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Black bloc fashion tips

Two articles on how to prepare for black bloc actions, one from Crimethinc.com and the other issued for the 2001 Summit of the Americas protests in Quebec City.

Fashion Tips for the Brave

October 11, 2008


Nowadays, entirely apart from the question of whether you’re engaging in illegal activity, it can be important to protect your privacy while participating in public protests. Local and federal law enforcement agencies are compiling extensive files on everyone they deem suspect; if you don’t want them invading your privacy, it may be appropriate for you to remain anonymous while exercising your supposed right to free speech. The same goes double if you lack the privileges of citizenship or you fear your employer may discriminate against you for your political beliefs. In the light of the felony charges resulting from the recent RNC protests, it is especially important for activists to be aware of this.

We’ve already published extensively on this topic, most notably in the guide Blocs, Black and Otherwise. The following is largely a refresher for anyone who needs it before hitting the streets again.

Fashion Tips for the Brave and Fabulous

Do you desire to be an autonomous individual rather than a faceless, mass-produced cog in the machine? Great! That is, unless you are marching in a bloc—where conformity is a weapon that you can use to smash the machine itself.

The goal of the bloc as a tactic is to have everyone look as similar as possible, so that, ideally, no single individual can be identified within the anonymous mass. This helps to keep everybody safer. If only some people within a bloc take these precautions, the cops can more easily spot and target individuals and groups, which is dangerous both for those who are acting within the bloc and for those who are not. Those who make the effort to stay anonymous can draw extra police attention; those who don’t can be more easily identified, which can make them easier targets. Neither of these situations is desirable.

Take this stuff seriously! If you’re setting out to accomplish something risky, taking these precautions is crucial. If you’re not, you can help to protect your comrades and avoid making yourself a target.

• If you’re going to wear a mask, keep it on at all appropriate times! If you are captured on camera or witnessed at any point with your mask off, you can then be easily identified with it on.

• Be extremely conscientious about where and when you change into and out of your mask and anonymous clothing; there should be no cameras or hostile witnesses. If possible, explore the area in advance to find appropriate spaces for changing. Remember that police are especially likely to target masked individuals who are not in a crowd that is similarly dressed.

• Wear different outfits layered one upon the other, so you’ll be prepared for any eventuality. Ideally, you should have one outfit for getting to the site of the action without attracting attention, your anonymous gear for the action itself, and then another outfit underneath so you can look like a harmless civilian as you exit the area. Don’t forget to stay hydrated, particularly if all those clothes get hot.

• If you have tattoos that are or could be visible, cover them up! You can do this with makeup or concealer, especially if you use heavy-duty products designed for that purpose. Many actors and dancers use Dermablend to cover up tattoos, burns, and scars. It comes in numerous colors that can be mixed to match your skin tone, and it’s water resistant and rated for 12 hours of wear. It’s expensive, but cheaper than bail! If you can’t find Dermablend or a similar product, cover your tattoos with clothing that won’t ride up. Tuck your clothing in if you have to.

• Likewise, if you have visible piercings, take them out—or at least cover them up so they are sure not to be exposed.

• Do not march in a bloc wearing your regular clothing, especially if it’s distinctive. Cops may be stupid, but they can probably match the pictures of the masked-up person with the purple polka-dotted pants to pictures of the same person in the same outfit minus the mask—even if the pictures were taken on different days.

• If you are going to carry a backpack or bag, don’t take the one you carry around in everyday life. No matter how perfect your outfit is, it’s all for naught if your bag is recognizable—especially if, like many people, you change bags much less frequently than you change clothes.

• The same goes for your shoes, for similar reasons—wear different ones during the action than you wear every day. This is also important because cops can attempt to use footprints or other traces from shoes as evidence.

• Do not wear patches or other identifiable insignia on your clothing while in a bloc, unless everyone else has exactly the same ones in exactly the same places.

• Don’t just cover your face! Bandanas are popular and convenient, but they don’t conceal enough. Cover your head completely so your hair cannot be seen—especially if it’s distinctive. In a black bloc, you can do this by wearing a ski mask or making a mask out of a T-shirt—stretch the neck hole across your eyes and tie the sleeves behind your head, with the rest of the shirt covering your head and shoulders. In other circumstances, you could try a wig, if that fits the aesthetic of your action.

• If possible, cover your eyes. Goggles can do this while serving the dual purpose of protecting your eyes from chemical weapons; nondescript sunglasses could also work in a pinch. Both of these can be obtained in prescription form and are better to use than your regular glasses, particularly if your regular glasses are distinctive. Contact lenses are not recommended in situations where you may come into contact with chemical weapons.

• Be careful not to leave fingerprints and DNA evidence! Wear cloth gloves—leather and latex can retain fingerprints and even pass them on to objects you touch. Wipe down tools and other items with alcohol in advance, to clean fingerprints off them—you never know what might get lost in the chaos. Don’t forget about the batteries inside flashlights!

• Practice at home! Don’t go out in a bulky outfit you’ve never worn before expecting to pull off cop-shocking feats of dexterity. You need to be familiar with your outfit and comfortable moving in it; it’s important that your vision isn’t compromised, too.

