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Going Political Limits New York Fashion Week’s Appeal

If the fashion industry is in a ‘Wuthering Heights’ mood this New York Fashion Week, perhaps it’s because they see themselves as the heart of the #resistance to the new administration.


Can a conservative lady even enjoy fashion anymore? So far in this New York Fashion Week, the clothes have been giving one answer while the designers have mostly been saying the opposite.

“Dark romance” has been the watchword on the runways thus far during fashion week, with designers blending maximalist, feminine details like ruffles or patterns with a somber palette of dusky pinks, beiges, blues, and browns.

For the frill of it ✨ (#regram @cygmakeup) #cinqasept #NYFW #FFW17

A photo posted by Cinq à Sept (@cinqasept) on

In some ways, these trends are easier for those of us who can’t sport see-through tops at work: long sleeves, high-collared necklines, and calf-length hems have been plentiful in the first two days of the eight-day New York spectacle. The unusually modest turn on the runways this season is perhaps a reaction to (and hopefully the beginning of the end for) the Kardashian-led era of the naked dress.

If the fashion industry is in a “Wuthering Heights” mood this NYFW, perhaps it’s because they see themselves as the heart of the #resistance to the new administration. While the fashion sphere nearly unanimously supported Hillary Clinton during the election, there has been a debate within the industry over how much of their politics they should pin to the sleeves of the models they send down the catwalk.

Daily Beast reporters described the political mood permeating the air behind the scenes. “Of course it shouldn’t have felt political—this was a fashion show with pretty ladies wearing pretty clothes. But everything is political now… [fashion is] showcasing bodies the new administration is desperate to control, it all felt like a very lush, very bejeweled statement.”

There has certainly been no shortage of political statements among the fashion statements this week. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, which organizes New York Fashion Week, announced a partnership with abortion giant Planned Parenthood last Monday. CFDA has encouraged the designers it showcases, along with their fashionable, front-row friends, to wear pink pins stating “fashion stands with Planned Parenthood” during the week’s events. More than 40 brands are participating in the campaign, including household names like Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, and Kate Spade.

Abortion-chic was just the start. Other jarring political notes this year have so far included white bandanas for a hashtag campaign #TiedTogether as a statement of “unity and inclusiveness amidst growing uncertainty and a dangerous political narrative.” Balenciaga showed Bernie campaign-inspired menswear, and Dior’s Instagram showcased last year’s “we should be feminists” tees.

But artists hurt their cause when they make political messaging so ostentatious that they push out conservatives, or even just those who don’t want to go full SJW, from their spaces. When art, whether fashion, design, or Hollywood, becomes the exclusive province of one side of the political aisle, it ensures that only half the country can participate or appreciate it.

Paradoxically, the relentless push to add left-wing political messaging to fashion, sports, and other entertainment venues limits the spaces in which we, as Americans, can come together on the same cultural plane to talk about anything, including political questions.

A genuine exchange between people of differing political ideas cannot happen without neutral and common cultural spaces for them to meet in. We must have spaces in which to be friends and fellow citizens without political interference before we can be civil political opponents.

When the fashion industry becomes first and foremost about politics, and only secondarily about fashion, it doesn’t just lock millions of conservative women out of the conversation. In the end, it denies us all yet another space in which to have conversations at all.