Adorn your tweed blazer with a glittery brooch this fall, and you are making a fashion statement.
Swap that antique ornament for a button with rhinestones that reads "V-O-T-E," and your subtle statement becomes a fashion shout. According to designer Nanette Lepore, you're saying that fashion can be not only a medium for self-expression, but also a vehicle for political change.
Lepore, known for her eponymous line of flirty women's frocks, used her runway show last week at New York's Olympus Fashion Week not only to debut her spring looks — fluttery caplets, gauzey dresses and peasant tops — but also to launch a line of political pins that allows her fans to wear their politics on their sleeves (or lapels). Attendees of her fashion show were treated to gift bags that included pins that pack a political punch. The pins are emblazoned with the word "Vote," a simple non-partisan peace sign made from her signature girlie flowers, or — for the more partisan, in-your-face gal — "Smart, Sexy, Liberal."
Fashion Week attracts the fashion cognoscenti and industry leaders who come to check out previews of the coming seasons' trends. But Lepore's show demonstrated that designers and fashion fans are touting increased civic engagement and aiming to raise voter turnout, especially among the youth. Stating that it "is important to speak with your own voice and get your message across any way you can," Lepore has embarked on that mission through the unconventional medium of clothing and accessories.
A product of what she describes as the "original hippy family, spending each summer road-tripping in a VW van [and] going to peace rallies in Washington," Lepore has used the sense of independence she experienced during her upbringing to inspire her designs, as well as her ability to think outside the box in terms of the roles fashion and designers can play in society. "My vehicle is fashion," she said. "If I can get 10 more people to vote, then I have really accomplished something."
Lepore, whose designs have appeared in Legally Blonde II and 13 Going on 30, among others, learned about politics while working for the campaign of her brother-in-law Robert F. Hagan, who is now a state senator in Ohio. His surprise victory made her realize "that every push you make can change the course of history," she said.
At Lepore's show in New York, 19-year-old Alexandra Smolyanskaya was sporting an Armani T-shirt that read, "Think fashion makes a statement? Try voting." She was thrilled to see designers incorporating politics into their work, and thinks the trend will catch on. "Anything that is out there and popular will get people involved," she said. "Once you get people started, then they will get the information they need."
Fashion-week insiders were also excited to see politics popping up among the lace and velvet. Young hairstylists Marcia Dixon, Nicola Augustine and Tomika David sported buttons supporting the minority vote that were circulated as giveaways during the shows. "As minorities, we have to go out and vote so we can be recognized," Dixon said. "The way you look speaks louder than words," Augustine added. "Fashion really tells people who you are."
Hollywood stylist Phillip Bloch, known for his flamboyant personality and scathing celebrity-clothing critiques, also feels that fashion can be an effective venue to promote political involvement, but — he added divaliciously — "It depends on who's wearing it." Bloch is currently working on projects with designers centered on the anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Bloch said that by casting your vote, you "protect your freedom of expression, your choice of fashion, music, sex. Any personal freedoms you enjoy, you can lose them all if you don't vote."
But no matter what form their expression takes, Nannette Lepore and her fellow fashionistas are doing their part to make sure that democracy never goes out of style.