March on Washington: 50 Years of Change in Political Fashionability

It isn’t 1963 anymore. Far from it.

Protests aren’t the place for suit and ties, heels and gloves.  Instead thousands of Timberland boots, running sneakers, oversized 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 Floridian teen was killed in Sanford, Florida after he was perceived to be “dangerous” because he wore a hooded sweatshirt. 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. Yet, 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 and tank tops, all begging for the same thing: “Justice for Trayvon Martin.” 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 for fear of being deemed a 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? The way that will allow them to walk through the streets with ease, without being profiled?

All of a sudden, the question becomes two-fold: Did the great Civil Rights leaders who came before us fought for the freedom of the next generation to wear whatever they wanted without negative repercussion? Or did they crusaded 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. What I do know is that men and women should always put their best foot forward to always look presentable. But, no matter their race, they should also have the right to throw on a hooded sweatshirt or an un-ironed t-shirt with loose-fitting jeans and not risk profiling or penalization from authorities.
When it comes down to it, I think that the “right to choose” is why thousands took to Washington D.C. to march 50 years ago.