Midway through the last century, fashion and style began to take on a much more complex connection to the social issues of the day. When the Beatles exploded on the scene in the early 60’s, style became much more tightly connected to point of view and political persuasion than at any time in the past.
One of the first points of contact between fashion and social issues was the Vietnam War and the developing opposition to that conflict. Invariably, those strongly opposed to the war wore their hair long and favored tie-dyed “hippie” clothes while those who supported the conflict wore their hair short and chose clothes that were much more conservative in nature.
When the opposition succeeded in hastening an end to the Vietnam conflict, it seemed only natural that these activists (as they were now called) would turn their attention to other pressing social issues and style and fashion offered several flashpoints which could be exploited.
Animal rights activists came down hard on the fashion industry for supporting the cruel capture and killing of animals in order to support many of the popular styles of the day including furs, minks and other clothing. This led to a number of consumer boycotts and those wearing the clothing were often confronted on the street.
It was about this time that Hollywood began to inject itself much more strongly into social issues and thus began a long line of actors and actresses who would take strong stands on these issues and again, the fashion world was the perfect target.
When the United States began to lose its’ once predominant position in the textile industry, most of the industry shifted to lesser developed parts of the world where working conditions often approached “sweatshop” status. With Hollywood taking the lead, consumers boycotted many of the companies that used these ill-treated workers to make the garments and, in many cases, succeeded in changing company policy.
In today’s world, fashion is becoming more closely aligned with the Green movement and it is becoming fashionable these days to be “eco-chic” and this trend appears to be gaining momentum. As consumers become more educated about the complexities of the garment business, they will want to know about all the details that are involved in getting clothing to the marketplace and will expect to get the same level of transparency from clothing companies that they now expect from the food industry.
Fashion and style, in the past, were all about creating an image but now that image can also include the personal value set of the wearer and it looks as if this connection between fashion and social issues is here to stay.
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John M Pawlak