• Do not let any of this give you a false sense of security. Be careful! Assess your relationship to risk honestly; don’t do anything if you’re not sure you could live with the worst possible consequences. Stay aware of your surroundings and listen to your instincts. Make sure you know and trust the people you’re working with, especially when it comes to high-risk activities. Practice proper security culture at all times. Know and assert your legal rights [PDF – .9 MB], especially in stressful situations. Doing so may not make things better, but failing to do so will certainly make them worse!

Don’t get caught! Stay safe(r), and smash the state!

Comment to above article:

ret marut said,

October 26, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

For historical purposes, here is an email on related matters that was circulated by street medics before the FTAA protests in Quebec City in April 2001. Bear in mind that both police and direct action enthusiasts have made technological and strategic advances since this was written, even if these haven’t finished circulating.

Are you dressed for success in Quebec?

As you know, dressing well is SO essential for today’s sassy militant. After
all, this is Quebec. We are chic, while being anti-FTAA, anti-hypothermia and anti-chemical weapons.

Today’s fashion advice from us emphasizes treating your body to as sensual an experience as can be imagined in Quebec City where it is still fucking snowing and raining and windy!

So, let’s go over our essential dress again, with mention of accessories.

Today’s well dressed militant in Quebec City for the Summit is wearing long underwear made of the new synthetic materials like soft warm polyester that WICKS away sweat from you skin. Much of the Summit’s perimeter is perched on a hill, and climbing up streets to reach it, or running here and there, will make you sweat. And sweat next to skin can make you cold.

You should have many loose layers that can be removed if you get hot, and put back on when cold. Extra dry clothes in a bag in your pack sack is a very smart idea. If your feet tend to sweat, it will only increase your risk of cold feet. So using anti-perspirant on your feet for a few days is a nice touch. Again, nylon, polyester or wool socks are IN, Cotton socks are OUT! Wear at least two layers if they fit comfortably in your boots.

Your outer layer should be water proof. We HIGHLY recommend a cheap rain suit – not only will this keep you dry against the rain or snow, but also keep those nasty pollutants like tear gas and pepper spray from being absorbed by your clothes. As a bonus, it will block the wind too. If you wear fleece, make sure it is beneath your rain gear if you are in a chemical weapon risk zone (near the police). Pepper spray & tear gas gets sponged up by fleece, and then released over time into your face. Yuck! . For that extra sexy look, try out those cheapo translucent ponchos folded up in a little plastic bag – it will look like a condom, and you will get extra kudos for your safe sex message!

We understand the objections you might have to not being able to get rain gear in basic black. However, your plastic rain suit is a perfect medium for spray painting (black, right?), magic markers and all your stickers. Black garbage bags can also work against water and chemicals.

Boots are important. If you get corralled onto the Plains of Abraham, expect to be wading through some snow, or at least a lot of mud if the snow melts over the next 10 days. Shoes or sneakers are just not a great idea for those leisurely promenades.

Gloves, of course, or mitts. A good hat, and a waterproof head cover if getting near tear gas or pepper spray.

Let’s go over accessories. Cover up as much as possible from head to toe to prevent tear gas or pepper spray (if you are near the stuff). NO CONTACT LENSES! The chemicals can get trapped between them and your eyes, causing damage.

The best face protection is a quality gas mask with shatter resistant plastic lenses. However, they are expensive, cumbersome, and might be stolen by the cops.

At least have: Sealed eye goggles (swimming or ski). They come in many funky colors. Workshop goggles that are sealed with tape might fit over eyeglass frames.

Cover your mouth & nose with either:

-A filtered respirator from a hardware store. The filters must be good against paint solvent or chemical solvent.


-A fiber mask (looks like a hospital face mask) that is also good against paint solvent or chemical solvent.


-Bandanna soaked in apple cider vinegar. You can substitute regular vinegar – but it is nastier to breath through at first. Lemon juice also works. Carry several wet bandannas in a zip lock bag.

Bicycle helmets also help prevent baton bumps.

Padding in sensitive areas if you might be fox trotting with a clumsy policeman.

Speaking of padding, make sure you add insulation pads between you and the ground if you plan on sitting down. Hockey pants work too. Knee pads if you are fixing people or things that are low down. Be creative in you look!

To prevent hypothermia, you need to eat plenty of high calorie foods for energy drink plenty of water (no caffeine or alcohol – diuretics are bad) for warm blood circulation. This should make you pee.

If you are having such a swell time at your blockade that you simply can’t skip out to the bathroom, don’t pee in you pants. It is not chic and will only make you cold and miserable. You could wear a synthetic wick-away diaper.


Have your buddies form a banner barrier around you while you pee.


Wear a urinary catheter attached to a tube (for men, there are external condom catheters).

We love your piercing, and so do the cops. They may grab them, or use giant magnets to capture you. If you can’t remove them, tape them over.

If it’s sunny, we would be awfully silly getting sunburned, but it happened last week at the Ottawa demo. We recommend bringing along water-based or alcohol-based sunscreen.

The Quebec Medical Fashion Brigade


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