Shirts with Political and National Identity

There have been many events in history that have had a relationship with what shirts the people were wearing. The colour of the shirts people has been wearing have had particular significance. In Benito Mussolini’s Italian Fascist party, the military wing, the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale wore black shirts. The elite troops of the Italian army, created in 1919, swore an oath of allegiance to their leader “the Duce” and lasted until they merged with the rest of the Italian army in 1943.

Red Shirt
Red Shirt supporters in Bangkok, Thailand

The emergence of fascism in Italy spread overseas. In the United Kingdom, The British Union of Fascists were inspired by their Italian counterparts and attempted to copy the Italian party’s uniform. The union formed in 1932 by its leader Oswald Mosley, encouraged its members to wear a black shirt accompanied by a black tie. Italy’s role in the Second World War was in support of Germany who themselves had a band of elite troops known as the “Brown Shirts”. This was the nickname of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party which was more commonly known as he “Sturmabteilung”. This group terrorised any groups that were not fully in support of the Nazi party’s ideology during the 1920’s and 1930’s. However, their role diminished after the night of the long knives in 1934 when around 200 officers were shot dead by the SS. These numbers included their leader Ernst Rohm who Hitler had actually quite liked. The Sturmabteilung had become too powerful with 3 million members, and Hitler was turned against them by the SS leaders.

An Asian country that has also seen political allegiances reflected with the colour of their supporters’ shirts is Thailand. There has been a long running battle for power between the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts. The red shirts were the supporters of the former prime-minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was the leader of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship Party, but is now exiled as the authorities want him taken to court. In his time in office Thaksin was popular with the poor from the rural areas, as many of his policies were aimed at supporting them. The Party is left wing in its politics and most of its followers come from the North and North West of the Country. The yellow shirts in contrast come from Thailand’s middle classes and are known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy. They have appeared to spend most of the time hunting down Thaksin and being opposed to every piece of legislation that he had introduced whilst still in office. They are strong supporters of the monarchy in Thailand and the military. They fully supported the Coup in 2006, and also the most recent one in 2014. The country is now neither run by the red shirts or the yellow shirts but instead by ex-General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who is the self-proclaimed leader of the National Council for Peace and Order.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela presenting the 1995 World Cup to Francois Pienaar

The power of a shirt can also unite a nation. At the Rugby World Cup final in South Africa in 1995 the main guest, newly elected president Nelson Mandela, attended the match in a Springboks rugby jersey. This jersey had for years been seen by many as being a symbol of privilege and apartheid. When visiting teams visited South Africa the black population would be cheering on the opponents of the all-white Springbok side. This world cup was the first big international sporting event to be organised in the new Rainbow Nation. His actions were aimed at burying old prejudices and the wearing of the shirt was in fact a sign of his support for South Africa as a nation and not just one team.

The power of a shirt can inspire millions and power dressing by individuals, over the years, has helped to both unite and separate people.