SOCIAL ACTIVISM: How to Dress to Protest by John Francis

How to Dress to Protest

A week doesn’t go by these days without some kind of protest march in this country. They range from small neighborhood gatherings to huge multi-million marches such as the Women’s March this January.

With so many issues and causes to march for — or against — folks who never imagined themselves protesting find themselves out on the streets carrying signs, shouting slogans and wearing pink pussy hats for the first time.

Veteran protesters have this down to a science, packing as if they’re going on a weekend backpacking trip to the wilderness. Protest neophytes usually wear the wrong clothing, take too much unnecessary junk and generally act like they’re going to a picnic in the park.

And with the political climate the way it is now, thanks to a certain someone occupying the Oval Office, it appears more and more people will be taking to the streets and the last thing this country needs is a bunch of protesters who don’t know how to dress properly.

Call it Protest Chic if you must, but you do want to go out there looking like you know what you’re doing, that you’re a serious, committed protester, and not a complete lunatic who got their fashion advice from Popular Mechanics.

But also remember, you’re going to a protest, not strutting the catwalk at New York Fashion Week.

And while most protests are safe, empowering and non-violent, sometimes the wheels can come off and chaos — complete with stampeding masses, tear gas, projectiles and arrests — can ensue. So, if you’re thinking of participating in a protest march, hope for the best and prepare for the worst, which means a little pre-planning before you go out to fight the good fight.

Here’s some helpful advice on how to dress and what to take with you to a protest.

  • Bring as little as possible, but also pack enough knowing you may be there longer than expected and with fewer facilities than expected, meaning bathrooms, food, water, shelter, etc.
  • A form of ID and cash, leave the wallet with your library card, grocery store card and old Blockbuster Video card at home.
  • Long pants, long-sleeve shirt with sleeves that can be rolled up; vest to keep your core warm; hooded fleece or waterproof (such as Gore-Tex) jacket for inclement weather.
  • Comfortable shoes, preferably waterproof with a sturdy sole to protect against debris, such as a hiking boot, plus wool socks or synthetic hiking socks to wick away sweat and prevent blisters. Absolutely no cotton socks. They don’t wick away sweat and can cause blisters.
  • Weather-appropriate accessories, like fingerless gloves, muffler, scarf, bandana, packable poncho.
  • Snacks, such as a granola, energy or protein bar.
  • Sharpie/permanent marker (to write important numbers on your arm or correct misspelled signs), small notepad and pen.
  • Safety glasses or your regular glasses, NO contacts, unless that’s all you have, then bring a backup pair. Mace and tear gas can cause more problems if you’re wearing contacts.
  • Bottled water or bota bag/Camelbak type water bladder.
  • Portable phone charger. And lock your phone with a passcode.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses.
  • Hat with a brim to protect your face from sun and projectiles or a beanie in colder weather.
  • Bandana, to cover your face from gas and surveillance cameras.
  • Small first-aid kit with essential items.
  • Personal care products, such as menstrual products, for obvious reasons, but to also stop nosebleeds. Also, wet wipes, lip balm, tissues.
  • Medicine that you take regularly. Take extra in case you are detained longer.
  • Cards to tell you of your rights if arrested. Lifehacker and the ACLU have downloadable cards.
  • Map of area or take photo of map if you don’t want to carry a paper map
  • Fanny pack or small backpack to keep everything in. Some cities (like Washington D.C.) require protesters to carry only clear backpacks no larger than 17″x12″x6″. You can actually get one for $22 at Amazon.


  • Duct tape, if you have room in your pack.
  • Small folding cane seat or foldable tripod seat if you have problems standing for long periods of time.
  • Cheap watch, something you don’t mind missing or getting broken.
  • Plastic zip bag to put all the above items in.
  • Plastic zip bag with bandana soaking in vinegar: This does not offer long-term protection from tear gas, but will afford you the precious seconds needed to get out of the contaminated area if tightly wrapped over nose and mouth. Also will help obscure identity.
  • Canola oil and rubbing alcohol to be used to wipe clean skin exposed to riot control chemicals.
  • Spray bottle with equal parts Maalox and water: to rinse eyes/nose/mouth to neutralize reaction to chemicals.
  • Goggles/gas mask, which are not very fashion-forward, but invaluable when things get out of hand.

What not to bring

  • Your children, unless they’re 35 years old and have their own lawyers.
  • Your pets, especially giant St. Bernards, snarling German shepherds and goats.
  • Jewelry, including rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and giant gold rapper chains with clocks.
  • Drugs, for obvious reasons. If you get arrested, don’t make it harder on yourself with illegal drugs.
  • Weapons of any kind or anything that can be considered a weapon, including wooden sign sticks, box-cutters, selfie sticks, baseball bats, and tiki torches.
  • Don’t wear makeup, use oil or mineral-based moisturizers or wash yourself beforehand with detergent soaps, they will all bind with chemicals in tear gas. Wash yourself with a pH-neutral soap.

Now, if all of the above sounds as if you’re going to war, in a way you are. By protesting, for the most part, you’re warring against corrupt, anti-democratic and repressive policies. And the establishment you’re protesting against doesn’t like resistance, so it may resort to harsher tactics than you thought you’d encounter.

The bottom line is know what you’re getting into, use common sense, be prepared for anything that might happen, stay away from trouble, know when to stay, and know when to leave.

Also, go with a friend or two if you can, tell people where you’re going and for how long and have a meet-up place selected in case you get separated.

Happy protesting!



All books are available at Click on title to learn more.

How to Resist: Turn Protest to Power
by Matthew Bolton

Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World
by Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller

Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution Paperback
by Andrew Boyd (Author), Dave Oswald Mitchell

Protest Stencil Toolkit
by Patrick Thomas


ACLU Pamphlet: Know Your Rights


Available at Click on label to learn more.

Amazon Protest Clothing

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