Fashion is always a response to the times. Whether it is economics or politics, looking at the runways and how people are dressing in everyday life can reflect some profound sentiments.
Turn on the news, pick up a newspaper, or open your Facebook page and the world is responding to Trumpism. The president’s omnipresence and policies affect what designers send down the runway.
In the Obama era, after coming out of the recession, fashion responded by bringing back maximalism. The idea of excess and opulence returned as people felt they had the money to shop again. Fashion designers dared to be bold and avant-garde. Brands like Gucci, with their patterns on top of patterns, and Vetements with their exaggerated proportions, became the most sought-after luxury brands around the globe.
The election of Donald Trump bought the expectation of a new scaling back: His maximalism—most overtly symbolized in his gold-covered Trump Tower penthouse, and bragging about his success and brilliance—might have been considered brash and defining enough to turn others off it.
However, looking at the most recent Fashion Month that just passed, it appears the opposite has actually happened. Maximalism has continued as strong as ever.
“In the Trump era, women are in a position where they are redefining how they should prove themselves,” says Amanda Hallay, a fashion professor at Laboratory Institute of Merchandising and founder of the Ultimate Fashion History YouTube series. “Fashion is never an island, it’s always a response. There’s a complete reassessment of what it is to be a woman, and what it is to be a fashionable woman. The recent Oscars ceremony was a perfect example. Mostly everyone was elegant and ladylike in extravagant ball gowns.”
Prior to Trumpism, fashion had spent a period focused on making women “look hot,” which Hallay believes was motivated by the Kardashians.
“For this younger generation, the Kardashians became the defining beauty ideal, the problem with that is, they are not always the classiest-looking people,” Hallay says. “One of the things Donald Trump has done is inadvertently change the tide on this. Women want to be classy.
“In New York, I’ve noticed a difference in the way women dress on the streets since Trump was elected. Women are now wearing cigarette pants with flats, and it’s chic and business-appropriate. Before that, I used to see businesswomen wearing the tightest suits and six inch heels.”
Compared to the Obama era of relative sartorial calm, Hallay believes fashion is presently giving a strong response to politics.
“What surprised me about the Obama era was I don’t feel fashion responded that much,” Hallay said. “The world was OK, so fashion was OK, and designers just said let’s do the thing. In Trump, they reacted, and fashion doesn’t have to react. The goal is just to sell clothes.”
Just take a look at Mexican-American designer Ricardo Seco’s most recent New York Fashion Week show. He spared no expense on maximalist patterns, which included everything from fly prints to oversized stripes and polka dots. Most notably, his clothes included statements like “You can call me DACA, but I'm the result of a dream come true... I am an American,” and “DREAM.”
Seco is known for being a vehement opponent to Trump, with his disdain for him further fueled by Trump’s comments on Mexican immigrants and his administration’s anti-immigration policies.
Catherine Salfino, a fashion and lifestyle columnist at Sourcing Journal, who has been a longtime attendee of New York Fashion Week, noticed plaids, argyle, sparkles, fur and longer dresses on the runway. She believes that under Trumpism, designers have opted to harken back to the ’70s when it was a much happier time.
“Designers want to go back to a happier period in history versus what we have to deal with now,” she says. “It makes perfect sense when you think about what happened with fashion in the ’70s. It was coming off the turmoil of the ’60s when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, and we had the Vietnam War. In the ’70s it was all about dance and disco style.
Even moving into the ’80s, there was all this extravagance with big shoulder pads and fashion inspiration coming from TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty. This nation is in a worse period now than ever, so it makes sense designers want to bring that ’70s and ’80s maximalism back.”
For fall/winter 2018, Marcel Ostertag evoked ’70s glamour, featuring sequins galore as he harkened back to the glamorous parties of the era and drew inspiration from Yves Saint Laurent. Painted poppy flowers, animal prints and striped patterns all added to the maximalist affect.
While Hallay and Salfino feel fashion has done its due diligence in reacting to Trumpism, some in the industry feel much more can be done.
Johnson Hartig, creative director of Libertine, has been a very vocal opponent of Donald Trump. He would often take to his brand’s Twitter to attack Trump’s policies until his social media director told him to stop.
Instead, he created a fake Twitter account of a disillusioned Trump-supporting woman to get his anger out. His frustrations translated into his recent New York Fashion Week collection which he said was, “A reaction to these people repressing us, holding us back and taking away our rights.”
Known for his sequins, embellishments and eye motifs, Hartig has long taken a maximalist approach to his collections, but this season as a response to Trumpism, he went for more mature and overtly pretty.
“As a creative person, the greatest form of resistance is to create the most outlandish beauty we can,” he says.
Still, he doesn’t see fashion capable of doing much in these turbulent political times, and rather says, “I want to see less change in the fashion industry, rather than in the whole country. We should all be out in the streets every single day, fashion people included, rallying and protesting around the White House. As an industry we can send messages down the runway. Some designers are afraid of offending their Republican clients, but not me.”