When actor Rhea Chakraborty walked into the office of the Narcotics Control Bureau in Mumbai last week and was consequently arrested for her alleged ‘drug link’ in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case, photographs of her wearing a black T-shirt with a slogan that read ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, let’s smash patriarchy, me and you’ immediately went viral on social media. The same message was later posted by several Bollywood actors, including Sonam Kapoor, Vidya Balan, Dia Mirza, Shibani Dandekar and Kareena Kapoor Khan.
This isn’t the first time that a statement has been made through clothes. We look at some previous occasions where celebrities have shared their thoughts through their clothing:
On a T-shirt
The T-shirt worn by Chakraborty was part of the ‘Roses Are Red’ campaign initiated by the online pop culture merchandise store The Souled Store, in collaboration with NGO GiveHer5, in 2018. The NGO educates and provides women in rural India with safe and sustainable menstrual hygiene solutions through Saafkins, “a reusable and affordable sanitary panty”. For every T-shirt sold, one menstruating woman’s need for an entire year was taken care of through this campaign.
Slogans on T-shirts can be traced to the 1960s, when Disney inspired slogan T-shirts were sold from a clothing boutique named Mr Freedom in London. In the ‘70s, designer Vivienne Westwood started printing political messages on the blank canvas of T-shirts. She famously stated, “I just use fashion as an excuse to talk about politics. Because I’m a fashion designer, it gives me a voice, which is really good.” One of her popular creations include a T-shirt depicting two cowboys touching intimate body parts, calling out the “outdated stand” of the British on homosexuality.
In the United States, the humble T-shirt was an important tool in fighting stigma against AIDS. Six activists painted badges and T-shirts with an inverted pink triangle — the symbol used in concentration camps to identify homosexuals — to draw the attention of the Reagan administration to the looming AIDS crisis and the stigma attached to being outrightly queer in the US of the 1980s. T-shirts and their slogans again made front page news in 2017, when Maria Grazia Chiuri, the creative director of Dior, presented a T-shirt with the title of a famous essay by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, for her inaugural collection for the French luxury goods company.
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Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka adopted a novel way to create awareness about the death of black people and reflect on racial injustice in the United States. Ranked number 3 by the Women’s Tennis Association, she wore a different face mask everyday at the recently concluded US Open tennis championship — each mask bore the name of a black person who died because of racial injustice.
At the time of the ancient Greeks, athletes would wear insignia and colours of their receptive patrons to share their political stand. We have also previously seen soccer and cricket players wear black armbands as a sign of mourning for tragic incidents and passing of legendary players.
A Suit for the Ages
Tennis player Serena Williams’s stark black Nike catsuit stood out against the reddish-orange clay court at Roland-Garros in 2018. The all-black catsuit with a bright red sash belt was considered too forward and bold, and was banned by the French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli. He called out the outfit, stating, “I believe we have sometimes gone too far… Serena’s outfit this year, for example, would no longer be accepted. You have to respect the game and the place.”
Williams had reportedly worn the catsuit as a medical necessity, a preventative measure against blood clots which she had during the delivery of her baby earlier that year. “It feels like this suit represents all the women that have been through a lot mentally, physically, with their body to come back and have confidence and to believe in themselves… I call it, like, my Wakanda-inspired catsuit,” said Williams. She explained how the catsuit also invoked the mythical land from Marvel superhero comic book ‘Black Panther’. Williams appeared at the French Open next year wearing a Tutu dress, which is considered more feminine.
The First Lady of the United States sure knows how to turn heads. In 2018, Melania Trump was seen wearing a $39 olive green jacket by Spanish fast fashion global brand Zara. Printed with the phrase ‘I Really Don’t Care, Do You?’, the shirt made news as Trump was wearing it when she was boarding a plane to visit a detention centre in Texas that was housing children of immigrants. Several called out her cavalier attitude, and by extension the attitude of the Trump administration towards the migrant crisis in general. Later, she clarified her stand on the choice of clothing in a TV interview, stating that she had only worn the jacket for the plane ride and not when she actually met the children at the detention centre.
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Red Carpet Worthy
The red carpet, which is de rigueur at most international film award functions, has often defined trends. At the Academy Awards ceremony in 2020, Natalie Portman wore a black Dior cape embellished with gold embroidery, sporting names of women directors who had been snubbed at the Oscars this year. This included Greta Gerwig for Little Women, Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers and Lulu Wang for The Farewell. In 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, several male actors wore all-black tuxedos at the Golden Globe awards.
The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’ prevalent in the US Army was critcised by pop icon Lady Gaga when she wore a dress made of meat — in this case beef — to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Designed by Franc Fernandez, the asymmetrical dress with cowl neck was styled by Nicola Formichetti. The material of choice for the dress was flank steak and it was stitched on her person backstage, right before the Grammy-winner went on stage to take her award. Talking about her dress on the Ellen Degeneres Show, Lady Gaga said, “If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones”.
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