Fashion Activism in Ireland
Taryn De Vere
I am an activist on a range of social issues and was heavily involved with the Repeal the 8th campaign for abortion rights in Ireland. I’m interested in how the personal becomes political in the context of the choices we make about our clothing and accessories. My activism focuses on issues within Ireland and the UK and I’ve been involved in campaigns on both sides of the border. I create pieces of wearable art to make political statements and spread awareness.
My work has various stages: the process I use to dream up an idea, the execution and the public outings, and the sharing of photos of the final product on social media. I make headpieces specifically for protests, so my work is usually seen by thousands of people and as a result it has had extensive press coverage in both Irish national and international newspapers.
My process is influenced by being a lone parent of five kids. I use inexpensive materials as I can’t afford more costly items. My children are usually my photographers, so the pictures are taken quickly, with only a minute or two to capture the image. I like to play with the idea of how women ‘should’ be in public – quiet, composed, not taking up space – compared with how I ‘am’ – bold, loud, in your face, unavoidable and demanding that people pay attention to my message.
I enjoy bringing a sense of fun to whatever I do, wherever possible. I have found that people respond to creativity and colour, so I attempt to create pieces that are visually striking in order to achieve maximum impact and encourage people to engage with me and my message. Spreading a sense of joy through my clothing and headpieces is important to me as I have experienced domestic abuse, rapes and gender-based discrimination. I enjoy defying patriarchal standards by expressing myself loudly and colourfully with my clothing and headwear. The gendered violence that I experienced taught me not to take up space, and by dressing with colour and joy I feel that I’m reclaiming my right to exist in the world. When wearing the headpieces, I feel powerful; they allow me to connect with others in ways I couldn’t if I dressed normally. As the outreach aspect of my outfits is important, I generally try to create messaging that people will be able to engage with. I aim to frame issues in such a way that people will feel comfortable approaching me. An example of this is how I try to be for something rather than against something. However, there were two pieces I made for Repeal the 8th where I decided that this approach was not appropriate because I felt that people needed to be confronted with the reality of Ireland’s abortion laws.
The biggest challenge I have when designing my wearable art is deciding on the message. Although I try to be inclusive, there have been times when I have used “women” when I would have preferred to say: “anyone capable of getting pregnant” or “people with uteruses,” but both are very long sentences to put on a headpiece. Despite this, I did once make a headpiece that said, “Trans men and Intersex people need abortions too.”
I wore this to an LGBTQ event in Derry where I was performing at the Vagina Monologues. I was told I had to wear black, a colour I very rarely wear. While wearing this piece, I encountered a few groups of teenagers in the streets. I was struck by how respectful, interested and engaged the boys were, asking me questions and telling me they liked the headpiece.
Smashing the Patriarchy
This is one of the few headpieces I have created that wasn’t intended for a specific event. I often use children’s toys in my headpieces and was inspired by the idea of subverting a traditionally masculine symbol. I played with the idea of a tiara-like structure while creating a message that would counter the stereotypical idea of girlishness and princesses.
In this piece, I was playing with the idea of the messages we pass on through logos on clothing. I wondered what I would say if I could stop every person I passed on the street during the Repeal the 8th campaign. The message of Repeal the 8th was controversial at that time, therefore the comic-book speech bubble and the way I dressed made it more light-hearted.
On the back of the speech bubble was a more sombre message. I wanted people to understand that women have died because of the 8th amendment. This is the one headpiece where I did not stick to my usual theme of trying to be joyful. I did not believe the women who had died because of a lack of safe abortion services were getting enough press coverage and I wanted people who planned on voting “No” to face the reality of the 8th amendment.
Where I live in Ireland, the population is conservative, and we were the only county that voted “no” to abortion rights in 2018. When wearing the headpiece in my own county, I knew I was promoting a controversial message. Every time I wore it, I experienced overtly negative reactions from anti-choice people I encountered. People stood in front of me, read it and sneered or said something offensive to me. Others looked angrily at me or looked as though they wanted to hurt me. Whenever I wore it, I had to prepare myself for these responses, even though it was a powerful and necessary message. I was always glad to take it off when I got home.
Who Owns Women?
During my canvassing, I met lots of older men who were “No” voters. I wanted to ask them who they thought owned women’s bodies, so I decided to write it on a dress. I wanted a powerful and defiant stance for the photo, but the true power of this dress was wearing it on the streets and watching men engage with it. Men would stop in their tracks to read the question. I stood still to allow them to read it and take it in. Some of the men would give me hard stares but others gave me gentle smiles or nods.
Women Will Never Be Free Under the DUP
This headpiece was created for the Belfast Processions. Alliance for Choice, of which I am part, was marching at the back of the processions to call for abortion rights in Northern Ireland. I created this headpiece in suffragette colours to honour the processions. I made a political statement on the headpiece about how far women still have to go in Northern Ireland to achieve full equality. The DUP is a political party in Northern Ireland that is currently aligned with the right-wing Tory party. They often disagree with progressive changes to policy around reproductive rights, multiculturalism, unbiased sex education and LGBTQI+ rights.
After the repeal referendum was called, the messaging became about urging people to vote “Yes.” This is one of a number of “Yes”-themed headpieces I made. While I have been making headpieces for over a decade, I had never created so many for one specific issue before the Repeal campaign. The county I live in is largely anti-choice and our “Yes” posters were being removed the same night we put them up. So I decided I would “be” the signs and I made a commitment to wear a pro-choice outfit every day until the referendum. I would post the photos on social media, where I created a special “Dress for Yes” public album on Facebook that I updated daily. I wore this to a number of events around Dublin, and then took it apart, and later used the “Yes” part in other headpieces.
This headpiece accompanied headlines in online and print newspapers all over the world the day after we won Repeal.* I made it two days before, confident that we would win. A few months prior to the referendum, a mural designed by the artist Maser appeared on the Dublin Project Arts Centre’s external wall. The mural was of a huge red heart with white lettering saying “Repeal” running across it. It became something of a pilgrimage spot for abortion rights campaigners and pictures of people posing in front of it were posted all over social media prior to the referendum. In the lead-up to the referendum, the Irish Charities Regulator informed the Project Arts Centre that they had to remove the mural, which to many people seemed like a biased act of censorship. I used the heart and font from Maser’s mural as inspiration and created an outfit to match. This headpiece is now in the National Museum of Ireland’s collection.
Taryn de Vere is a cis, migrant woman living in Ireland. Taryn explores political and social messaging through fashion activism, colour and social media. Her work is primarily influenced by being a lone parent of five children and the reduced finances that come with that situation. She uses recycled children’s craft materials to create headpieces and other wearable art. Her work has appeared in newspapers around the world and several of her pieces are in the collection of the National Museum of Ireland.