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Power Dressing: The Celebrities Showing Solidarity With Palestine Through Fashion

To fight the status quo, the power of fashion can and should be harnessed

As the great fashion writer Robin Givhan once said, “Clothing is an eloquent form of communication for the inarticulate.” Indeed, our clothes tell our stories. They reflect who we are and what we represent, conveying our skills, personal beliefs, and thought systems. Whether we’re in a distressed band tee or yoga pants, as we move through society, our attire allows us to express ourselves without uttering a word. 

Clothing can also serve as a costume when one prefers to make a show of taking action rather than actually rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. Take a red carpet event, for example. Artists, actors, musicians, and producers arrive on the vibrant red carpet for a few hours with the whole world watching. If there is ever a time to make a statement, it is then. With the spotlight following their every move, attendees with a political outlook or anyone with something to say recognize the power of using the red carpet to share their principles and fundamental beliefs through clothing.

To fight the status quo, the power of fashion can and should be harnessed. That’s exactly what Australian actress Cate Blanchett did this week in Cannes when she brought Givhan’s iconic quote to life. The multi-talented actress made a powerful statement at the Cannes Film Festival red carpet, dressed in a form-fitting off-shoulder black and white ensemble by Jean Paul Gaultier. But Blanchett didn’t just show up in a pretty dress– she chose to show solidarity with Palestinians currently undergoing a genocide in Gaza. Featuring an emerald green and white inner lining, her custom gown, contrasted against the red carpet, was an ode to the Palestinian flag. 

According to The Guardian, the dress’s possible hidden meaning reminded Wafa Ghnaim, a Palestinian American dress historian and researcher, of a tradition that emerged during the first intifada, which began in 1987. During this period, Palestinians engaged in sustained protests and civil disobedience against the Israeli government, leading Israeli officials to ban their flag and arrest anyone found carrying it. In response, Palestinian women began embroidering the flag’s colors into their dresses as a way to reclaim their identity. This law was lifted after the Oslo Accords in 1993, but last year, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government once again banned the use of the flag in public spaces.

Adding to the list of Palestinian representation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is supermodel Bella Hadid. Affectionately nicknamed the princess of Nazareth due to her direct descendance to Omar Al Daher, ruler of Palestine in the 1700s, Hadid was spotted enjoying an ice cream in La Croisette wearing an asymmetrical ruffled red and white keffiyeh print dress, an archival piece from 2001 by Iranian-American designer Hushidar Mortezaie, showcasing her heritage with pride. This is no surprise, as Hadid has consistently spoken out about the atrocities unfolding in Gaza. She even took to Instagram with a heartfelt plea for the people of Gaza, declaring that “she cannot be silenced any longer.”

Blanchett isn’t the only A-lister to show support for the Palestinian people through her sartorial choices. At one of the most-watched film events of the year, the 96th Academy Awards, there was a wave of solidarity as a number of high-profile celebrities wore red pins in support of Artists4Ceasefire, a collective of musicians, actors, and activists formed in response to Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza. Among them were notable figures like singer Billie Eilish and Egyptian-American actor Ramy Youssef, Pakistani-British actor Riz Ahmed, and many more passionately advocating for peace and justice for the people of Palestine.

Meanwhile, at this year’s Coachella in Indio, California, American rapper Tyler, the Creator made a bold statement with his choice of accessories. Known for his eccentric personality, Tyler used the Coachella stage to visibly express his solidarity with oppressed communities in Palestine and Congo via pins of the Palestinian and Congolese flags, conveying his support more powerfully than words could. By wearing a “Congo” pin, Tyler also drew attention to the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises in Congo, a region often overlooked in mainstream media. His fashion choices at Coachella were a powerful form of protest and solidarity, highlighting issues that deserve more attention.

Adding to the impact, Tyler brought out several artists to join him on stage, including A$AP Rocky and Childish Gambino, who were also seen wearing the colors of the Palestinian flag, a detail quickly noticed by fans. 

And it doesn’t end there. At the 66th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Boygenius, the band consisting of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker, made a statement advocating for an end to the violence in Palestine. Arriving at this year’s ceremony at the Crypto Arena, they wore coordinating ivory Thom Browne suits adorned with red pins that read “artists for ceasefire” on their collars. 

Esperanza Spalding, a double nominee, opted for the most overt show of solidarity on the red carpet by wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional scarf that has become the most universal symbol of support for the Palestinian struggle, with its patterns representing important facets of Palestinian life.

You also had the connoisseur of the spoken words, Aja Monet who was nominated for Best Spoken Word Poetry Album, who has openly advocated for Palestinian rights,  carrying a watermelon clutch— The watermelon has been a symbol of Palestine for decades as the fruit bears the same colors as the Palestinian flag and has served as a placeholder in situations where the flag might not have been permitted.

In stark contrast, this year’s Met Gala seemed to ignore political discourse altogether. Every year, celebrities use the Met Gala red carpet to make bold statements— advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, or wearing striking messages like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “tax the rich” dress. However, this year under the dystopian theme of “Garden of Time” there was a noticeable absence of political statements. This apathy, manifesting in the lack of advocacy on such a prominent platform, felt like a disturbing choice to overlook a catastrophic genocide unfolding minute by minute. However, wishful thinking could lead us to observe Zendaya’s dress, a custom  haute couture look from Maison Margiela Artisanal by John Galliano— the look was adorned with what looks like a Palestinian sunbird, a glossy green and blue bird found in parts of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, another symbol of Palestinian resistance. Was it a discrete form of solidarity? We’d like to hope so. 

The phrase “fashion is political” has a longstanding and significant history, resonating throughout both fashion and political spheres. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, the hippies rejected materialism. With their long hair and worn-out  jeans, they disrupted society with calls for free love. Their loose-fitting, homespun garments symbolized a desire for freedom— freedom from responsibilities, rules, and traditions. They protested against the corporate and political power structures and the American Dream. Their focus was as fluid and blurred as the lines of their clothing. 

On the other hand, the Black Panthers were far from conciliatory. Their attire did not suggest a desire to assimilate or blend in. Instead, their berets, leather jackets, tunics, dashikis, Afros, and heavy beards deliberately stood outside suburban norms, flower-child mysticism, and churchgoing propriety. Unsmiling and with fists raised, the Black Panthers vigilantly watched over predominantly black urban neighborhoods, arming themselves against police violence. 

Fast forward to more modern times, in 2015, Kerby Jean-Raymond used his Pyer Moss show to draw attention to racism in America, sending models down the runway in jackets graffitied with the word “breathe.” This was a direct reference to the police brutality against Eric Garner, who died in a chokehold. In 2016, designers used New York Fashion Week to express their support for Hillary Clinton. Anna Wintour, the organizer of the Met Gala, threw a fundraiser and invited Tory Burch, Prabal Gurung, Diane von Furstenberg, and Joseph Altuzarra to create T-shirts supporting Clinton’s campaign. In 2018, Jeremy Scott ended his fashion show by walking the runway wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with “Tell Your Senator No on Kavanaugh.” At his own show, Christian Siriano wore a shirt that read “I’m Voting for Cynthia” to support Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial race.

Fashion, whether on the streets or the red carpet, remains a powerful tool for communication. It speaks volumes about our identity, our beliefs, and our stance on critical issues. In a world where words can often fall short, what we wear can eloquently convey the messages we hold close to our hearts. 

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