Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue: When A T-Shirt Speaks A Thousand Words
The minute Rhea Chakraborty was arrested by the National Narcotics Bureau (NCB) in connection with drugs-related allegations in the Sushant Singh Rajput case, it created headlines (louder, brighter, redder) on national news channels but what was slowly making waves on social media was her choice of clothing.
Chakraborty, whose entire life has been covered in gory detail by the media in the past few weeks, chose to wear a T-shirt with the statement: roses are red, violets are blue, let’s smash patriarchy, me and you.
This led to a massive campaign on social media with supporters of Chakraborty uploading the now-viral message on their social media platforms. Chakraborty was, perhaps, alluding to the blatant sexism she has faced in the media discourse with accusations ranging from “honey-trapping” to “drug-addict” to implications being made that she has more than an intimate relationship with director Mahesh Bhatt.
But this is not the first time that a celebrity has used fashion to voice their opinions – without uttering a single word. In 2018, First Lady of the United States of America, Melania Trump visited children languishing in detention centers while wearing a jacket with a tone-deaf slogan – “I really don’t care do u?”
It wasn’t just a jacket as was stated by the Trump camp but a loaded statement about the government’s (and Melania’s) political expression. “Today, people—especially the youth—wear their hearts on their sleeve (literally), so to dismiss the incident with #ItsJustAJacket by the Trump team, is downright reductionist and smacks of superficial concern for the pains of ordinary men, women, and children. It smacks of your disregard for the importance of clothing,” wrote veteran fashion journalist, Bandana Tewari at that time.
In an article for The Conversation, interdisciplinary fashion designer, artist, and educator, Henry Navarro Delgado writes that the political dimension of clothing is intuitively understood from the moment we are born because human society equals to a dressed society. Hence, what one wears and how they wear it is an expression of their individual personality, attitudes, and allegiances. That is also essentially what the merchandising industry stands on.
While fashion messaging has contributed to global conversations since celebrities began turning up on red carpets with their political allegiances embroidered into their very outfit, activism and fashion go way back. Take Coco Chanel, for example. All things considered, Chanel was one of the first womenswear designers to borrow from menswear with the creation of The Chanel Suit which was celebrated by figures like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Jackie Kennedy.
Cut to 2010 and we have Lady Gaga wearing her iconic meat dress on the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet. Gaga later explained that her look was intended to slam the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented openly LGTBQ+ individuals from serving in the U.S. military. She went on to state, in a speech, that the regressive law had prevented the military from enjoying “the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer.”
During a rally for former US President Barack Obama, pop star Katy Perry wore a latex blue dress with the word “Forward” written in white letters on the front which echoed the primary theme of Obama’s campaign. Then, in 2016, during her iconic Super Bowl halftime show, Beyoncé and her backup dancers paid homage to the Black Panther Party of the ’60s with their black leather outfits and berets. And who can forget the pussyhat? Launched by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman’s Pussyhat Project, the pink hat was the most visible symbol of the 2017 Women’s March which completely took over the globe and shattered any hopes Trump might have had of showing off his first day as President.
However, some celebrities have literally worn their views on their sleeves. For the 92nd Academy Awards red carpet, actress Natalie Portman wore a black Dior cape with the last names of women directors allegedly snubbed by the Academy Awards embroidered on it. Directors like Greta Gerwig, Lulu Wang, and Melina Matsoukas were among the names etched in gold on the cape.
The list would be incomplete without the mention of the time when Hollywood celebrities attended the 2018 Golden Globes dressed in all black to show their support for the #MeToo movement which finally took off after the Harvey Weinstein scandal came to light.
The list goes on and on. And after all, the fashion industry, like most industries, has a way of co-opting current trends to suit their own agendas. Season after season has seen outfits emblazoned with logos ranging from quirky to political. And let’s not forget, they are damn instagrammable and hence, incredibly popular. Scores of influencers have posted pictures of themselves wearing “Feminist AF” T-shirts which have racked up thousands of likes.
But therein lies the power of fashion – the ability to channel your opinion, your attitude, and your current state of mind without uttering a single word. Chakraborty knew what she was doing when she stepped out for her third day of questioning by the NCB in her “smash the patriarchy” T-shirt. It may not have reduced the decibels on news channels but it appears to have jolted Bollywood out of its apathy.