There are many things that politics and fashion have in common. For instance, we all have different opinions about them, but there still will be campaigns and advertisements to persuade us harshly to change our minds. Another thing that politics and fashion have in common is that, in many ways, our beliefs and perceptions of them are an extension of who we are and where we come from.
Fashion and politics have been and will always be linked to one another, as both universes represent the beliefs, thoughts, and concerns of who we are as humans at a particular time and a specific moment. This is why today we’ll talk about how presidencies have influenced fashion trends based on the social context that these presidents created with their proposals, values, background, and personality.
President Bill Clinton arrived at the White House in 1993. He was 46 years old, the third youngest President of the United States.
As Clinton served during his two terms and the new millennial approached, the United States, and many parts of the world, felt optimistic about this new millennial. It seemed that after so many decades of international challenges, such as the Vietnam War and the Cold War, there would be an era of peace where growth and development could happen. People were hopeful that the tragic memories of World Wars and revolutions would stay in the 20th century and that January 1st of the year 2000 would be the start of a new beginning.
During Clinton’s presidency, there was an average economic growth of 4% and a record job creation that stimulated one of the most significant periods of economic growth in American history. This means that, overall, many people were feeling happy and optimistic. This energy added to the hope of the new millennium was translated into fashion trends that express happiness, joy, and a somehow futuristic assumption of what the world would be like in the near future.
But the optimism about the future wasn’t fully irrational. During the 90s, there were technological developments that made fashion more accessible and diverse for most consumers. The “pioneer” of fast fashion, Zara, arrived in the United States in 1989, so a new way of understanding and consuming fashion was getting significant attention, and most consumers felt happy about it. Suddenly, cool outfits weren’t exclusive to the wealthy. Working-class folks were now able to purchase clothes that were exciting to them and were not generic cookie-cutted as they used to be in mass-produced clothing stores.
George W. Bush
With faith-based initiatives, and a controversial election outcome, George W. Bush was the first Republican President to enjoy a majority in both houses of Congress since Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.
During these years, many fashion trends were heavily influenced by celebrities. Reality shows became mainstream, and magazines sold articles about these celebrities’ wealth and fashion items. It’s no surprise that some of the most memorable photos from 2000s fashion come from celebrities like Paris Hilton. These include pictures from the day when she wore matching bags with a young Kim Kardashian or from the days she partied with Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan got into the car as well. After all, Hilton was an aspirational figure who partied with celebrities, appeared on TV, and wore high fashion. So some of her favorite fashion choices, like Juicy Couture tracksuits and halter dresses, are a significant staple of this time in fashion.
This is where Y2K aesthetic emerged. Y2K, which stands for the year 2000 is this intersection between pop culture and the technological advancements from the new millennium that people have been excited about since the previous presidential term. Cropped tops, low-rise pants, and small shoulder bags are some staple pieces of this fashion era.
By President George W. Bush’s second term, we saw a trend of aspirational elitism. TV shows like Gossip Girl created aspirational characters that triggered fashion trends based on an idea of what fashion and beauty should look like, which was associated with wealth, brands, and luxury. These were the years when monogram bags reached a very high level of popularity to an overwhelmingly exaggerated point that almost made luxury goods tacky. On the other hand, menswear was heavily inspired by luxurious polo and golf uniforms. Girls were wearing Louis Vuitton bags with black or white monograms, and the bigger the monogram, the better.
There will never be enough books, documentaries, movies, and articles explaining how Barack Obama’s presidency shaped the way we understand politics, race, society, and political communication.
When Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008, there was an overall message of hope about racial justice in the United States. If the most powerful person in this country is a person of color, the communities of people of color will start to see a part of themselves in this President. And this is a powerful message of hope toward fairness and inclusion.
During the years of Barack Obama’s presidency, we started to see rappers in mainstream media. Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne began to appear in social events that, for many years, were focused on mainstream pop. Therefore, a lot of fashion trends between 2008 and 2017 were inspired by rappers. People wear oversized hoodies, chains, and statement sneakers. This influence of rappers was rapidly received positively by many people, and these days, we see them in the front rows of fashion shows in Paris, Milan, New York, and London. Their voice and their influence carry weight, and now many fashion companies acknowledge this matter.
This was also a relevant moment in fashion, where marginalized groups raised their voices and influenced fashion in this process. In 2015, gay marriage was legalized, which directly caused a huge wave of LGBTQ+ fashion, celebrating diversity, equity, and inclusion, which also triggered LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream media. After 2015, we began to see many big fashion companies creating Pride collections or limited edition products to acknowledge the importance of the LGBTQ+ consumer in today’s fashion world.
2016 - 2020
In fashion and politics, it seems as if we take one step forward and then two steps backward. The progress, development and evolution is sometimes pushed back by a strong force that is followed by a significant group of people.
The outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election was international breaking news. This moment represented a phenomenon that for many years was developing in America and grew to an exponentially dangerous outcome: the celebrity culture of the United States. Indeed, many celebrities from the United States are known worldwide. Hollywood movies are translated into multiple languages, and entertainment events like the Oscars, the Grammys, the VMAs, and the Met Gala are on the international agenda of entertainment and are seen by people around the world. We saw a previous phenomenon when actor and former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger became the governor of California. However, what happened in 2016 resulted from a campaign based on the celebrity culture of the United States, with the narrative of “going back” to the origins of this country.
Extreme right-wing movements have been developing in different parts of the world in recent years. An idea of traditional nationalism that goes back to the origins of a certain country. During the term of the 45th President of the United States, we saw a lot of fashion trends inspired by patriotism, with flag-inspired clothes as if we celebrated the Fourth of July all year long.
Also, the term “Made in the USA” became more attractive to consumers. For many, it wasn’t about a matter of sustainability (locally made products don’t require shipments from Asia that release tons of carbon emissions). It was a matter of pride in their country and celebrating the workforce and companies based in the United States of America.
Another important aspect to highlight is that during these years, the cancel culture has become more relevant to the way we perceive celebrities and fashion. As Gen Z entered the workforce, more information became available about brands and famous people on social media and the internet in general. We start to question what positive or negative influence this celebrity has in our lives and if we should still follow them on social media. In terms of fashion brands, the values of the company, the way they behave with their employees and with the environment became particularly relevant for the younger consumer. And when certain information about a brand related to animal cruelty, social unfairness, or toxic work environments comes up, the internet goes crazy. As Heidi Klum used to say in Project Runway: “In fashion, one day you are in, and the next day you are out.”
Fashion trends come and go. Presidents are elected and leave the White House after one or two terms, waiting for another person who has enough support to be the next President. Some presidents will create high expectations and leave big disappointments. Some others might be surprisingly smart and extraordinary. This is why it’s so important to remember that regardless of how disappointed and frustrated we feel, there still needs to be someone taking this role. In fashion and in elections, it is not always about choosing the best option. Many times it’s about choosing the alternative that makes more sense, that is not intimidating, that is affordable, and that somehow will try to make our lives at least a little easier.