Since 1963, the Fashion Museum Bath has annually crowned a dress of the year. One dress that stands above all others as the fashion moment of the year, a time capsule for future generations to look back upon.
This year, though, the dress of the year, chosen by journalist and editor Sarah Bailey, is rather different, even at a glance - because this year, the dress of the year is a t-shirt. You may wonder how a t-shirt can possibly sum up a year's worth of turbulence and trends, but this one, by Dior, does just that. It is plain white cotton, emblazoned across the chest with a single phrase in black: 'We should all be feminists'.
“I loved the resolute strength of the models in their logo T-shirts emblazoned with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s call to arms ‘We Should All Be Feminists’," says Bailey. "Maria Grazia Chiuri is the first female Creative Director in the history of the house and I admired the vigour with which she immediately started challenging the conversation around women, creativity and the gendering of genius."
And Bailey is not the only one to think so. At £490 a pop, the t-shirts certainly qualify as luxury fashion items, and as such have fallen under fire as a profiting from a political manifesto (though all profits went to charity). But the women who have worn them - from Jennifer Lawrence to Rihanna to Natalie Portman - are clearly focused on the message, not the designer kudos, and have used their own followings to push the message out to yet more women - and men - globally.
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“When I looked at 2017 through the prism of history, society and politics, the Washington Women’s March of January 21, 2017 was front and centre in my mind," says Bailey. "An empowering slogan T-shirt and a sharp jacket – of course! Whether protesting against the misogyny of Trump or speaking out about the predatory practices of the Hollywood casting couch in the unfolding Weinstein scandal, 2017 was a year when women felt the necessity and obligation to stand up and be counted. Maria Grazia Chiuri’s collection distilled the moment – both right for its time and a statement that helps us define the time. A new look indeed."
"It’s a starting point," agrees Chiuri, "to communicate with today’s woman and to imagine the woman of tomorrow. I’m glad that so many women saw my T- shirt as a way to claim their own position, their own role in society, to make their voice heard through this item of clothing. It’s quite an awakening also for fashion, and for what you can do with fashion. For me, the white T-shirt was a simple, direct and immediate means to say something loud and clear.”
The Dress of the Year 2017 will be on display at the Fashion Museum from 1 December 2017 to 1 January 2019; fashionmuseum.co.uk