How RBG, Mary Tyler Moore, Made Statements With Their Style

Illustrator Ann Shen explores iconic women's outfits — and their significance — throughout history

Nevertheless She Wore It

In her latest book, Nevertheless, She Wore It, illustrator Ann Shen sought to capture the way iconic women have used fashion to make a statement throughout history. She brought to life everything from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent collar to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s red lipstick.

Wake-Up Call: Your new book ‘Nevertheless, She Wore It focuses on some of the most iconic fashion statements in history. What inspired the project?

Ann Shen: I’ve always loved fashion and style as a form of personal expression and creativity. There are entire career fields dedicated to that! I was inspired to write this book when I saw Nancy Pelosi in her fire red coat walking out of a contentious meeting with the President. It reminded me of all the moments in the past couple of years that were sparked by fashion and politics — the Pink Pussyhat, Hillary Clinton’s white pantsuits, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s red lipstick, and hoops.

Even outside of politics — there were all the black dresses on the Golden Globes’ red carpet for Time’s Up. I wanted to explore the power of fashion — something that’s been trivialized by the patriarchy. But it’s something that women, a group that historically didn’t have a voice or a seat at the table, have always had access to as a means of personal expression. We all get dressed every day, and we make choices that mean something whether or not we consciously think so.

What’s one style you cover in your book that people may not realize the impact it had at the time?

Mary Tyler Moore wearing capris on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Even though women wore casual pants at home, actresses weren’t allowed to wear pants on television yet. Although many may not have thought of Moore’s housewife character, Laura Petrie, as a feminist activist, Moore fought very hard to portray real women on television.

You cover 50 different styles. How did you narrow it down?

I had a long-running list of ideas, but in the end, I wanted to curate a list that was broad and inclusive of a lot of different women and cultures. I wanted to represent many different ways women – and all people – can storytell through their personal style. Many trends evolve into different trends, and I often tried to find the root of where it started and write about that history.

I love your section on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Dissent Collar. Tell us about the beaded collar you illustrated in your book and why it’s so significant?

The beaded collar that she wears in the painting is her dissent collar, which she aptly named because she said it looked “fitting for dissent.” I think the design has a medieval armor-like vibe, making her look ready for battle — which we all know the political field can be.

It’s also significant because she expresses her personal power through her collars. As a Supreme Court Justice, you’re nonpartisan in your work. However, she brilliantly uses her accessory choice to make a statement about her visibility as a woman in the highest judicial body in the land. RBG and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor faced that dilemma when they realized the robes were made for male bodies.

They used collar choices (since male judges typically wear ties and collars under theirs) to make the robes their own. RBG also used her collars to express her personal opinions — like when she wore her dissent collar the day after the 2016 election.

What was your favorite fashion statement you included in the book and why?

There are so many favorites — but I am especially partial to the Tri-Color Stripe of the Suffragette movement because I think there’s a lot that we can adapt from that movement into our current activism. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can learn from our ancestors and use the power of style and visibility over and over again.

What do you think the fashion statement of 2020 will be? (Besides a mask!)

I really can’t think of anything besides a mask! It’s truly THE fashion statement of 2020 — it says a lot about you when you wear one and is a brilliant way to express your personal style and broadcast your activism.

Just look at the VOTE one that Hillary Clinton wears. I have a wardrobe of reusable masks now, for different outfits and moods. The fact that it’s so controversial and politicized makes it exactly the kind of fashion statement I love to talk about — it means something. It’s stirring something in the public consciousness. The mask IS the fashion statement of 2020.

This originally appeared on Medium.