“Wear whatever makes you feel powerful and what makes you feel like you have your armour on because right now we’re very much in a battle for women’s rights.” – Karla Welch, for Elle
Since the beginning, clothes have had a lot to say – whether their creators meant overt comment or not. Dress has dictated women’s history. Corsets sucked us in; bustles ballooned us out. Hobble skirts, well, hobbled us; pantsuits helped get us into our stride. And heels, meanwhile, shoehorned us into an endless carousel of contention.
But where clothes have moulded, exploited, inconvenienced and diminished us, they have also united us, liberated us, shouted for us. Look to those who called for “Votes for Women!” in their precursor pantsuits and suffrage-striped sashes. France’s fierce Revolutionary sans-culottes – men and women alike – staunchly wore long trousers to differentiate themselves from the breech-clad elite. From burning bras to Wonderbras, silk stockings to Bluestockings, there’s all sorts of power bound up in what you do and don’t choose to do with a garment.
That’s why the 2018 Golden Globes blackout is so important.
“This is a moment of solidarity, not a fashion moment.” – Eva Longoria, Time’s Up cofounder.
This year at the Golden Globes, attendees wore black in solidarity with all women who have experienced oppression, ill-treatment, sexual abuse and harassment – treatment we have finally started to discuss en masse. This discussion was triggered by deeply difficult and brave decisions by numerous female Hollywood actors to share their own such experiences.
The #MeToo movement that swept through online communities last year inspired a coalition of Hollywood’s women to rise up and to say no more will be tolerated. This initiative, called #TIMESUP, has in its first week of life clocked over $16m in donations to a legal defence fund for victims and whistleblowers. Meanwhile, Meryl Streep – who used her speech at last year’s Golden Globes to maul the new POTUS – has been formulating a list of ‘non-negotiables’ for the American workplace. So far we’ve got a “50/50 by 2020” target for gender balance in leadership positions.
Black is not a first-choice red carpet colour, and that is entirely the point. Hollywood Reporter anticipated a “sea of noir,” and that is what we got. It was a sombre comment at one of the most serious junctures in Hollywood’s history.
Media reports of awards ceremonies dispiritingly often allow an actress’s professional endeavours to be eclipsed by how prettily she’s packaged. But Hollywood’s women are hitting back.
Cate Blanchett’s sardonic eyebrow took over the coverage of the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards. “Do you do that to the guys?” she asked in semi-mock astonishment, staring right down the barrel of a camera that had been panning luxuriantly over the full length of her body. Elisabeth Moss pleasantly gave the finger to the camera trying to capture her manicure at that year’s Golden Globes.
Hence the excitement about the blackout. It wasn’t just a token gesture. This year’s LBD was a Loaded Black Dress. This is when ball gowns become protest slogans – on human canvas, in upper case, in designers’ personal handwriting. And was it just me who detected sartorial nods to armour? Saoirse Ronan’s structured gown rose austerely into a plated silver shoulder; Natalie Portman’s squared-off bodice said breastplates.
But the Globes initiative inevitably provoked cynicism. According to a friend of mine in the fashion industry, by getting involved in this kind of “hype” event, designers are just capitalizing on the ‘political activism’ surge of 2017, playing to a trend for profit. He insisted that too often, it’s just virtue-signalling – and for celebs, as The Cut very aptly put it, clocking up “woke points”.
But I fail to believe that commercialism is doing all the talking here. Activist designers are alive and yelling. Vivienne Westwood, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Ashish Gupta – these people are artists, and they did not come to be couture monarchy just to can their manifestos. And if it truly is self-serving philanthropy? So be it – it’s still happening.
And does one event change anything? Of course not. Isn’t the industry still riddled with issues? Yes, and everyone in the room knew it. But this was an event that told that to the world. And a commitment to keep trying to understand the extent of the mess we’re in.
The momentous achievements celebrated at the end of the red carpet are often reduced to a rhinestone-studded showreel. But not this time. I believe this was and will be remembered as a turning point: another in the recent series of Women’s Marches; an echo of Poland’s Women in Black, who took to the streets in 2016 to protest the new government’s anti-abortion law (they successfully slapped it down, by the way).
People of the world, make 2018 the year you make a comment with your clothes. Whether it’s shouted on a slogan tee or a hat-tip to women’s equality with a pink beanie, I want 2018’s fashion “statements” to really say something. Because saying something about the world, to the world, is how you start to change it.
By Ellen Baker