What to Wear to a Protest: The Look of the Movement in the Long 1960s
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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Hidden “I was there”-style pictures in drawers of photos help tell a more complete story of events in the struggle for civil rights in “the long 1960s,” one in which “the look” of those protests and the clothing worn by civil rights demonstrators suggest the power of performance rooted in carefully curated expressions of style. Social protest had an impact on fashion, as did street style. The clothing of the 1960s protesters appeared on the “stage” of demonstrations and “actions,” captured in the powerful photos that adorned magazine covers and brought print coverage of protests to life, and increasingly seen on television screens across the nation in real-time. Clothing could speak volumes about the motivations of the wearer without the necessity of uttering a single word. The clothing choices and overall “look” of those who protested often clearly signaled their affiliations – and aspirations – and made an indelible impression on countless observers, both contemporaneously and in the decades since. American media culture edited the stories of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party, and the Women’s Liberation Movement in stories the media told – and sold. This dissertation seeks to illuminate the significance of those historical moments when the clothing of protest movements was fundamentally tied to the politics of protest, foregrounding those instances when protesters focused explicitly on constructed appearances. Each of the three chapters that follows also analyzes how the look of protest has been woven into the historical memory of the long 1960s as protest fashions from the time period have been documented, reinvented, and distorted through the lens of popular culture, evolving fashion trends, and in the shaping of the contested historical memory of the era. More than a half-century after the protests of the three social movements under discussion, the United States is experiencing a cultural reckoning with the defining memories and contested meanings of these moments. Scholars and the lay public alike have learned more and more about the 1960s through research and the discovery and dissemination of unpublished pictures and film footage. With that greater awareness of the full historical context of 1960s era protests it is now more evident than ever before how these still and moving images were carefully framed by the media to serve complicated and occasionally competing agendas. The contested historical memory of the sixties, moreover, reveals the stark divides in American politics and culture to this day.