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What to Wear to Your Protest

Dress codes are funny things. Some people love them for the same reason that they love uniforms—it takes the thinking out of getting dressed and paves a clear path toward visually fitting in. But for others, they’re confusing and ambiguous, creating gray areas in the land between business and business casual. For others, these dress codes are not confusing as much as they are irritating and confining. The audacity of a higher power controlling what you wear is enough to send an outraged shiver down your spine.

But even if you fall into the latter two categories (and most of the time I would think that I do too), once in a blue moon there are situations where—dare I say it—you might be glad to hold on to the guiding hand of a dress code.  

And one of these situations might just be a protest.

Over the past few months, Boston has seen its fair share of well-attended protests. Marches, rallies, and other gatherings have filled the city streets. Now a protest is definitely not like a party, but in a weird way, the two gatherings have a similar backbone. At a fancy party in high society (I would imagine) you are there to see and be seen, and at a protest, you are not only there to be seen, but to make your voice heard by anyone who will listen.  

At both, you are there to make an impression, and the impression that you make is contingent on how you present yourself to those around you. And a big part of your presentation, especially when you only meet someone for a passing moment, is how you are dressed.  Some people resist this way of thinking, but the clothes that you chose to wear, when you have a choice, are a valuable indicator of your inner workings—your confidence (or lack thereof), your interests, your opinions, your creativity.

An article of clothing is wearable self-expression, and a protest is an act of self-expression, leaving me to wonder: what is the dress code for a protest? What could you possibly wear to something like this?

At these places where you have photographers and news outlets swarming around you, how do you present yourself to the world? For all you know, you could be the face of the next movement. The pressure is almost too much.

So, let’s start with the basics. Unlike a party, where you squeeze yourself into a suit or dress to meet beauty ideals, a protest is not about perfection. A protest is about changing a world that you see as imperfect, so you wear that imperfection on your sleeve. Wear something that you’re not afraid to get a little messy, something that you can run and jump and yell in. Sneakers are probably a good call, although Rihanna might disagree.

But after comfortable and imperfect, you must focus on the message that you want to send. And this is where the search for a dress code breaks down, because the possibilities are endless. Maybe the right search is inspiration.

First, there are the simple options. Maybe you just want to wear all black—ripped jeans and a plain tee-shirt—because you know that the dark color hides stains like nothing else. But just as much as you’re afraid of stains, you’re afraid of being too boring. Fear not, for this color in and of itself sends a powerful message: you’re in mourning for the cause that you’re still fighting for.

You could also wear your fighting words emblazoned right across your chest in the form of a graphic tee. This choice is the most straightforward and effective, making your message immediately clear to anyone who sees you.

If you don’t have a strongly-worded shirt, never underestimate the power of duct tape. With a DIY spirit and the patience to write a sentence out with pieces of duct tape, your message can be applied to any article of clothing.

Simplicity, however, might not be what you’re going for right now. This is your moment to make the world listen to you, so you chose a costume. Maybe a suffragette, or a character that puts your current situation in conversation with the past and makes those around you think.

But maybe the question that is even more important than what you wear to the protest is what you should wear the day after. When you lose the protective bubble of loud and like-minded people shouting around you, will you still stay true to your cause once the moment has passed? Will you still wear what you believe in on your sleeve, or on the back of your coat?

Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor

January 26, 2017