Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

The hoodie is a global statement of rebellion – no wonder Catherine Dorion was attacked for wearing one

First created for workmen in the 1920s, and eventually adopted by skaters and graffiti artists who wanted to work undetected, the hoodie became an urban symbol that united disenfranchised subcultures. The Canadian politician is not the first public figure to be criticised for sporting it at work

Harriet Hall
Tuesday 12 November 2019 17:08 GMT
First designed for workmen and then adopted by various countercultures, the humble hoodie has become an iconic fashion item
First designed for workmen and then adopted by various countercultures, the humble hoodie has become an iconic fashion item (Tom Ford)

Activists in Quebec are wearing hoodies today, in solidarity with politician Catherine Dorion who faced complaints from several members of the National Assembly of Quebec when she arrived at the provincial legislature wearing jeans and an oversized orange hooded jumper last week.

Dorion left the assembly following the complaints and the hashtag #MonCotonOuatéMonChoix (my sweatshirt, my choice) launched on Twitter as defenders hit back at the complainants and launched a Wear-a-Hoodie Day in her honour.

It isn’t the first time Dorion has hit headlines for her attire: the Quebec Solidaire Party member has faced previous complaints for wearing Doc Marten boots and T-shirts inside the National Assembly. On Halloween, the elected official for Taschereau flipped the script, adopting a Working Girl-esque skirt suit and stilettos to pose on the Speaker’s desk, saying she was “in costume” as an old-fashioned politician.

Critics saw the stunt and Dorian’s usual clothing as a sign of disrespect for the institution, but the 37-year-old politician insists it better reflects the people she represents. She isn’t wrong: this year a survey found that most of us are now adopting casual attire at work, with just one in eight British workplaces enforcing a smart dress code. Glance around the train or bus on a weekday morning and you’ll find that shirts and ties are now more of an anomaly than jeans and tees.

Just as language, dress conventions develop as new items enter our common sartorial parlance. Challenging where the line between comfort and appropriateness sits is also vital – that’s how we finally managed to overturn rules that allowed workplaces or red carpets to force women to wear painful high heels.

But what is interesting about Dorion’s hoodie is that she isn’t, in this instance, rejecting a specific sexist dress code, rather wearing it as an intentionally iconoclastic garment. While the National Assembly of Quebec has no official dress code, guidance requests that members attending should be in attire that contributes to the “maintenance of decorum”. Dorian’s hoodie appears to have been adopted as a marker of defiance, a rebellion against a system she is trying to stand apart from, albeit from within

Hoodies were first designed in the 1920s to provide factory workers and sportsmen with added warmth and were eventually adopted by women in the 1950s who donned their boyfriends’ sports kits to align themselves with their teams (a sort of early Wag aesthetic). Throughout the 20th century the hoodie became imbued with subcultural meaning, developing into a recognised symbol of transgression. In the 1970s the sweatshirts came to the fore as the uniform of emerging Bronx music scene – hip-hop – worn both for its comfort and ability to conceal the wearer’s identity. This, coupled with the iconic costume of Sylvestre Stallone’s 1976 Rocky in his pre-match hoodie, drove the garment into the mainstream as a symbol of working-class culture.

Later adopted by skaters and graffiti artists who wanted to work undetected, the hoodie became an urban symbol that united several disenfranchised subcultures before being adopted by American sportswear giants Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren and firmly established as a mainstream street style trend in the 1990s.

With this loaded history, Dorion isn’t the first public figure to be criticised for adopting the garment. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg caused a furore when he donned one to meet Wall Street investors in 2012 in what was regarded to be a mark of petulant disrespect; Zuckerberg’s money spoke so he didn’t need to masquerade in an outfit of convention to be taken seriously.

No doubt it was a deliberate gesture of defiance from the cocksure Silicon Valley mogul, but the hoodie as a garment isn’t by definition scruffy. Activewear has been smartened in recent years, and crumpled suits and ties have as much potential to make the wearer appear dishevelled as a sweater with a hood. Jeremy Corbyn faced criticism for his unkempt anti-establishment aesthetic in the House of Commons, despite wearing a suit, and has since adapted his attire to appear more appropriate for leadership.

The psychology of conventional dress codes and uniforms has been shown to have great influence on people’s perceptions of one another. This was explored in one 1974 study that saw researcher Leonard Bickman dress volunteers in either a jacket and tie, milkman’s attire or a guard uniform. Despite claiming they were not influenced by people’s dress, subjects were significantly more likely to listen to the person dressed as a guard. Although it has been debunked, the popularity of the ”7 per cent rule” reveals a wider truth that the content of what we say only accounts a proportion of the way we are perceived when we speak. Clothes really do matter.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Yes, dress conventions are changing: it feels a long time since designer Phoebe Philo first cemented trainers as a smart accompaniment to suits, in a fierce rejection of high heels, in 2010. But uniforms also act as equalisers and establish a level of professionalism that a big orange hoodie perhaps cannot. So was it right for members of the National Assembly of Quebec to complain about a hoodie in the corridors of power?

Dorian’s clothing may align her sartorially with voters, but there’s still a long way to go before the performed masculinity that codifies most traditional workplace attire is firmly in the past. We may not yet be ready for an activewear revolution among our lawmakers.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in