Monday, 28 March 2011

How to dress for a protest

My family have always been politically minded, from my grandparents right-leaning zionist generation, to my parents CND/anti-apartheid/anti-nazi campaigning, right through to my own light dabblings in socialist ideology (very short-lived).
I've been going to protests since I was tiny, strapped onto my dad's back in a brown corduroy sling or holding mum's hand dressed in Osh Kosh dungarees, so it was lovely to see so many families with young kids at the protest in London on March 26.
However, protesting seems to have become more risky as police tactics have changed. When I was little it seemed like the police were there to protect us from any violence, so when a group of skin heads started throwing rocks at us on an Anti-Nazi league March they were swiftly dealt with and we carried on in peace. Perhaps as a child I was sheltered from any other nastiness, certainly old-school protestors I later met while working for another anti-racism organisation would suggest so. But these days the police are the people I am scared of. Not because they are bad people - but because I am terrified of being kettled. Kettling escalates an angry mood and catches innocent peaceful protestors up in the aggravated swirl of masked teenagers looking to cause damage and antagonise the police into doing something stupid. Being held for an indefinite amount of time is scary and also I don't like peeing in public.

Thus, my mother and I have, over the past few years, been considering a new sartorial approach to protest that we thought would help us avoid any trouble. On Saturday, we put it to the test. No more dungarees, definitely no corduroy (not that I have considered either of these a sensible choice for clothing since an unfortunate lilac denim-cut-off dungarees moment when I was 13) - no face paint, no jeans, no slogan t-shirts of any sort. In fact any clothes that make you look like you might possibly be a protestor are banned unless they can be easily removed and compacted into a handbag or covered with a shawl.
And thus it was that I went along to the cuts protest in polka dot high heels, matching red lipstick, an APC coat and a satin YSL pencil skirt (ebay's finest).

(taken by my mum in nice hotel toilets in Mayfair, five minutes after leaving the protest route)

No-one was anything but polite to me. One woman stopped me and said she admired my commitment, coming on a march in heels. A masked teenager, fresh from smashing the windows at Lloyds, actually stopped and apologised for crashing into me as he ran towards the Ritz. A riot policeman told me under his breath exactly what the next police move was going to be so that I could get out of the way and not get crushed. In fact every policeman either of us spoke to was nothing but friendly, helpful and polite despite the abuse being hurled at many of them. We even managed to walk straight off the march into a very nice hotel to use the loo without anyone batting an eyelid.
After five hours the heels did start to hurt a little. But I still managed to run with the riot police as they poured onto Piccadilly from Old Bond Street and take some decent pictures, although I had to hitch the pencil skirt up above my knees to keep up.

Yes, some people would say that there is an ideological conflict in wearing designer clothing to an anti-cuts protest (even if the entire outfit actually cost me under £50). Those are probably the same people who thought smashing the windows of the Ritz was a good idea. But I think their point is moot. The middle classes - a number of whom would take a trip to Fortnum and Masons for birthday ice creams or Christmas presents, or the Ritz for tea for Grandma's birthday, and who are collectively the biggest consumer group for fashion in the UK - are seriously affected by these cuts. Almost all of them rely in some way on a state-funded service, be it the NHS, state schooling, libraries, sport centres, child care or benefits. Very few of them have the money to pay off their children's university debts, let alone the new fees. Yes, this may seem trivial compared to the loss of a disability allowance or a newly-jobless single mother with no support (although being disabled or a single mother doesn't make you automatically working class or poor despite what some newspapers seem to think), but the point is that these cuts affect almost everyone. And even the more comfortable and straight-laced members of the middle classes are angry. They're just a bit too nice to throw eggs full of paint at the Royal Academy. For now.

Some other outfits from the protest:

And my favourite message of the day:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing great info on "how to dress for a protest" with us.