As Election Day draws closer, it seems like the whole world can’t quite look away from the spectacle and drama of U.S. politics. For me, observing events unfold from my home in the U.K., campaign merchandise is just one of the many things I find strange about the 2020 presidential race. The idea of wearing your vote—literally displaying your political loyalties across your chest—is perhaps a uniquely American phenomenon. With elite fashion designers partnering with Biden’s campaign and the undeniable marketing marvel that is the ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, now more than ever, fashion is operating quietly in the background of politics.
As an international student, the intersection of clothing and elections is something completely new to me. Where I’m from in England I can only imagine the looks of barely concealed horror I would be subjected to if I ever wore the face of my favored political candidate on a T-Shirt. In Europe, I can say with some confidence, there is no such blatant capitalization on the personal brand of politicians. In December last year, when the Conservative party won a majority vote in the U.K. General Election, I suspect that even the most ardent Boris Johnson supporters wouldn’t have been caught dead in a “Brits for BoJo” hat.
The same cannot be said for the U.S., where thousands of people choose to buy and wear campaign merchandise. While perusing Trump’s online store, you might genuinely be fooled into thinking you are on the H&M website. The apparel tab is split into “Men,” “Women,” “Youth” and “Accessories.” The infamous MAGA hat can be found in a range of different colors.
On the other end of the spectrum, Joe Biden’s campaign website includes collections ranging from “Biden/Harris” to the “Pride” collection; even the word ‘collection’ evokes thoughts of elite fashion houses. This begs the question: how has fashion merchandising become a tool for proliferating a political message? How can a hat, an item of clothing, have become synonymous with right-wing ideologies?
This is not an abstract link that I’m drawing between fashion and presidential campaigning. Nineteen of America’s most respected designers have also recognized the power of fashion in this year’s campaign, rallying behind the Biden-Harris bid. Such names as Vera Wang, Tory Burch, and Joe Perez have created items that now feature on the Team Biden online store. Some highlights of the collection are Victor Glemaud’s Biden bucket hat and Aurora James’ ‘We Make the Difference’ Crewneck sweatshirt. The items range from bandanas (Joseph Altuzarra) to Cropped Tees (Carly Cushnie). Making designer-wear affordable, they are all also priced between $30 and $60.
There are many ways that political messages and ideas filter down across the country—in every country —during election periods. But in the U.S., clothing, fashion and now fashion designer partnerships have become a large-scale tool for disseminating political messages. From overseas, the world of “Young Joe Biden” tank tops and “Babies for Trump” one-pieces is one that seems unfamiliar and strange. But it is ingrained in America’s political history to use accessories and items of clothing to market presidential campaigns. Even in the time of George Washington, brass buttons emblazoned with his initials circulated: obviously not a campaign strategy but a way to show political allegiance nonetheless. Americans are, and have been for many years, walking billboards for their preferred candidate the second they don that badge, hat or T-shirt.
Though the rest of the world looks on in fascination, perhaps never fully able to understand such an enthusiastic investment in political figures, I don’t think the American appetite for “wearing your vote” will ever lose momentum.
Feature Image courtesy of Vogue