perpetrator's court acquittal, the Black Lives Matter protest movement formed in the U.S. in 2013.

[4] Hebdige, Dick: Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London 1979.

[5] Doresthal, Philip: Style Politics. Fashion, Gender, and Blackness in the United States, 1943-1975. Bielefeld 2012.

[6] Hopf, Iris: Uniformierung als Ausdruck revolutionärer Askese: Chinesische Kleidung in der Kulturrevolution 1966 - 1977. In: Uniformierungenin Bewegung. Vestimentary Practices between Unification, Costuming and Masquerade. Münster 2007, pp. 241-256.

[7] Tulloch, Carol: The Everyday Activist Wardrobe of the Black Panther Party and Rock Against Racism Movement. In: Fashion and Politics. Ed. by Djurdja Bartlett. London 2019, pp. 85-123.

Consortium Trier University of Applied Sciences, Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin
Duration 2021-2023

Project Management at Trier University of Applied Sciences:

Prof. Dr. Christina Threuter
Professorin FB Gestaltung - FR Modedesign


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