(Gandhi in London with Manchester women whose textile jobs were threatened by his call for spinning and khadi)
Looking at successful nonviolence you don't find many images of sinister, threatening, hard-edged individuals. Our image is usually soft, colorful possibly, and invitationally friendly. Even when we are most directly clashing with the opponent we have an undertone of humanity that suggests we are not a physical threat to the safety of anyone.
Thus, even though Gandhi's campaign for homespun cloth was hurting British textile manufacturers then unable to sell as much to Indians, Gandhi chose to stay in the workingclass neighborhood when he visited London following the 1930 Salt March and Salt Satyagraha. He was there in London to meet with Parliament, take an audience with the king, and negotiate in a Roundtable specially on the India question.
Gonsalves (2010) analyzes Gandhi's nonverbal communication in the context of his associated actions and finds a mutually reinforcing dynamic: "The very practice of satyagraha showed extreme media awareness. News coverage of the dramatic scenes of unilateral violence by the Government against submissive, nonviolent satyagrahis made extremely sensational stories for worldwide consumption" (p. 18).
What were the semiotics--the cultural meanings of symbols and signs--surrounding his choice of clothing?
They were nothing short of freedom.
(Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi on July 6, 1946)
Nehru was the one dubious about the efficacy of Gandhi's nonviolence and was impatient and scorned almost every Gandhian initiative--until they worked, at which point he participated. Nehru reluctantly went along with Gandi's nonviolence and his ambivilance can be seen in his dress choices--lingering British influences and less Indian commoner. Nehru didn't mind some khadi as long as he wasn't the spinner and as long as he could be stylin' between cultures.
Gandhi, on the other hand, was sure of the powerful imagery, strong connective fabric, and deep weave of his garments of liberation. His choices recruited the millions by instilling pride and showing humility and yet identification with the Indians who toiled and suffered under both the British and their Indian puppets.
Our symbols and signs--often reflected first in our dress--are our first impression and either recruit and reduce fear or alienate and draw repression based on fear (or the ability to manipulate the citizenry into fear). In the 1960s the hippies were nonviolent but Abbie Hoffman made it political and questionable, and the Yippies were attacked as violent subversives by police whose methods were rarely rejected by mainstream America. The playful dress of the Yippies seemed frightening to average middle Americans who had survived World War II and really just wanted a stress-free and comfortable existence. The wild side symbology of Yippie dress was too nervewracking for Americans and a violent response was acceptable. When Abbie Hoffman posed casually with a gun, all the buttons were pushed.
Gonsalvez, Peter (2010). Clothing for liberation: A communication analysis of Gandhi’s swadeshi revolution. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.