Hi, all. I can’t stop thinking about the photo that went viral on Twitter of an elderly woman on the Moscow Underground. Clad in bright blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, she is sitting stoically with her chin held high and her stare resolute. The picture was shared by the Belarus Free Theatre with the caption: “Sometimes the act of resistance doesn’t have to be loud or bold, it just has to be.”
To be sure, one’s clothing is never going to be the most powerful weapon to fight injustice. But I would argue that it is among the most visible, which makes it extremely significant at this highly visual moment in history. To my eye, the choices of the woman on the Moscow underground were loud and they were bold. And they were just one example of an outpouring of sartorial support for Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s violent invasion. I’ll be honest, I did not expect fashion to enter the discussion in the way that it has — just look at the vivid the choices of American lawmakers at this week's State of the Union Address. But I absolutely love to see it.
Below, I have compiled a look at the ways in which people are showing support for Ukraine with their clothing choices. But first, I wanted to recap of the royal family’s response, which is quite newsworthy.
Lastly, a quick plug for Jessica Yellin’s News Not Noise newsletter, where she distills the complicated events as they unfold. You can read and subscribe here.
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“As Head of State The Queen has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters,” reads the British Royal Family’s website, not mincing words at the beginning of the section titled, “The Queen's role in Government.” Members of the family do not vote or hold political office. They are in their roles for life, the thinking goes, which means they need to stay above the fray of the ever-changing political landscape.
The Queen, however, has found some clever ways around that rule over the years. Sometimes that requires us to read between the lines, like during a 2016 speech to mark the centenary of the Sandringham Women’s Institute. Her remarks, in which she called for “common ground” and urged people to “never lose sight of the bigger picture,” were received as commentary on Brexit.
This week, in response to the Ukraine crisis, her support was a bit more explicit — if still unspoken. The Disasters Emergency Committee shared on Twitter that Her Majesty had made a “generous donation” to its Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
News of the donation came after some extraordinary and direct comments by Prince Charles this week. The heir to the throne wove his thoughts into his remarks on a visit to Southend-on-Sea Tuesday, where he addressed the fatal stabbing of the British politician Sir David Amess last October. I am fascinated by the phrasing here, how he ties a global war into a national tragedy (and avoids a succinct, clear quote):
On Ash Wednesday, Charles and Camilla visited the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London. The duchess wept on several occasions, while the prince gave what the press described as an “impromptu speech” there. Note how much more direct this language is here:
So why did Charles choose to break the royal rules and speak out? CNN’s Max Foster said it quite plainly in his analysis this week. “If the UK were ever to try to rebuild bridges with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, these comments will hang over Charles,” he wrote. “Putin, however, has crossed the line on this one for Charles, as he has for most of the Western world.”
To their credit, the Sussexes were the first members of the royal family to speak out on behalf of Ukraine. Harry and Meghan issued a statement on their Archewell website last Thursday, Feb. 24:
On Saturday, the Cambridges offered their support on Twitter, which read in part, “Today we stand with the President and all of Ukraine’s people as they bravely fight for that future 🇺🇦 W & C.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded with his own tweet: ”Olena and I are grateful to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge @RoyalFamily that at this crucial time, when Ukraine is courageously opposing Russia’s invasion, they stand by our country and support our brave citizens. Good will triumph.”
Speaking of Zelenskyy, I have been so struck by the strong message sent by his clothing choice since the conflict began. It helps to understand Zelenskyy’s unconventional path to the presidency (I highly recommend watching this piece from CBS Mornings). The president began his career as a stand-up comedian and actor, “often playing an everyman, like a Ukrainian Steve Carell,” CBS News said. Zelenskyy was the voice of Paddington in the Ukrainian version of the beloved film, Paddington 2, and went on to win his country’s version of Dancing with the Stars. He was elected to the presidency by a huge margin in 2018, at the age of just 41.
As a political figure, he has often been seen clean-shaven in a slim-fitting suit and a tie. Which makes his wartime pivot, unshaven and almost always in an army green t-shirt, even more striking. Departures from the usual always catch our attention in a new way — and what a profound message he is sending. His attire makes it clear he is in the fight with the people of Ukraine.
Around the world, and here at home in America, public figures have been using their clothing to express their support for Ukraine. The unique shades used in the country's flag — a vivid blue and yellow — makes these nods unmistakable. You could instantly spot the lawmakers clad in those colors at the State of the Union this week. It called to mind the ways in which the royal family uses fashion. Unlike other political moments, the representatives in the SOTU audience are not given the chance to speak. From Vanessa Friedman’s column in the New York Times:
There are so many examples, spanning both political parties and states from coast to coast. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, chose a saturated royal blue suit and a pin featuring the American and Ukrainian flags. Ukrainian American Congresswoman Victoria Spartz, a Republic from Indiana, wore a bright blue jacket over a yellow dress.
I particularly loved the group shots, including the one above of Representatives Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, Terri Sewell of Alabama, and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware. Massachusetts Congresswoman Lori Trahan also posted this photo before the speech with six (!) others, all wearing blue and yellow.
And you know I love to see a man embrace fashion messaging. California Rep. Mark Takano sported a light blue shirt and a bright yellow tie.
I am all for an obvious show of support, the kind that is so apparent that it leaves no question as to the message behind the look. But I find subtler displays quite moving, too, almost a softer expression. First Lady Jill Biden did both in the last week, embracing the sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine. For the State of the Union address, she opted for a bright blue satin Sally LaPointe dress with a small sunflower on one sleeve. Earlier this week, the First Lady wore a face mask with an embroidered sunflower, too.
I particularly appreciated Spain’s Queen Letizia, and her unexpected but incredibly thoughtful gesture. She wore a traditional Ukrainian blouse, called a vyshyvanka, for an engagement this week. Her styling choices seemed to play up the piece, too. She was first seen with a black blazer over her shoulders, concealing the blouse underneath. She then took off the jacket, which put even more focus on the vyshyvanka. So here for it!
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But mostly: I am incredibly heartened to see so many public figures dress so thoughtfully. It feels small but quite significant, underscoring the power of fashion.
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