Taylorsville • From black gowns at the Golden Globes to pink, pointy-eared “pussyhats” at women’s marches, it may seem like clothing is the newest way to make a social statement.
Fashion as a form of protest has — for centuries — been in vogue, says Melissa Clark, an instructor at Salt Lake Community College’s Fashion Institute.
Hoping to get students to understand apparel’s role in history and politics, Clark curated “Dressed to Protest: Fashion for Social and Political Unrest.”
It features student-made dresses, hats, T-shirts and jewelry that show how everyday garments can bring attention to injustice and spark a cultural transformation.
“I really wanted the students to see how clothing is a force for social change,” Clark said, “and how it can be used to make a statement.”
The pieces can be seen through Feb. 2 at the Markosian Library on SLCC’s Main campus in Taylorsville and its South City Campus, in Salt Lake City.
A closing night reception and discussion are planned Feb. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m.
While there are written explanations for each piece in the exhibit, no words are necessary for some of the bold fashion pieces. Consider “War on Pollution,” featuring a black dress and a gas mask; or “Gun Violence,” a white dress with threads of dangling red beads, created to resemble wounds dripping blood.
Clark, who put out the call for exhibit pieces shortly after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October, said the piece is “striking because of its simplicity.”
Megan Ulch tackled Utah’s prescription drug epidemic. Her dress, which resembles a pill bottle, takes a stab at the massive pharmaceutical industry and the devastating side effects of opioids. The mannequin sports two colorfully beaded bracelets that look like pills.
“I never thought I’d make something like this,” Ulch said, adding it was rewarding to use fabric and her imagination to bring attention to such an important topic.
Several students used their projects to look back at how fashion helped change women’s history.
Crystal Anderson paid homage to actress Marlene Dietrich, who scandalously broke with tradition by dressing as a man and kissing a woman in the 1930s movie “Morocco.”
Roxanne Lyon celebrated the women of the 1920s — including her grandmother — who replaced their tight-fitting corsets, pantaloons and long dresses for shorter “flapper” dresses that showed bare arms, knees and necklines.
Fascinated with the history of the Mexican Revolution, Claudia Montserrat Brunet, recognized the female solders, called soldaderas, who fought in the bloody struggle. Her red, white and black dress is highlighted with a belt filled with bullets.
“It recognized the women who fought, but also is a reminder to the dreamers in the U.S. who are fighting for change now,” she said, referring to the proposed ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA, which protects those who where brought to America illegally as children.
“I hope it reaches people who might not know,” she said, “and expand their awareness.”
While clothing can be used to spark change, those in power have used dress restrictions as a form of repression and punishment.
During the rebellion between Scotland and England in 1746, the king of England banned all items of Highland dress, especially the kilt, said SLCC fashion instructor Cherylene Sandusky Rosenvall.
Not surprisingly, many proud Scots wore the kilts anyway.
When the ban was lifted some 35 years later, the kilt became a unifying garment worn by not only the Scottish, but also the entire British Isles, she said.
A century ago, as Prohibition and the temperance movement swept the country, several states, including Utah, proposed — or passed — laws requiring modest dress for women, specifically targeting length of skirts (nothing above the ankle) and high heels.
The Utah proposal reportedly called for a fine between $25 and $500 and possible jail time for women who wore heels higher than 1.5 inches. Records are unclear as to whether the bill actually passed, though.
It’s still a sensitive and politically polarizing time, said Mojdeh Sakaki, director for SLCC’s fashion and interior design programs.
If fashion can spark conversation on important topics, especially among a new generation, the easier it will be to talk about what divides us, she said. “The more educated we become, the better decision we will make and the more tolerant and understanding we will be.”
The History of Powerful Clothing
The “Dressed to Protest: Fashion for Social and Political Unrest” shows how clothes can spark social change.
When • Through Friday, Feb. 2
Where • Salt Lake Community College Markosian Library, 4600 S. Redwood Road, Taylorsville; and SLCC South City Campus Library, 1575 S. State, Salt Lake City, during regular library hours.
Cost • Free
Closing reception • Thursday, Feb. 1, 6-8 p.m. at the Markosian Library.