how fashion got political at the vmas

From Vic Mensa’s anti-authority apparel to Amber Rose’s slut shaming jumpsuit and all the rainbows in between, artists let their looks do the talking at the VMAs.

by Emily Manning
31 August 2015, 9:10pm

Since Macy Gray arrived at the 2001 VMAs in a dress listing her album release date (complete with "Buy It!" embroidered on the butt), artists have capitalized on the event's red carpet fashion coverage as a way to make a statement without saying a word. Last night's ceremony was no exception. In fact, it was something of a microcosm (albeit a very expensive, glitter-bombed one) for the pressing social issues impacting our generation. Police brutality, body positivity, cultural appropriation, and LGBT advocacy emerged as not only the night's biggest talking points, but also as its most major fashion moments.

Boosted by a pair of Marc by Marc Jacobs ninja kicks, Windy City rapper Vic Mensa breezed down the carpet covered in punk anti-police patches. Decked out in slogans like "fuck business," "destroy revolution," "rude riot," and "KKKOPS ARE THE BIGGEST GANG," Mensa's all-black look wasn't backing down. A graphic of African American revolutionary Assata Shakur's FBI wanted poster spangled on the front of Mensa's apparel. "Most people want to show up here to look pretty and get on a blog," Vic told MTV News. "I'm not so concerned. I want to get my point across."

Amber Rose and Blac Chyna's matching looks used similarly bold graphics to convey an anti-slut shaming statement. Rose rocked a jumpsuit while Chyna stunned in a form-fitting gown, both plastered with cotton candy-colored derogatory slurs like "Bitch," "Hoe," "Slut" - words both women have been called by social media trolls as well as mainstream media outlets. "We just wanted to paint a picture of what everybody already says about us," Chyna told Kelly Osbourne on the red carpet, before Rose spoke sincerely about her SlutWalk fundraising campaign efforts to help empower women who have been subjected to sexual assault and abuse.

Although Rose and Chyna shared their feminist message by heaping on the hate speech, many other female artists from FKA Twigs to Gigi Hadid got body positive by baring (almost) all on the carpet. But perhaps the most important instance of near-nakedness was Nicki Minaj's super sheer dress. The rapper has never been shy about showing her stuff, but last night's wardrobe choice felt especially powerful in light of the spats leading up to the event. "If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year," Nicki tweeted last month, following the announcement of the VMA nominations. What better way than to stick by that statement than by proudly demanding visibility?

Which brings us to the night's main event: host Miley Cyrus. The pop provocateur's 16 -- yes, one six -- outfit changes ranged from flower bombs to breast-baring harnesses and a giant rainbow flag. But in spite of this inclusive positivity, some critics have argued that Miley hadn't quite cleaned the culturally appropriative skeletons out of past VMA closets. "Old criticisms that Ms. Cyrus too easily puts on and takes off signifiers of blackness weren't likely to be quelled by her outfit choices, which included dreadlocks in two different colors," Jon Caramanica argued in the New York Times, "nor by the moment she called Snoop Dogg 'my real mammy,' a word with offensive connotations that she either didn't know about or didn't care to know about."

In his ten-minute-long acceptance speech for the Video Vanguard award, Kanye West declared, "I'm not no politician, bro." But if anything, the VMAs this year proved that in 2015 - when everything musicians do, say and wear is re-grammed and re-tweeted into infinity - those statements do become political. And it was reassuring to see some artists using that platform for good.

Related: The i-D Guide to the 2015 VMAs


Text Emily Manning
Image via @rocnation

red carpet
vic mensa
Nicki Minaj
Miley Cyrus
Amber Rose
blac chyna