This election cycle, getting out the vote is not just a talking, or lobbying, point. It’s a product category: political fashion.
First, in November 2016, there was #PantsuitNation and women heading to the polls in white to declare their allegiance with the suffragists — and potentially with the first female president.
Then, in January 2017, there was the Women’s March and the pussy hat.
And now, as the midterm elections loom, there are bamboo cotton T-shirts and cashmere sweaters and leather totes emblazoned with exhortations to “Vote” or “Don’t Block the Box”; there are garments heralding “Power to the Polls.” There is a special trunk show devoted to “Vote” tees on Moda Operandi and a page on elle.com for “Vote” merch.
Is it just a marketing moment? Carpetbagging on a hot-button issue to sell stuff? It’s possible. That’s the easy accusation. But there is real money, critical mass and some risk involved. And that tends to suggest something more is going on.
This is a rejection of the premise that political fashion is for marching on the barricades on your own time. This is a proposition for a new one: clothes as an overt expression of values to be worn all the time, anywhere.
Take that to the ballot box and check it.
This is Prabal Gurung and Tory Burch and Wes Gordon of Carolina Herrera and Diane von Furstenberg and Rag & Bone putting words and symbols to cloth. This is a quilted leather tote scrawled with “Give a Damn,” a collaboration by MZ Wallace (whose bags Hillary Clinton carried at the Benghazi hearings) and Lingua Franca (whose cashmere sweater scrawled with “poverty is sexist” was worn by Connie Britton to the Golden Globes in January).
“We were really feeling emotional about the political situation, and women having a voice and the importance of getting out there to vote, because that’s the way to make things change,” said Monica Zwirner, a founder of MZ Wallace. “It seemed like time for a call to action, and it was almost our duty to create that possibility.”
For most people buying the clothes, they function as a clarion call for change. And while in theory that change could simply mean reversing voter apathy, the clear impetus is to upend the status quo.
And although no one really expects one person wearing a T-shirt (or scarf or bag) to get other people to alter their behavior, there is something about constantly seeing an issue that makes it percolate through the consciousness.
Especially because, unlike such efforts in the past, which often reeked of marketing as opposed to commitment, all of the profits, if not all of the proceeds, from many of these products go to nonprofits. Since the beginning of October, the MZ Wallace x Lingua Franca bag has raised more than $100,000 for She Should Run, an organization that supports women running for office.
The sales of Burch’s tee go to Yara Shahidi’s Eighteen x 18, which is focused on the next generation of voters, and 100 percent of the profits from the Resistance by Design scarf go to Emily’s List and Emerge America. On Moda Operandi’s Vote 2018 trunk show, where a variety of the tees are priced from $50 to $195, all proceeds go to Rock the Vote. Four of the 13 styles are sold out.
“As designers, clothing is our language, our medium for communication, so for myself and many others, a statement T-shirt, sweater, sweatshirt or entire collection is our way to show the world what we stand for,” Gurung said. “To spread our message by joining with the people who can take our message from the runway or the racks to the streets.”
Or the polls. On Tuesday, we will see what kind of trend this really is.