Only Anarchists Are Pretty: An Anarchist Guide to Fashion Part 2: Dressing for Anonymity

Whether you’re at a protest, engaging in direct action of questionable legality, or just trying to avoid detection in everyday life by police, fascists, or surveillance systems such as facial recognition technology, there are numerous reasons for anarchists to be concerned with maintaining anonymity, and the way one dresses can be one of the most important factors.

The most obvious tactic to touch upon is black bloc. While this mostly only works for certain situations in which there are large crowds of activists also dressed in black bloc, this can be extremely useful for helping people to blend in with each other and makes it much harder for police to tell black bloccers apart. Just wear all black and cover your face and any identifiable factors and you’re golden. Variations on black bloc also include more colorful ideas such as pastel bloc, which certainly brightens up a protest and makes a statement, but the lack of uniformity can make it easier to tell bloccers apart even if they can’t determine who’s under the mask. So these variations can work to fool facial recognition technology which may be deployed at protests, but are less effective against cops who may still be able to more easily single out individual bloccers for arrests and discover their identities once arrested.

Now if the goal is less to blend in and more just to fool facial recognition technology, CV Dazzle (computer vision dazzle) makeup is a wonderful option. While many of the most popular CV Dazzle makeup design patterns are ineffective against the more recent advancements in facial recognition technology, new patterns can be designed based on the particular algorithms utilized by the particular types of facial recognition technology you are trying to fool.

To quote from

[W]hether a look works or not is up to you. CV Dazzle is a concept, not a product or pattern. Evading face detection requires prior knowledge of the algorithm. Most of the archived looks […] were designed over 10 years ago for the Viola-Jones face detection algorithm. Current face surveillance uses deep convoluational [sic] neural networks (DCNNs). To use CV Dazzle you must design according to the algorithm (hint: don’t use Viola-Jones looks for a DCNN face recognition system).

Similarly, Juggalo and black metal-style corpse facepaint has also been effective at fooling some forms of facial recognition technology, but it is unclear whether the advances in such technology have been able to render that tactic ineffective as it has some styles of CV Dazzle makeup. While some facial recognition technology has gotten better at detecting partially obscured faces, it still seems as if facemasks and bandanas make it more difficult to be detected. The C4SS merch store has a number of facemasks which can be utilized for both medical and anonymity purposes.

If you wish to up your mask game, Adversarial Fashion has designed masks which specifically provide extra noise to confuse facial recognition devices. Not only do they have patterns that feed false facial data, but they also have license plate patterns which can be used to feed false information to license plate readers. They not only sell masks in these styles but also sell shirts, skirts, dresses, hoodies, and scarves with these various patterns.

While these tactics all work in specific contexts, they also draw attention at the same time. Sometimes, however, you just need to blend into everyday society without being noticed. To that end, we can draw upon the concept of the gray man. In militia circles, “going gray” is typically utilized in SHTF (shit hits the fan) situations where people will be more desperate and more likely to try and rob others for their resources. The idea is that instead of looking like you have a bunch of tactical gear and survival supplies, you dress to blend in and look like you have nothing to offer. Plain clothing and even worn clothing and accessories are utilized to keep a low profile and avoid sticking out.

But we can draw from this concept for less catastrophic scenarios, such as when you are trying to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb to evade police, fascists, or other adversaries. Dress to blend in with the crowd in question, cover any tattoos or identifying markings, and draw as little attention to yourself as possible in both fashion and behavior as a means to lay low.

Dyed hair, unique hairstyles, glasses, unique accessories, and other factors can also be utilized by others to identify you in various situations, so beware. Government agents will go to great lengths to track people via any means they can. Let us not forget that the FBI once deduced the identity of a Philadelphia protester who threw a molotov at a police car by piecing together the design on her shirt from a partially obscured photograph, tracing the unique design to an Etsy store, and then searching through the reviews on the item to track down the customer/protester.

So be careful, be aware, and dress appropriately for the specific situation if you wish to remain anonymous. Safety is important if we wish to be effective as activists.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory