It isn’t 1963 anymore. Far from it.
Protests aren’t the place for suit and ties, heels and gloves. Not for my generation at least. Thousands of Timberland boots, running sneakers, baggy jeans and t-shirts found their way in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom last Saturday. For a split second I wondered if fashion was still political that same way it was when Dr. King took the mic and gave one of the most historic speeches in U.S. history.
Then I came to my senses: of course fashion is still political. A young, Black teenager was killed in Sanford, Florida after he was perceived to be “dangerous” for wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Latinos and Blacks are profiled, stopped, questioned, and frisked every day in the streets of New York for looking too suspicious, whether that is because their arms are decked with tattoos, or because their pants sit below their waists. But there we all were in the middle of Washington D.C., marching side by side.
Obviously, there is still work to be done. And those who attended this year’s march knew it too. In fact, they wore it all over their casual-ness. The majority of people I saw sported different styles of t-shirts, each begging for the same sentiment: “Justice for Trayvon Martin.” So while the fashion may have changed, the politics have remained the same.
Fifty years after activists went to D.C. to demand economic and civil rights for Blacks, teenagers have to think twice about what they wear to walk to the corner store in fear of being deemed suspicious. If we don’t conform to the “traditional” safe day-to-day attire of our European counterparts, we’ll be in trouble.
Today, on the official anniversary of the March on Washington, I wonder where that leaves the whole “Gents” movement. Is the well-dressed-man a strategy to please authoritative figures sartorially? A way that will allow them to walk through the streets at ease, without being profiled?
The question becomes two-fold: Did the great Civil Rights leaders who came before us fight for the freedom for the next generation to wear whatever they wanted without negative repercussions? Or did they crusade for us to have the right to walk into the nearest Brooks Brothers and shop the most respected styles alongside our white counterparts?
I don’t have the answer. I think few do. But what I do know is that men and women should always put their best foot forward to always look presentable. And men and women—no matter their race—should have the right to throw on a hooded sweatshirt or an un-ironed t-shirt with loose-fitting jeans without penalization. When it comes down to it, I think that this “right to choose” is why thousands took to Washington D.C. to march 50 years ago.